Talk about a walk-off. For the Nationals, there were actually two of them Thursday afternoon. The traditional type came on Laynce Nix's pinch-hit sacrifice fly that delivered the winning run and a series sweep of the Mariners. And then there was the totally untraditional walk-off that followed, when Jim Riggleman, bereft of contract security beyond this season, stunned the baseball world and resigned. He told general manager Mike Rizzo before Thursday's game that he would not be getting on the team bus for the trip to Chicago if his 2012 option wasn't exercised by the end of the day. When Rizzo didn't budge, Riggleman walked.
This was a move straight out of the Mike Hargrove playbook. Riggleman's club won 11 of 12 to climb above .500. Hargrove famously resigned from the Mariners in the midst of an eight-game winning streak in 2007, presumably for reasons similar to those that prompted Riggleman's exit. In the time since, Hargrove has tried to get back into managing in the Majors -- and has basically been ignored. Riggleman, a low-key guy who suddenly showed his bold side, figures to endure a similar fate. (And the fact that both were temporarily replaced by bench coach John McLaren provides the makings of an excellent trivia question.) On the one hand, you can't fault the 58-year-old Riggleman for sticking up for himself when he felt disrespected. As he said himself, sometimes you get to a point when you're too old to put up with the rigmarole of the business side. We all have our breaking points, and Riggleman reached his. He felt his contractual instability reflected his standing with this organization. "In today's sports, it's not a good environment to work in," Riggleman said. "Too many negatives come out of it. You have to send a message to professional ballplayers [that] this man's the manager." Well, sure, that helps. But in truth, it helps the manager more than the players. In reality, all this sequence of events acknowledges is that Riggleman may never have been viewed as more than a placeholder for a Nats team potentially building toward something special. Perhaps, if this sudden surge in the standings had been sustained a few more weeks, Riggleman would have received the extension he sought. Perhaps not. We'll never know, because while Riggleman is, from my vantage point, a good baseball man and maybe a better manager than his career record of 662-824 indicates, he clearly overplayed his hand on this one. Riggleman is leaving behind a desirable job. Not so much because of the recent results, which could very well be a midseason mirage, but because of the long-term outlook. The potential pitfalls of the Jayson Werth contract are well-documented and only amplified by his current .237 average. But Werth, of course, is a better hitter than his early results indicate, and the Nats also have power and potential up the middle in Danny Espinosa at second and Wilson Ramos behind the plate. Ryan Zimmerman is locked up through 2013, and Jordan Zimmermann could be a front-line starter for many years. Stephen Strasburg will be back next spring, and Bryce Harper won't be far behind. No, the farm system, beyond Harper, isn't considered stacked, and yes, the National League East can be a daunting division. But there are real pieces in play here. "I feel we're going in the right direction," Rizzo said. "I thought [Riggleman] was doing a good job as manager. I wanted to see where the season was going, where our young players were going, how they were being developed." But Rizzo didn't want to make a long-term managerial move in the midst of the emotional upswing that comes with a hot streak. That's understandable, and, sure, so is Riggleman's belief in his right to a more stable situation. Ultimately, though, the team, for all its faults, is bigger than the skipper. The Nats seemingly have a bright future ahead of them, with or without Riggleman, whose walk-off here will likely be his last managerial move.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.