Short hops, quick pops and backhand stops:
• He has become the man who is asked to land the jet airliner safely and with minimal damage when the pilot is stricken in flight. The "In Case of Emergency" guy.
|Jim Riggleman has had to do a lot of teaching with this Nationals roster. (Getty Images)|
This year, Riggleman is bringing the Washington Nationals home, having been put in charge when Manny Acta was canned on July 13.
It surely must be nice to be thought of as a responsible adult and all. But for a man who still burns to manage a major league club without the word "interim" attached to the word "manager", in a game in which labels come quick and stick, too many "interim manager" gigs probably lead to a lifetime of "bench coach."
"Nah," he says when asked whether he's concerned about being unable to escape the "interim" tag. "The people who make decisions on these types of things in baseball know who you are, and they know what the options are. You try to make as good an impression as you can, and hopefully you get the call."
The Mariners last year went 36-54 after Riggleman took over on June 19. The Nationals so far are 20-27 this year.
The situations, though, could not be more different: What Mariners executives sought last year was somebody who could prevent a civil war inside a clubhouse loaded with veterans, some of whom hated each other. What Nationals executives were seeking this year was someone who would instill some professionalism into a clubhouse full of raw talent, and someone capable of teaching some of that raw talent.
"As much respect as I had for the Seattle situation, this is more comfortable," Riggleman says. "This group is very receptive. It's a younger group, and they're all eyes and ears."
• Mike Rizzo finally had the "interim" tag removed himself earlier this month by Nationals president Stan Kasten after serving as interim general manager since February, after Jim Bowden resigned under pressure. The Nationals again have baseball's worst record, but Rizzo has sprayed enough Lysol that the atmosphere is detoxified (or, "de-Bowden-ized", as some say) and the club, while still miles away, at least has a direction.
"There's a new feel of professionalism in the clubhouse," Rizzo says. "Guys are accountable now for how they handle themselves."
Rizzo expects to wait until after the season to name a permanent manager. While he says "I think we have a good candidate in Jim Riggleman" and reminds that he's the one who handed the keys to Riggleman earlier this summer, you know how these things go. Rarely does the interim manager stick around into the next season unless the team's record changes dramatically under his watch.
Rizzo's thumbnail sketch for what he's looking for in a manager: "Experienced teacher. I want a guy who instills some discipline and fundamentals. The guy has to be respected in this clubhouse and around baseball. Someone who knows the Xs and Os of the game."
Given the Nationals' horrid television and radio ratings and disappointing attendance, does it have to be a marquee name?
"Not to me," Rizzo says. "If it's marquee, fine. And if it's a hidden gem that only we know about, that's fine, too. Nobody knew Don Wakamatsu before Seattle hired him this year, and look at the job he's done. We're going to get the best fit we can for the organization to take us into the future."
• Riggleman is an astute baseball man who once was an up-and-coming young manager like Wakamatsu. Despite losing every season, he gained respect piloting the Fire Sale San Diego Padres of the early 1990s. Then he managed the Cubs from 1995-1999. Though he was fired following a 67-95 season in '99, partly a victim of the toxic Sammy Sosa clubhouse atmosphere, the Cubs did finish over .500 twice during his watch and won the wild-card playoff slot in '98. Suddenly, compared to the Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella regimes, the Riggleman Era doesn't look as bad as maybe it once did, eh?
• The name to watch on the managerial front this winter is Bobby Valentine, who is leaving Chiba Lotte in the Japan League after seven years (and one championship) there. While it is difficult to imagine Valentine and Nationals president Stan Kasten -- two men whose photos accompany "Type A personality" in psychology guides -- working peacefully together in Washington, remember, Kasten did co-exist with Bowden for longer than anyone could have imagined. Whichever teams have an opening, they'd be silly not to seriously consider Valentine, who has a history of turning around poor teams and winning.
• Managers currently on the hot seat (or thought by some to be) with a month to go: Baltimore's Dave Trembley (contract up after this season; club option for 2010), Houston's Cecil Cooper (whose contract was extended through 2010 in April), Cleveland's Eric Wedge (signed through 2010) and the Mets' Jerry Manuel (signed through 2010). Trembley seems in imminent danger given that president Andy MacPhail has stated he wanted to avoid what would be a late-season tailspin for a third year in a row -- which is where the O's find themselves. Wedge's future is very questionable as well, following two highly disappointing seasons. Cooper appears a goner in Houston after owner Drayton McLane said he will thoroughly evaluate the organization following the season. As for Manuel, forget it. He stays. Given the incredible run of injuries and other issues with the Mets this season, John McGraw would have lost with this bunch. There are far more significant issues than the manager's chair.
