Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jim Riggleman is a bad manager...and he knows it.

Since my sophomore year of college, I have had a severe dislike for Jim Riggleman.

In my opinion, he has been the worst Cubs manager since at least 1983...(before that, I can't really judge).

I would love to know the secret to him being able to have kept his job with the Cubs as long as he did.  He was manager longer than Dusty Baker, Jim Frey, Don fact, he managed the team longer than anyone else since 1972, when Leo Durocher was removed after 6 1/2 seasons.

It really started off on a bad note with me and Rigs because I really wanted the Cubs to rehire Jim Lefebvre (like that would ever have happened) after the disastrous 1994 season.  In 1994, most people remember the fact the World Series was canceled.  But I remember it because the Cubs inexplicably fired Jim Lefebvre after a 1993 season where the Cubs actually had a winning record and replaced him with Tom Trebelhorn.  The Cubs got off to a terrible start in 1994, so bad that Trebelhorn met the fans outside the firehouse on Waveland for the famous Firehouse Chat.

Anyway, the strike happened, Trebellhorn was fired, and the Cubs had the opportunity to perhaps get a proven winner to take over the team.  Instead they hired Jim Riggleman.  Jim Riggleman's managerial carear to that point consisted of slightly over 2 seasons as manager of the San Diego Padres where he accomplished a whopping .385 winner percentage.

He amazingly led the Cubs to a winning record in the strike-shortened 1995 season. But the next two seasons, the Cubs wallowed in mediocrity.

Before the 1998 season, the Cubs made a few impressive signings, which, for me, led to some of the highest expectations I have ever had for a Cubs team. For the '98 season, the Cubs acquired key players like Henry Rodriguez, Gary Gaetti, Jeff Blauser and Rod Beck. In fact, the Cubs boosted their payroll substantially for the 1998 season raising it by over 50%.

The Cubs actually did win the wild-card that season as everyone remembers, but the Cubs let the Astros run away with the division that year. The Astros had a consistent group of players that gave them a good run during the late 90's, but after the '97, they appeared to vulnerable and the Cubs let them go fairly early in the season even with the heroics of Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood during that year.

With the talent the Cubs brought in, winning the wild card in a one game playoff seem like quite a disappointment. And I always said that Cubs made it to the playoffs despite Jim Riggleman's efforts to keep them out.

The Cubs returned many of those players in the 1999 season, but most of the pitching staff went down with injuries by early June, and the season, once again, was lost and the Astros, once again, won the division with a nearly identical payroll to the Cubs for the second straight year.

Rod Beck basically broke apart after the 1998 season where Riggleman put him on the mound so much that he was only able to throw his fastball in the low 80's by the end of the season. We all know what happened to Kerry Wood.

Now the truth is, Riggleman never really was given much of payroll in his 2 of his 5 seasons...but the Cubs where in near the top of their division in payroll in '95, '98 and '99. Look, the Cubs general management really wasn't much to shout about at that time either...these were the same guys who fired Jim Lefebvre (those clowns would be Larry Himes and Ed Lynch). So it was obvious that all different levels of Cubs management was in sorry shape during this period.

Ok...but we are drifting a bit here (I seem to do that a lot).

Why have I so randomly picked out this subject? Well, the other day I was reading through a number of stories and blogs and I came across this entry on the's Cubs blog...Riggleman takes blame for overuse of Wood.

The most appalling thing here was what he ultimately said about his handling of Wood:

"We threw him in a situation where we were in a pennant race with a chance to win, and he was dominant. We let him pitch and the next thing you know next year he breaks down. It was ligament damage that who knows, maybe it would have happened anyway but if we took the more conservative route it would be a little easier for me to look in the mirror about it then it is when you just pitch him to win."

Why did a team with the highest payroll in its division have to rely on a rookie who didn't even start the season on the team? Maybe because the team underachieved? Riggleman was given a team that should have won the division. But it didn't, and the only way to salvage the season was to over use players like Wood and Beck.

Look, over the last 10 years we have seen our fair share of underachieving teams, including 2004, 2005, and 2009. But the managers involved with those teams also had a season where the team, in my opinion, overachieved...mainly 2003 and 2007. Never once in his 5 seasons did Jim Riggleman have a team that would have even closely have been considered as overachieving.

Riggleman didn't get another chance to manage again after being fired by the Cubs until 2008 when he was named interim manager of the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners played slightly better under Riggleman after John McLaren was fired, but not much better with the team ending the season with 101 loses. The Mariners of that season might be considered one of the biggest underachieving teams of the decade. With a number of high priced free agents and a very large payroll.

Riggleman was not retained by the Mariners for the 2009 season. But luckily for Jim, he got a job as bench coach for the Washington Nationals. And once again, last season, he got the chance to manage when the Nationals fired manager Manny Acta. Again Riggleman's team had a losing record under him...but the Nationals played substancially better after he took over the team, and for the first time he had a team that was actually overachieving a bit.

Jim will get his chance to wield his magic for a full season this year as the Nationals have rehired him as manager. Funny thing for Riggleman...he takes over a team that has some striking similarities to the 1998 Cubs. Now this team is not nearly as talented as that team was, but the Nationals have made a substantial investment in players this year. And they have a young promising pitcher who will likely make his debut sometime this season. And he has someone in right field who can hit a ton of home runs.

Riggleman can start proving me wrong this season. This Nationals team should be better. He can show better judgement in how he handles future Hall-of-Famer, Stephen Strasburg.

But for now, Jim Riggleman is still a bad manager.