Riggleman thought he had leverage, and he thought wrong

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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We may be reaching the point where we have finally learned the lesson, "Fool us once, shame on you, fool us 6,118 times, shame on us."

But enough of the mega-muted reaction to Ron Artest changing his name to "This Space For Rent," "Eat At Joe's" or "Joey Crawford Can Bite Me." Let us take this moment instead to salute a new job seeker who can say if he ever gets back into the industry he loves that his walkup music will be I Fought The Law (And The Law Won).

Yes, Jim Riggleman, the former manager of the Washington Nationals, who decided at the oddest possible time to stand on principle and walk.

Riggleman thought guiding the Nats to third in the NL East was deserving of having his option picked up next season. (AP)  
Riggleman thought guiding the Nats to third in the NL East was deserving of having his option picked up next season. (AP)  
We refer you to Comrade Miller's explanation of the events to get the twos-and-fews on how Riggleman turned 11 wins in 12 games into a bus ticket. Boiled down, he thought he had leverage and he didn't, with the predictable result.

And that's pretty much it. At a time when management in pro and college sports is less respected than ever, Riggleman guessed wrong. Badly wrong.

When we say management is taking a beating, we're not kidding, either. David Stern and Roger Goodell were booed like arsonists at a firefighters' convention during their respective draft shows, and more Americans have found the owners' greed in these lockout days to be more annoying than the players' whining. The NCAA is under frontal, side-al and back-al attack for their free refills on venality and hypocrisy, and Frank McCourt is, well, Frank McCourt, and it doesn't get any less respected than that.

It might be a sign of America's general mood, but the bosses are taking a pasting in sports like never before. Sports fans tend to like authority. Hell, they love authority. But these are not happy days for the authority figures.

But then Jim Riggleman rode into view, after years of faithful, earnest and invisible service, most recently with the invisible Nationals. He was a regular baseball guy, happy to have the job, and paid like he was happy to have the job. In other words, poorly, on the managerial scale anyway.

And no, we don't want to hear how much you make. Your salary doesn't really enter into this discussion, although we would heartily approve of you getting a raise, if that will keep you from telling us about it.

Riggleman wanted his 2012 option picked up. General manager Mike Rizzo said he didn't want to discuss it. One thing led to two, and Riggleman quit. Perhaps for good, as baseball people tend not to enjoy uppity managers even more than they do enjoy minimally paid ones.

Again, Comrade Miller can offer greater detail on Riggleman's strengths vs. weaknesses with the Nats, and the Nats' strengths vs. weaknesses with the baseball thing in general. This is about leverage.

And leverage, as anyone above the age of 22 knows, is better than sex, because it's much harder to find and hold on to. You kids out there can laugh all you want, but you'll find out. Oh yes you will.

Leverage takes patience and cunning, political skill and reading-the-room skill, and understanding-your-place skill, and especially having-somewhere-else-to-land skill.

And this is where Riggleman screwed up. He thought that guiding the Nationals from fifth to fourth to third in the NL East was a more Herculean task than his bosses did. He asked for what amounted to a $50,000 raise for next year before this year was halfway done. He forgot he was dealing with the Lerners.

Three enormous mistakes, all based on a fourth -- that management respects managers. Fact is, not all management respects managers, and especially in Washington, D.C., where the number of coaches in the five major sports has reached the middle teens since 2008.

The Nationals, for the most part, have been lousy, and getting them to .500 is an achievement. But it's not a great achievement, not yet anyway, and Riggleman looks small and impetuous by walking because he can't get a sitdown about 2012. It is one of those times where management actually looks relatively prudent, and when you're talking about this management, in this town, you're saying something.

In short, it was one small blow for the boss in a year in which the boss has been pretty much stinking up the joint. And if that offends you management supporters, well, put it this way -- David Stern looked awfully relieved when he turned the NBA Draft over to top underling Adam Silver because he was being booed by Nets fans. Nets fans, for God's sake! It doesn't get worse than that, ever.

And frankly, Silver looked like he was enjoying it a little too much, if you know what we mean, and we think you do.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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