During an interview on the Scott Van Pelt Show on ESPN Radio yesterday, now-former Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman told the host that he knew what decision he was likely receive when he approached D.C. GM Mike Rizzo on Thursday and once again asked for his option to be picked up for the 2012 season. "I was totally prepared. I felt like when I asked to talk about it when we go to Chicago, I felt that the answer that I'd [get] is what I did get, I thought that's what would happen, so I was totally prepared to resign." The Nats' GM said much the same when he made a brief in-game appearance with the White Sox' announcers Steve Stone and Ken "Hawk" Harrelson in Chicago last night. "The decision was made for me," Rizzo said, "I was put in a position where there was no choice. I had to accept the resignation of Jim Riggleman, the manager, because he left me no choice."
Given the choice to name a new manager to take Riggleman's place after he did resign, the Nationals' general manager didn't wait long. Speculation that 68-year-old former major leaguer and New York, Cincinnati, Baltimore and LA Dodgers' skipper Davey Johnson, who was already in the organization as a Senior Advisor to the General Manager, would take over on the bench began almost immediately after news of Jim Riggleman's resignation first broke.
Rizzo had hired Johnson, who'd worked for the Nats during the previous General Manager Jim Bowden's tenure, in November '09, after he'd completed his first full season at the helm in D.C. and a few months after Rizzo had had the "interim" title removed from his job description. "'Davey makes me a smarter general manager," Rizzo told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article at the time entitled, "Nats name Johnson senior advisor to GM." "He is a deep thinker. He has done every aspect you can do in the game. Just to be around him, it makes me all that much better.'"
Johnson, who last managed a major league game on October 1, 2000 with the Dodgers, compiled a 1148-888 record (.564 winning percentage) as a manager with the Mets, Reds, O's and Dodgers, starting at the major league level with the New York in 1984 and leading them to a World Series win two years later. A former major league player who played from 1965 when he debuted with the Baltimore Orioles, who'd signed Johnson out of Texas A&M, through 1978 when he retired after one year with the Chicago Cubs, Johnson's spent 14 seasons total as a manager in the majors. Since leaving the Dodgers, Johnson's managed the Netherlands national team, managed for Team USA baseball and led the US team in the '09 WBC.
Reports out of Chicago this afternoon say that Johnson will be officially named as Jim Riggleman's successor today, though he won't take over on the bench until Monday when the Nationals travel to Los Angeles to take on the American League's Angels in Interleague play. MLB.com's Bill Ladson (@washingnats), who originally broke the story of Riggleman's resignation, wrote on the Twitter today that he was informed, "That Davey Johnson will manage the #Nats this year and 2012. There is an option for 2013."
Was Davey Johnson Mike Rizzo's choice for the next Nats' Skipper all along? Did Jim Riggleman read the situation correctly? Was Riggleman just a placeholder as others have written, keeping the team afloat at a relatively low cost until they were ready to compete? The Nats' GM has stated repeatedly over the last few days that Riggleman had his support in the clubhouse and the front office, but the now-former Nats' Manager clearly sensed that he wasn't a part of the team's future plans.
Whatever the truth behind the scenes, in public, the Nationals' GM has acted swiftly to restore order to what has to have been a chaotic situation, and he's now apparently hired a new manager within three days of an announcement that caught the entire baseball world by surprise though it had apparently been brewing for months behind the scenes in D.C.. If there was any question before today, the Washington Nationals are clearly Mike Rizzo's team, on the field, where his emphasis on pitching, speed, defense and athleticism is starting to show impressive returns and now on the bench and in the clubhouse where a respected (and most thought retired) major league manager is now running the team.