Strictly Sports Week Update: 6.24.11
Jim Riggleman resigned abruptly yesterday as manager of the Washington Nationals after contract negotiations (and lack thereof) soured his relationship with the team beyond reconcilation. And all I can say is, thanks!
It was a slow sports week, and all I had in the pipeline was a superb column suggesting the Boston Bruins be re-named the Ghostface Killahs after pictures surfaced of players sipping champagne out of the Stanley Cup. Un-flammable! Good thing Riggleman set those plans ablaze, sparing us all.
Riggleman's announcement came minutes after Washington defeated the Seattle Mariners to move one game above .500. If you haven't kept abreast of Washington since they stopped being the Montreal Expos, that's an achievement for the struggling franchise.
Riggleman took over as manager in 2009 after the Nats parted with Manny Acta. When not beating the Mets, the Nationals were dedicating their resources to fielding a respectable enough squad to compete in the National League. Those efforts were being realized recently during D.C.'s impressive June. They're 15-6 this month, including an 11-1 run through the last 12 games.
But now that Riggle has wiggled his way out of Washington, we're opening the discussion on how selfish his decision was — especially when considering the Nationals' recent surge.
Quitting on a team is serious business in sports culture. Albert Haynesworth is a simultaneous punchline and sore spot in D.C. for his crimes against the NFL's Redskins. Tiki Barber was jeered by New York Giants fans during his Ring of Honor ceremony last October. That was likely for quitting on his family and pregnant wife with a 23-year-old intern, but also for quitting on his team with a midseason retirement announcement in his final year with the G-Men.
While we can admire Riggleman's conviction to keep with his warning to general manager Mike Rizzo — he demanded his one-year option be picked up before yesterday's Mariners game ended, or he'd resign — this is still a shameful act of quitting on the men who rely upon his leadership.
Obviously, Rizzo & Co. decided to call his bluff and decline the option, but that doesn't excuse Riggleman from putting the ultimatum on the table. He wanted a commitment he hadn't earned, especially when considering his mediocre managing career. The Nationals' turnaround this month now looks like a poorly-played bargaining chip rather than a sign of change for a fledgling franchise.
Simply put, one strong month of leadership and winning doesn't balance the last two seasons of forgettable baseball.
Much like my friend and excellent sportswriter Kyle Stack tweeted yesterday, Riggleman placed himself in the same breath as Bobby Petrino when he walked out on the Atlanta Falcons. Yet, the logic most writers apply when shredding players for demanding new contracts, in the offseason, is shelved to salute Riggleman's "tremendous" character.
I ask, along with Señor Stack, how is it different?
Players are lambasted for quitting in the fourth quarter, quitting on plays, and quitting on interviews with the media. Writers try to connect dots between contract negotiations and the aforementioned actions all the time (see: Randy Moss in New England, LeBron James in Cleveland). But when Riggleman quits because he's unhappy with his contract, there's a seemingly concerted effort to understand and reason.
Sorry, but I'm not buying that brand. Not right now, and not when the Nationals should be enjoying their streak and figuring out how to sustain it.
Now it's up to the Nationals to prove the turnaround was about their on-field talent, and not about Riggleman's leadership. That's the best counter to this sucker punch.
This Nationals alternate is available on CraniumFitteds.com.
No, I'm not completely ignoring last night's NBA Draft. I'm not oblivious, either. The intention here is to reserve judgment (read: avoid knee-jerk reactions) while I digest the mistakes decisions made. Recaps and breakdowns are all over the web, so I'm sure you're not this far into a sports column on a fitted-hat blog for my recollection of the festivities.
Give me a week; I'll have some perspective into the selections by then. Anything right now is way too premature.
Besides, some teams have some 'splaining to doooo.
Angel Navedo is a New York-based writer with a propensity to inject sarcasm and dated pop-culture references into his conversational prose. He enjoys fitted hats and haircuts, sneakers, video games, and Nicolas Cage movies produced by Disney. You can learn more about his work at thatsangel.com, or follow him on Twitter because that’s what people do now.