Baker walks same con­tract path as for­mer skip­per Rig­gle­man.

Na­tion­als’ Baker walk­ing same path as for­mer man­ager Rig­gle­man in 2011

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TODD DYBAS

Cincinnati rolled into town Fri­day, six years to the day since Jim Rig­gle­man’s fate­ful de­ci­sion. Some play­ers agreed with it, oth­ers did not. It was a choice that made Rig­gle­man won­der if he would work again in base­ball.

He quit that day, June 23, 2011, as Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als man­ager af­ter a rous­ing win and in the midst of a ris­ing tide around the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The Na­tion­als had re­fused to pick up his con­tract op­tion be­fore they had to, so Rig­gle­man de­cided their fu­ture for them. He left.

He was 58 years old, at a point where con­vic­tion and cash can al­ter rea­son­ing. Rig­gle­man was fed up with the Na­tion­als slow-play­ing their de­ci­sion to pick up his con­tract op­tion. He spent the win­ter be­fore his fi­nal sea­son un­der con­tract ex­pect­ing Wash­ing­ton’s own­er­ship to give him an an­swer. They didn’t. He went into spring ex­pect­ing them to de­cide. They didn’t. Then, he put gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo in a com­pli­cated spot: As­sure the op­tion and pos­si­bly an ex­ten­sion now, or I am leav­ing.

The path of man­agers ask­ing for more has be­come well worn around the Na­tion­als. Rig­gle­man wanted sol­i­dar­ity to help him as­suage a di­vide in the club­house, which he ad­mits now was his re­spon­si­bil­ity, and to give him clar­ity. Davey Johnson wanted more from the or­ga­ni­za­tion when he man­aged. Dusty Baker is in a sim­i­lar spot on the an­niver­sary of Rig­gle­man’s de­par­ture.

Baker is work­ing through his fi­nal sea­son of a two-year con­tract won­der­ing why he is yet to have his deal ex­tended by the Lerner fam­ily. Baker had spent the win­ter hop­ing some­thing would be done. Then, the spring. Now, he is in the mid­dle of the sea­son with a win­ning team and con­trac­tual limbo. Sound fa­mil­iar?

Sit­ting in the vis­i­tor’s dugout Satur­day, Rig­gle­man, now the Reds’ bench coach, was em­braced by a Na­tion­als staffer. He told her about his pend­ing

grand­fa­ther­hood. She re­layed that her sec­ond grand­child was go­ing to emerge soon. They promised to com­pare pho­tos. Min­utes prior, Rig­gle­man re­trieved a cou­ple base­balls to give to fans who had shouted to him. In the midst of an in­ter­view, a “RIG­GLE­MAN!” cracked the fad­ing sounds of bat­ting prac­tice.

Dreams are of­ten built on lo­cal and ex­clu­sive no­tions, both of which Rig­gle­man achieved with the Na­tion­als’ job. He’s from Rockville, Mary­land, was drafted out of Frost­burg State Univer­sity and be­gan man­ag­ing in 1983. He still sali­vates when think­ing about be­ing a man­ager. There are, as is so of­ten pointed out, just 30 of these jobs.

“I would chal­lenge any­body in the world to say they en­joy man­ag­ing more than I do,” Rig­gle­man said. “We can’t have a contest. I can’t prove it. But, I love to man­age. And that’s why I went down to the mi­nor leagues and man­aged. I loved man­ag­ing in Pen­sacola and Louisville. I knew I may never man­age again when I made the de­ci­sion I made. But, you know, it’s just a de­ci­sion you make at 58 that you don’t make at 28.”

Rig­gle­man con­tends it wasn’t just that par­tic­u­lar day when asked how he felt in June six years ago. In­stead, what had been per­co­lat­ing sur­faced. Once he con­cluded what he was go­ing to do, he called his son, John, to ex­plain this is not the best way to make a de­ci­sion. John was 28 at the time. Rig­gle­man told him that he had to stick it out at work, al­ways choose “smart” over “right.” Jim was at a dif­fer­ent point.

