A word in praise of Riggleman
Riggleman was handed a terrible job to do, and I want to give him some credit for doing it well.
None of us knew that much about Riggleman when he took over. Bench coaches are supposed to be the strategic in-game minds, but often they’re not and almost everyone in baseball manages more or less by the book anyway. They often fill a sort of liaison role with the players, or rat them out constantly to the manager, and they run the team when the manager’s been ejected.
With Riggleman, there’d also been a huge gap between his last managerial job in Chicago and taking over here: he hadn’t managed team since 1999. A lot’s changed since 1999 but, as it turns out, a lot hadn’t.
What a horrible job he was handed. The team was badly built to start and dogged by constant injuries to the starting rotation particularly, the clubhouse was dividing into factions and players were sniping at each other through proxies in the press. There was no way with 72 games down that they were going to contend. They were 25-47 when McLaren left, on their way to a 56-106 season.
61-101 isn’t that much less embarrassing than 56-106 on the surface of it, but it really is. There are about 75 teams in post-World War 2 history that have 56 or fewer wins. And that includes years shortened by labor actions. Throw out years with a labor problem and there’s about 50. As historically bad-for-the-franchise as this was, it could have been much worse.
The team wasn’t as bad as its record when Riggleman took over, but Bedard got all his starts in early in the year. After Riggleman took over for the June 20th game, Bedard got three starts in, for 13 and 2/3rds innings. The rest of the year he had to patch that whole while Batista and Silva and even Washburn came and went through injuries, and he only got four Morrow starts way at the tail end of the season.
Cesar Jimenez made two starts! And there weren’t other options! I know I did my share of second-guessing about who to pitch on how much rest, but I largely gave up. When you’re starving it feels wrong to whine about what’s on the menu that evening.
And yeah, he batted Vidro fourth for a while and said some strange things about it. But once Vidro was thrown off the team, he put together what were, on the whole, pretty reasonable lineups compared to McLaren. He played the outfield for defense, and that improved, or at least until Wlad took his turns out there. I don’t think playing Cairo was ever a solution, but later we were also watching the team test out Valbuena and Tuiasosopo to see how they’d handle playing against major league competition. And to return to Vidro as an example, we can’t really know what instructions he was working under to showcase one player or get some value out of another. I’m inclined, given that it was a lost year and the M’s would later insist on value for Washburn, to believe that there were certainly some marching orders there.
We should though recognize that Riggleman took over and refused to play clubhouse games. His responses to real and invented controversy was steady and laudable.
Divish: Why would someone say stuff like this?
Riggleman: Pettiness, seventh-grade mentality, just pettiness of whatever jealousy, pointing fingers, deflecting responsibility, lack of accountability, just a lack of a character. These things happen when youâ€™re losing; youâ€™re not seeing that happen with winning teams now. But those winning teams go out and lose a couple games and youâ€™ll see it.
I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Riggleman. Being a major league manager is a coveted job, but this was a nightmare, and he kept plugging away at it, refusing to thrash his players in the press though it would have been so, so easy, not having any part in the clubhouse issues. If we found out years later that Silva’s back problems this year were a cover for Riggleman beating him silly with a fungo bat every time he caught him badmouthing a teammate, I don’t think I’d be that surprised.
And somehow, without Bedard, without the rest of his rotation healthy, managing a terrible team that had been playing below itself and then got worse, they got a little better.
This season’s not going to be that great on his resume. It doesn’t show he can develop young players, take a modest team and squeeze one or two games out of them to squeak into the playoffs, or manage a veteran team to a championship. But when I think about where he had to take over and what happened afterwards, I wonder how many people could have kept things going as well as he did.
Whether or not he comes back next year, I tip my M’s cap to him. Thanks.