October 22, 2020

NL East: Managing To Abandon

Two National League East managers turned their backs on their players when they resigned this week.

They may have had reasons.  They certainly had excuses.  But no matter how you look at it, the managers of two National League East teams going in opposite directions walked away from their roles as team leaders.

Edwin Rodriguez’s Florida Marlins got off to a great start this year.  Nobody really expected the Marlins to go too far this year, and they quickly provided their fans some hope.  Things were falling into place, and while they may not have been perfect they certainly found ways to make it work.  Then they lost some key players.  Then they lost some games.  Then they kept losing.  They are now 2-21 in June.  Ramirez didn’t even make it that far.  He left when the Marlins were only 1-18 in June.  He left after watching the team fall from second place to last place.  Perhaps he left before he was forced to leave.  But no matter how you slice it…he left.

Meanwhile, just a little bit to his north, Jim Riggleman was at the helm of a Washington Nationals resurgence.  This team also entered the season with expectations and they had little trouble living down to them.  Their overpriced talent wasn’t performing.  Their accurately low-priced talent wasn’t performing.  And while this team wasn’t the worst team in baseball, they certainly seemed like they could contend for that dubious distinction at some point in the season.  Then something happened.  I can’t tell you what it was.  Perhaps a fan made a deal with a devilish conman; there’s a history of that in the area.  Maybe it was Michael Morse?  Or maybe everything clicked.  Whatever it was, Jim Riggleman was there when the team started winning.  He was there when they went from last to third.  He was there when they won 8 in-a-row and 11 out of 12.  And then…he left.

Rodriguez didn’t explain his reasons for leaving.  Maybe he didn’t think he had to.  He was a first time manager, in a shaky situation from the get-go.  The Marlins interest in the possibly available Ozzie Guillen for 2012 is among baseball’s worst-kept secrets.  Rodriguez was probably aware that it would take an especially successful performance to keep him in consideration for the future.  Obviously that seemed less likely after two-thirds of the way through June.  He had been asked repeatedly about the idea of him being on the hot seat.  So he removed himself from the situation.

Riggleman’s reasons for bailing are a little more out in the open.  During the 2009 season Riggleman, then the Nationals bench coach, took over when manager Manny Acta was fired.  He remained the Nationals manager in 2010 and 2011 but his 2012 option hadn’t been picked up yet, and he wanted to know what his future held.  Riggleman obviously felt like he deserved to keep his job, and the team’s play in the past few weeks seemed to support his argument (small sample size that it was).  At the very least, he felt he deserved the conversation.  From here the story gets a little less concrete.  By some accounts, Riggleman had been asking to meet with the front office to discuss his future with the team.  By other accounts, his actions were more sudden that that.  In either case, Riggleman wasn’t happy with the lack of communication and he removed himself from the situation.

Look, I’ve never been a major league manager.  Never even been a little league manager.  So I am admittedly unfamiliar with the pressures that Rodriguez was experiencing.  Similarly, I have never had to worry about an option year on a contract like Riggleman did.   So it’s not entirely fair for me to pass judgment on their decisions.  But, as a baseball fan, both of these situations bothered me terribly.

If there’s a bright side to this for fans of these teams, it’s the (not so) new leaders that will be taking over.  Jack McKeon was named as Edwin Rodriguez’s replacement just a couple days after Rodriguez walked away.  McKeon has now managed in 5 different decades for 5 different teams (Royals, A’s, Padres, Reds and Marlins).  He has over 1,000 career managerial victories and 2 NL Manager of the Year awards (1999 and 2003).  In fact, the last time he took over the Marlins mid-season was 2003 and they were struggling then as well.  They went on to win the World Series that year.  Resume aside though, when an 80 year-old former manager, seemingly comfortable in retirement (aka Special Assistant to the owner), comes back to lead a team of youngsters through a tough time, that shows more character than that clubhouse has seen in a little while.

Similarly, if the reports are accurate, Davey Johnson will be the new manager in Washington (through 2013).  While not quite McKeon’s age, the 68 year-old Johnson has plenty of success under his managerial belt.  Johnson led the Mets through their 1980′s revival, all the way to the World Championship in 1986 and another postseason visit in 1988.  In fact, from 1984 through 1989, all under Johnson’s tutelage, the Mets never finished worse than 2nd place.  A few years later, Johnson led a similar revival of the Cincinnati Reds.  He then took his magic touch to Baltimore where he led them to a 1997 AL East crown, and earned himself AL Manager of the Year honors.  A couple years later he tried his tricks on the west coast as the manager of the Dodgers.  For the first time in his managerial career, the results weren’t there.  Much like with the Marlins and McKeon, the Nationals probably need Davey Johnson much more than he needs them.

So now the Marlins, a team so lost just a few days ago because their leader couldn’t handle losing, may have a pulse just yet.  And now the Nationals, a team that had the rug pulled out from under them by a manager who thought himself more important than his team, may just yet have a future.  And maybe it will just turn out that walking away was the best thing that Edwin Rodriguez and Jim Riggleman could have done for their respective teams.

Around the Division:

Philadelphia Phillies – Roy Oswalt’s back on the DL.  He joins fellow Phillies pitchers Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras.  Kyle Kendrick will be returning to the rotation.  Scott Mathieson will be called up to take the long reliever role.  The pitching depth, once the pride of this Phillies team, is going to be tested for the next few weeks.

Atlanta Braves – Friday night’s results aside, the Braves pitching has been the key to their success this season.  Even with Tommy Hanson on the DL, the pitching and the team survived.  Brandon Beachy came off his own DL stint to throw a masterpiece against the Blue Jays, going 6 innings, striking out 11 and yielding a single run (a solo HR by Jose Bautista).  While Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson are have been inconsistent this season, Jair Jurrjens, Hanson (who should return on Tuesday night) and now Beachy, along with a stellar bullpen, have kept this team on track.

New York Mets – Coming into Friday night’s game, the Mets starting pitchers had an ERA of 2.62 over the last 27 games.  David Wright has been cleared to resume baseball activities and is in (or on his way) to Port St. Lucie to begin his rehabilitation program.  Wright had been fielding ground balls from his knees this past week, but can now take part in “fuller” activities.  The same cannot be said about Ike Davis, though.  Davis’ season is a question mark at this point and he will soon seek a second opinion to help figure out his course of action.  In the meantime, the offensively challenged Mets continue to surround Jose Reyes with eager and capable, but inexperienced (and recently slumping) infielders.

Shai Kushner is a Senior Writer for BaseballDigest.com.  Email Shai at: BaseballDigestShai@gmail.com.  Follow Shai on Twitter at: @BD_ShaiKushner.