“I want to pref­ace it by say­ing I have the ut­most re­spect for the Na­tion­als, Mike Rizzo, his staff, the Lern­ers, ev­ery­body,” Rig­gle­man said. “I’m very grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity I had here. But, it wasn’t that day. It was a process of time that I came to the con­clu­sion of mak­ing the de­ci­sion that I made. Not any par­tic­u­lar thoughts about that one day. It’s just about my time in gen­eral here. I’m for­tu­nate to have been here. It’s my home­town. I loved it here. I think more in terms of my time here as op­posed to a par­tic­u­lar day that I left.”

No one has bet­ter per­spec­tive on the Na­tion­als’ re­cent han­dling of man­age­rial con­tracts than Rig­gle­man. First, he has a life in Ma­jor League Base­ball to draw from. Sec­ond, he worked for Rizzo and the Lerner fam­ily. Third, he’s good friends with Bud Black. Black was re­port­edly set to be the Na­tion­als’ next man­ager two off­sea­sons ago. He chose not to. Baker was hired in­stead.

“Davey, Bud Black, Dusty, ev­ery­body’s go­ing to make their de­ci­sion on their own,” Rig­gle­man said. “When Bud de­cided not to be here, he watched the Na­tion­als win a whole bunch of ball games. Maybe there were times he felt — and I shouldn’t speak for Bud, he’s a good friend and so forth — I think there were prob­a­bly times where he thought, ‘Man, I could have been there with that team, look how good they are.’ But, he came to a de­ci­sion based on the in­for­ma­tion he had in front of him. Now, Dusty is go­ing to have to do that.

“Dusty’s in a no-lose sit­u­a­tion. He’s rev­ered by his peers, his play­ers, through­out the base­ball world. Peo­ple think a lot of Dusty. And, there is no op­tion on his con­tract, I be­lieve. They got a great team. He’s in a great po­si­tion. He’s go­ing to be man­ag­ing here or he’s go­ing to be man­ag­ing some­where else.”

How the Lern­ers have han­dled the con­tracts of Johnson, Rig­gle­man and Baker has not just been a pub­lic spec­ta­cle. It has be­come a be­hind-the-scenes topic among those en­trenched in base­ball. Rizzo, who de­clined to com­ment for this story, re­cently de­fended the process by not­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion has a way it does busi­ness — Rizzo went through the same slow-play of his con­tract last year — and the re­sults speak for them­selves. Wash­ing­ton has won at least 95 games three times in the last five sea­sons, do­ing so un­der three dif­fer­ent man­agers. Rig­gle­man thinks the or­ga­ni­za­tion is one sig­na­ture away from the raised-eye­brow view of the Na­tion­als be­ing re­moved, at least tem­po­rar­ily.

“I think that’s there right now,” Rig­gle­man said. “The day Dusty signs his next con­tract, that all goes away. That’s loom­ing. If some­thing to­tally un­ex­pected hap­pened and [Dusty] wasn’t here, then that talk would con­tinue through next year. The day that he signs his con­tract, I think it’s go­ing be, ‘OK, we all knew this was go­ing to hap­pen. It’s all good. Let’s go to work.’”

De­spite the di­ver­gence in pref­er­ences, things are work­ing out for all par­ties. Af­ter climb­ing back through the mi­nor leagues, Rig­gle­man has as­cended to bench coach for the Reds. Baker is on a path to back-to-back play­off ap­pear­ances and mak­ing his brief hia­tus from base­ball all the more head-scratch­ing. Black was hired by Colorado last off­sea­son. The Rockies came into Sun­day 17 games over .500 and on pace for their first play­off ap­pear­ance since 2009. Wash­ing­ton keeps win­ning un­der the Lerner’s watch.

Six years ago, Rig­gle­man took a stand for what he thought was right. Not much has changed since.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jim Rig­gle­man quit as man­ager of the Na­tion­als in the mid­dle of the 2011 sea­son when the team would not ex­tend his deal.

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