• Boston's best chance to zip around the Yankees and make October memorable is if Josh Beckett pitches like he did in 2007, which is why the Red Sox are in a very worrisome time right now: Beckett has surrendered 14 home runs over his past five starts and has an 8.88 ERA over his past four starts. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo says scouts watching Beckett's start Wednesday night in Tampa Bay were alarmed that the right-hander's arm speed is "about 2-3 miles per hour slower than it was earlier in the season."
• Happy anniversary? Um, not quite. Author Bill Chuck checks in with this nugget: Saturday is the 14th anniversary of Mariano Rivera's last start. Rivera made 10 big league starts before finding his niche in the bullpen, during which he was 3-3 with a 5.94 ERA. His first save? May 17, 1996.
• Yes, the Royals are in their 800th consecutive disappointing season (or something like that, it's gotta be close), and for that, many are wondering about the sanity of ownership for extending general manager Dayton Moore's contract by four years. Fine, comes with the territory. But know this: Moore is immensely respected within the industry and rebuilding is not an overnight process. Under Moore, the Royals have significantly beefed up their international presence and spent more in the draft. I don't know if this program is a guaranteed success, but I do know that swapping GMs and changing directions every few years doesn't work. Everybody points to Minnesota as one of the best examples of how to do business. Well, look at the continuity: The Twins have had three GMs since 1985: Andy MacPhail, Terry Ryan and, now, Bill Smith.
• For a guy who quietly left his post as president of the Padres in early April, Sandy Alderson is a hot name on the rumor circuit. He's been linked to the Chicago Cubs as someone who might run baseball operations under the Ricketts family; to the San Francisco Giants as still-new owner William Neukom continues to settle in and to a group still being patched together that might take a run at buying the Texas Rangers.
• Jim Thome always has been pure class, and he showed it again this week when he phoned Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti just before the White Sox-Dodgers trade was finished to make sure Colletti knew he is physically incapable of playing first base. Then, Thome signed away his no-trade clause to make it happen even though, as Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times points out, he's just 36 homers away from 600 for his career and he probably cost himself roughly 70 plate appearances this season by agreeing to be traded to the no-DH NL.
• Two significant pitching injuries in Colorado, where, with ace Aaron Cook already probably done for the season, closer Huston Street, who has converted 33 of 34 save attempts this season, now is sidelined with biceps tendinitis. Good thing the Rockies, starting Friday, have a run of 10 consecutive games against Arizona (.455), Cincinnati (.451) and San Diego (.437) before beginning a showdown series in San Francisco on Sept. 14.
• The Padres and Diamondbacks each figure to have a significant impact on the NL West and wild-card race: Each has a home-and-home series with the Dodgers, Giants and Rockies this month.
• A little perspective on the gritty Giants' offensive struggles? They've scored two-or-fewer runs in 51 of their 133 games. That's 38 percent of the time, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Co. have precious little margin for error.
• Did you see Barry Zito's quote in colleague Danny Knobler's column the other day? In case not, I thought it's imperative you not miss it when a pitcher quotes, ahem, actress Judy Garland. Quote Zito: "Judy Garland said, 'It's better to be a first-rate version of yourself than a second-rate version of somebody else.'" Must admit, I'd never heard that one. But Judy Garland or not, it's a keeper.
• I know No. 1 draft choice Stephen Strasburg is The Savior and all, but when Washington reporters trekked down to Florida for his first workout with the Nationals, these were his first words to them: "I thought I'd get a little bit of peace out here, but you guys are following me everywhere. It's something I guess I've got to deal with. I guess it just goes with the territory." Three years at San Diego State maybe didn't provide Strasburg with the education he needs: Dude, you sign a record-setting, $15.67 million deal, get used to life in the limelight. You can't have it both ways. You can't have the money and then demand to be treated like a normal, private citizen. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. And it will be best for both Strasburg and the Nationals if the kid comes to terms with that sooner rather than later.
• Circle Sunday, Sept. 13 on your calendar. It's the date new Giant Brad Penny is projected to start against his old team, the Dodgers, and don't think the Dodgers won't remember this: When he signed with the Giants this week and was told that 42,000 people who hate the Dodgers will be in AT&T Park to watch that day, Penny corrected the questioner. "42,001," he said.
• Best wishes to Lee Pelekoudas, a good man, upon leaving the Mariners' organization, a place he's been employed since 1979. Just 58, Pelekoudas intends to stay in baseball. "It was just time," he told the Seattle Times' Larry Stone regarding leaving the M's.
• Whew, good thing Curt Schilling says the chances of him running for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat are "slim to none." Given the way he backpedaled on his previous steroids claims during his testimony before Congress in March, 2005, a scenario featuring Sen. Schilling could lead to a Do-Nothing Senate as well as a Do-Nothing Congress. Sure could be entertaining, though.
• Out on DVD: Sugar, the well-reviewed film about a fictional Dominican baseball player struggling to make it in the majors and pull himself and his family out of poverty.