Riggleman unfazed by projects

Ex-Cubs manager paid dues for 2nd chance with Nats

March 21, 2010|By Phil Rogers

No longer is Wrigley Field a burial ground for managerial careers.

When Dusty Baker was hired to manage the Reds two seasons ago, he became the first former Cubs manager to get a chance elsewhere since Charlie Finley hired Jim Marshall to run the stripped down A's in 1979. Jim Riggleman has followed that seldom traveled path, receiving a contract for two years and an optional third to run the Nationals after replacing Manny Acta on an interim basis in July.

Riggleman points to the improvement of the Cubs' franchise for helping the standing of those who have worked there.

"At the risk of sounding like a loser, you go back to '89 and that club has had a lot of playoff appearances," Riggleman said. "It's not like it's perceived. I know fans are frustrated because they want to win it all - and the goal is always to win the whole thing - but when you start a season, you're trying to get to the playoffs. They did that in '89, '98, '03 and then twice with Lou (Piniella).

"Is that good enough? No. But it's not a total failure, either."

Riggleman, 57, oversaw one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the franchise's history, winning a one-game playoff over the Giants for a wild-card spot into the '98 playoffs one year after a 68-94 season. He was fired after injuries to Kerry Wood and Kevin Tapani contributed to a 95-loss season in '99 and waited almost 10 years to get another chance to manage.

He spent 2000 as a third base coach for Charlie Manuel with the Indians, then four years as a coach with the Dodgers. He served as a minor league coordinator for the Cardinals from '05 to '07 before going to the Mariners as John McLaren's bench coach in '08. He landed an interim manager's job that June when McLaren was canned but didn't stay after Jack Zduriencik replaced GM Bill Bavasi.

A Fort Dix, N.J., native who grew up rooting for the Senators, Riggleman went to Washington as Acta's bench coach last season. He turned a short-term opportunity into a job with shelf life by impressing President Stan Kasten and GM Mike Rizzo with both his work at the end of '09 and his ideas about overcoming a losing tradition, expressed during the interview process.

"This is a real good situation for me," Riggleman said, overlooking the Nationals' 343-466 record since the franchise moved from Montreal. "It's what I've wanted to do since I left Chicago - to have another chance with a team, starting in spring training and seeing where it can go.

"If I hadn't thought I could be successful as a manager, I wouldn't have stayed in uniform this long. I would have gone on to another kind of job in baseball or something completely different."

Riggleman is looking forward to the chance to manage at Wrigley Field again. He knows this is a critical season for Piniella, who is trying to rebuild the mojo the Cubs seemed to have before being swept in the first round of the playoffs in '07 and '08.

Riggleman wasn't able to turn things around once they started to go bad. Nor were his highly respected successors, Don Baylor and Baker.

He believes the negativity of fans takes on a life of its own.

"It's tangible," he said. "In '99, when things started to go bad, it was tangible. We got the feeling, 'Oh, God, we're not going to turn this around.' "

Justice served: The Mariners' Cliff Lee ought to drop his appeal of the five-game suspension he received for firing a fastball over Chris Snyder's head. He had that coming, and then some, after a potentially ugly incident that resulted from words exchanged when Lee banged into Snyder as he was backing up the plate and Snyder was positioning himself to tell a base runner whether to slide.

Given the normal tranquility of spring training, the Diamondbacks' Mark Reynolds was right to use "bush league" as a description for Lee's actions.

"We were hitting him around a little bit, and the (pitch at Snyder's head) was just uncalled for," Reynolds said. "I've faced Cliff Lee plenty of times to know he has amazing control."

Lee didn't appear to suffer any damage in the initial collision, but Snyder said he was hurting.

"He Charley-horsed my leg," he said. "I still feel it. … My leg hurt every time I squatted, then he threw a ball at my head. He's up two-nothing on me."

Too much, too soon: Ronny Cedeno, set to be the Pirates' everyday shortstop, admits he wasn't ready when Baker handed him the Cubs' job in 2006.

"I was so young then, just 23 on Opening Day," Cedeno said. "I thought I was ready to play in the major leagues, but looking back on it, I really wasn't mature enough. I would get down on myself. I'd get angry with myself and start losing confidence."

Cedeno was considered little more than a throw-in when he was acquired from the Mariners in the Jack Wilson trade, but he impressed manager John Russell with his play late last season.

"I couldn't be more excited," Cedeno said. "It's what I've been working toward for a long time."

The last word: "It's not like hours away, but it's not months away, either. It's between hours and months, how about that?" - Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose patience wore thin with reporters asking when Hideki Matsui would make his spring debut in the outfield.

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

progers@tribune.com

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