06.24.11

Riggleman Trades Nats

Posted in Baseball at 1:52 am by

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[Pictured, this week's Most Hated Man in Baseball, Jim Riggleman.]

Today, Jim Riggleman fired his corporate bosses and the sports world (or at least the fan boy press) is appalled.  Players and managers are supposedly overgrown, lucky kids who don’t get to make decisions like that.  Unbelievably, Jim Riggleman doesn’t seem to care if he ever manages an MLB team again – every sports writers’ dream job.   He sold out his team, he doesn’t care about winning, what would Lou Gehrig say, etc, etc.?

The Nats are at .507, their best in six years.  They lose overall for a reason and Riggleman isn’t it. He’s not alone in letting DC fans down.  But let’s put that in perspective.  He’s not deserting fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, he’s a placeholder manager quitting a placeholder club intended to soak up $$$ the Orioles apparently can’t sponge effectively themselves.  At least, that’s how its owners and MLB treat it. In the midst of the Bud Selig era of $$$ > winning baseball, Riggleman’s me-first move today is small potatoes compared to what the Ricketts and McCourts are currently pulling as the Selig-approved stewards of Wrigley Field and Chavez Ravine.  And neither of those teams are winning.

So, Riggleman left his pennant-guaranteed .507 club high and dry because he didn’t get the deal he wanted.  Owners do that every day, as is their privilege as “businessmen.”  This is the same Riggleman who watched the Padres deal Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff out from under him in their “fire sale.” Do owners ever get blackballed for such bullshit?  Do we ever hear how they’ll never work again, no matter how much they sell out the concept of winning?  I’d like to see MLB impose a rule that says owners with sub-.500 teams for five years running be put under suspension and review like the McCourts have been for financial incompetence.  But that would mean winning really is what baseball is about, for all involved, and it’s not. If sportswriters want to get all self-righteous about Jim Riggleman letting his team down, get self-righteous about making owners win, too.

Yes, Riggelman’s move was about himself, but there’s positives to an angry manager  quitting rather than poisoning his club with anger and indifference to collect pay checks.  Didn’t he just walk out on $300K?  It wasn’t exactly a win-win move for Riggleman who sacrificed half a years’ salary. The Nats refused to deal straight with him because they didn’t feel like it.  Why isn’t his peace of mind worth something, too?  If winning doesn’t come first for the owners and MLB, why should it for their employee?  People cite Riggleman’s mediocre win record as if he isn’t deserving of some self-respect and dignity – two qualities you still have to fight for in the American workplace.  The Nats’ owners and MLB run that franchise to make money.  Fans who want to win basically have to get lucky in DC, because very few people are behind them.

13 Responses to “Riggleman Trades Nats”

  1. M.A. says:

    The Nats organization has a whole is poorly run. As a former employee in Operations I’m well aware of low salary and the 3 year freeze the CFO put on us. To call Riggleman a sellout is grossly misinformed. If this writer would research the employee retention numbers in the past 4years alone you would see there were 3 different groundskeeping managers 2 human resources VPs 2 Building Ops Managers and countless other resignations in all departments. It starts @ the top that trickles down to low morale. Riggleman is just a footnote of how the organization treats its employees. Only the people in the negotiations know what was said, knowing the history of the execs. they didn’t follow through on what they agreed to pay Riggs. And he thought to himself he doesnt need this. He’s stayed way past midnight after games in his office and put in a lot time developing the younger guys.

  2. Ben Schwartz says:

    M.A. — Thanks for commenting. I was talking about how ownership sells out the concept of winning, not Jim Riggleman. Some of the writers I link to feel he sold out “winning,” not me.

  3. Rob Warmowski says:

    Unless I’m having a stroke, I do not believe the esteemed Mr. Schwartz’s piece calls Riggleman a sellout. It suggests that wider baseball management has the record of selling out and that the Nats can take this job and shove it.

    (Wondering if a Riggleman defense-bot just posted here. If so, the former skipper may have a bright future in online reputation management. After a few code tweaks.)

  4. Oh, come off it, Schwartz.
    I think you’re seeing it through a good lens. The whiny sportswriters are the ones who look the dumbest in all of this. JR is just protecting his interests, as anyone in a financial or labor relationship should.
    But when you drag your pet punching bag out (They’re greedy! Only in it for the Money! The McCourts & Ricketts don’t care about baseball! Only Money!!) it gets stretched out and boring.
    The money that the “O’s can’t sponge for themselves,” is the reason that the good people of Washington DC have a baseball team. The people managing that money have made a business decision vis-a-vis renegotiating their manager’s contract, and ended up losing the manager over it. Was it a good choice? Bad? Who’s available as a replacement? How much of an effect will Riggleman’s departure have on the team? Interesting questions, but I don’t see anything like that being asked here. Only a teenage-level tantrum that the game is all about money and that’s not fair!
    There’s plenty of minor league (and little-league) ball that you and Andy Rooney can go and watch, if you prefer your baseball free of the torment and tyranny of the big bad owners and their addiction to the almighty dollar.

  5. Ben Schwartz says:

    WWtFunk: Sorry, but you misread by 180 degrees if you think what I wrote is an It’s All About $$$ and I Want My Little League Dream Back rant. At least little league teams put the Pizza Hut ad right on the jersey, you know? Owners are my favorite punching bag, true. And I think I’ve got a fair case to make about some of the lamer owners I cite who ineptly or intentionally grind their teams down. Riggleman has suffered thru the Pads 90s “fire sale” owners, the Trib-era Cubs, and now the Nats. As of 2011, he’s obviously had his fill of taking shit from people that A-list managers can take a pass on. My point is that it’s as legit for players and managers to make a move on $$$ as any owner. I’m complaining about the double-standard that mgrs and players get called “quitter” for it as if they were 10-yr-olds blowing off their little league to stay home and watch video games. My point is that baseball is about more than winning, esp when not everyone involved is playing to win. If anything, I see baseball as a complicated business of selling idealism to the public.

