WASHINGTON — Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned from one of the hottest teams in baseball Thursday, saying he felt the franchise wasn’t committed to him over the long term.
Riggleman quit because the Nationals weren’t prepared to pick up the option on his contract for next year, further reinforcing his feeling that he was merely a placeholder manager until the team could find someone better.
“It’s been brewing for a while,” Riggleman said in a clubhouse that went from festive to stunned after completing a sweep of the Seattle Mariners. “I know I’m not Casey Stengel, but I do feel like I know what I’m doing. It’s not a situation where I felt like I should continue on such a short lease.”
His decision caught the franchise by surprise. General manager Mike Rizzo said he’ll announce Friday who will manage the team this weekend during a road series against the Chicago White Sox.
“Jim told me pregame today that if we wouldn’t pick up his option, then he wouldn’t get on the team bus today,” Rizzo said. “I felt that the time wasn’t right for me to pick up the option, and certainly today’s conversation put to me in the way it was put to me, you certainly can’t make that decision in a knee-jerk reaction. It’s too big of a decision.”
The Nationals have won 11 of 12 and are above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2005.
“We should be celebrating going to Chicago,” Rizzo said. “I’m disappointed that this is a distraction, that this is not thinking of the team first, that it is thinking of personal goals, thinking of personal things firsts. That’s probably what disappoints me the most.”
Riggleman has been working on one-year deals since taking over for Manny Acta in 2009. He was being paid $600,000 this year and the Nationals held a team option for 2012 at $600,000.
The 58-year-old Riggleman previously managed San Diego, the Chicago Cubs and Seattle, spending parts of 12 seasons in the dugout overall. He has a 662-824 record overall. Riggleman guided the Cubs to the 1998 NL wild-card spot and was let go after the next year.
Riggleman later was the bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle. He took over as the Mariners’ manager midway through the 2008 season but was not retained when the season ended.
Riggleman became the Nationals’ bench coach in 2009. Still harboring hope of managing again, he even considered going to Japan if a job opened there. Instead, he got a spot in the majors with Washington when he replaced Acta.
Born and raised in Rockville, Md., a short drive from Nationals Park, he maintained his local roots. Unable to attend his high school reunion because Washington was playing, he instead invited his classmates to meet him the same weekend at a home game.
Riggleman was a minor league infielder and later a manager in the St. Louis system. He became a manager for the first time in the big leagues with the Padres late in the 1992 season and was considered part of the modern-breed of skippers, putting an emphasis on communicating with his players and increased use of statistics.