They met in 1977, when they were infielders for Triple-A New Orleans, then a Cardinals affiliate. Even back then, Riggleman often asked La Russa for advice. Riggleman would later work with La Russa from 2005-07 as the Cardinals' Minor League field coordinator.
"You kind of hung on to every world he said," Riggleman said about La Russa. "He has always been well-respected. I renewed acquaintances with him out in Arizona when I was managing the Padres and he was managing in Oakland. So, I saw him in Spring Training. He always wanted to share advice and you could bounce some things off him. We've had a mutual friendship for years. He is a good friend. We share ideas. He is a real bear to manage against."
When told how Riggleman felt about him, La Russa was pleasantly surprised and said that Riggleman also learned a lot from George Kissell, a longtime coach with the Cardinals.
"He has a true love of the game and he has a very inquisitive mind," La Russa said about Riggleman. "A bunch of times, when jobs open up, I call on his behalf. There is no doubt in my mind that Jim Riggleman is an outstanding baseball man as well as an outstanding manager. There is no doubt."
One thing Riggleman learned from La Russa is to be a hands-on manager. During home games, for example, the Nationals are on the field no later than 4 p.m. ET. Riggleman is involved in infield practice by hitting groundballs to his infielders. He also goes out to the outfield to watch his outfielders' workouts.
"You have great coaches and they have responsibilities, but the players need to see you involved," La Russa said. "Riggleman said, 'I was surprised how involved you are.' Other than that, I don't know what else I've done. Most of the time, we share baseball experiences."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.