  6. Frank McCourt is going to be delighted to hear about this pass that the media is giving him on making financial decisions that are unpopular with the fans. Make sure that you cc Bill Shaikin and Plaschke on that.
    As far as the Ricketts go: where’s the beef, Ben? They aren’t up to their eyeballs in debt for kicks. There’s $126M in payroll out there stinking the joint up. If they got rid of the bigger pieces of salary and cut the debt, you’d be crying “FIRE SALE! FIRE SALE!” And so would everyone else.

  7. Bryce says:

    Ben,

    I think the relationship between the fans and the team’s owner, or even its players, is much different than their relationship with the manager. For one, people are already inclined to dislike an owner, who is understood to be, except under extraordinary circumstances, “only in it for the money.” More importantly, a manager is seen as a paternal figure worthy of trust and a degree of implicit respect and admiration, and these feelings are intensified by someone as “folksy” as Jim Riggleman. The fans see him as somewhat of a liaison between the players and themselves because they can “relate” to him, especially because Riggleman “makes so little money.”

    Riggleman can make his decisions “as a business owner would make them” and when doing so violates the “brand” he has established (folksy, passionate, paternalistic, blue collar) he should expect the same backlash that an owner or player pulling a similar move would receive (LeBron James to Miami, Colts to Indianapolis, etc).

  8. Chris says:

    “This is the same Riggleman who watched the Padres deal Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff out from under him in their “fire sale.”
    I do believe the people who own the Nats now owned the Pads then. Nice.

  9. Ben Schwartz says:

    WWtFunk: True, I certainly didn’t invent beating up on owners. No, the Ricketts are not up to their eyes in debt for kicks, it’s more of a scam to have the public pay for their unsustainable “ownership.” My problem with the Ricketts is that they bought a team for $900 million and only put down $150 million (while “loaning themselves” $700 mil, whatever that means) when they knew they had a $200 mil renovation of Wrigley ahead of them and that payroll obligation. Now they’re incapable of paying for the team without getting taxpayer money or jacking up ticket prices to something called “platinum level.” That under performing $126 mil payroll – the one Lou Piniella couldn’t motivate after 2008 or so – is a legit issue, as you point out. So is the Ricketts’ hire for manager, Mike Quade. No one seriously wanted that job and no one serious was hired. They may put together a young, low-payroll team in the next few years, but the debt load of that team isn’t about payroll. The Ricketts, or Trib Co that bought that payroll to increase the team’s sale price, have hobbled that team. Yet fans hate Carlos Zambrano for throwing temper tantrums and busting up Gatorade coolers when they lose. Go figure.

    As for the McCourts, the financial decisions Frank McCourt made that blew up his ownership are mainly from his divorce, as I see it. True, they never recovered from Manny Ramirez’ needle problem or losing Joe Torre, but I don’t see fans blaming them for that. The divorce, ballpark security issues, and team performance have made them a rare exception — the owner disaster that even MLB has to stop. And I’m all for it.

  10. Ben Schwartz says:

    Bryce: You’re right, I do think that’s how fans see managers and owners.

    My complaint is the sports writers who jumped on Riggleman with that fan thinking. Ken Rosenthal beat up on Riggleman at Fox Sports, but he did lay out the many faults of Nats ownership. My problem with that piece is that he still finds Riggleman’s taking a walk more problematic than the overall damage the owners are doing to the team and community by fielding losers again and again. My question: Did Riggleman betray his brand as a folksy, blue collar guy by walking, or did he live up to it?

  11. Riggleman sold the folksy, blue collar brand out. No doubt about it. Brands are about perception and he is perceived to have quit on his team.

    As far as the Ricketts and other owners go, understand that nobody takes billion dollar risks on their own dime: especially not in this kind of interest rate environment. There’s simply too much at stake.
    The result is teams that are leveraged to the eyeballs. To stay competitive with their peers, they also have to cash in on all of the public handouts that they can. Having a national monument for a home ballpark is as good a ticket to the gravy train as any. The Chicago taxpayers should consider themselves lucky that they’re not going to end up paying for a whole new building!
    The point, Benjamin, is that the question of whether or not Riggs sold his brand out, and an analysis of the situation facing the Ricketts and McCourts (research based) are both interesting ideas. NEITHER of them are apparent in this whiny-ass column.

  12. Ben Schwartz says:

    Funk: Well, the post itself is about how sports writers whined so hard about Riggleman’s me-first behavior – which is what I called it, too. But I put it in context of the bigger, long term damage that loser owners put on their teams and communities every day, for years on end. I got that much across.

    As for the Ricketts, they put about 20% down on a $900 mil team. Gravy train? Cub attendance has declined in recent years, because Cub fans finally woke up to the idea of having a winner on a Wrigley field, and they’re not getting it. I know, who’d a thought? For the foreseeable future, the gravy train is over and the grave yard is here. The Ricketts Ameritrade Co. has a history of scamming the public. Maybe if they hadn’t had to pay $450 mil to the citizens of New York State the month before the Cubs deal went thru, this situation wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe after they dump their big contracts and carve some public financing out (cuz it’s not coming from season ticket holders) they’ll create a young team like the post-Bonds SF Giants, but that’s a ways off.

  13. JAMES PATTISON says:

    Often times sports writers are completely devoid of what’s called empathy. I would like to ask them how they would like their editor looking over their shoulder every day to determine whether or not they deserved to work next year.

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