Former M's manager Jim Riggleman doesn't understand animosity toward Ichiro
Now with a coach with the Nationals, Riggleman knew he ruffled some feathers in the Mariners clubhouse last season.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
VIERA, Fla. — Jim Riggleman makes no secret of the fact that he yearns to manage in the worst way.
Some cynics would say that's exactly what the job of interim manager for the 2008 Mariners was — not a reflection of Riggleman's ability, but of the cesspool of dissension he inherited in Seattle that is being revealed more clearly by the day.
Yet Riggleman thought he was starting to make real inroads when the season ended, and that the clubhouse cohesion would have been much better in '09.
He admits he didn't get through to everyone in his 3 ½ months on the job after replacing the fired John McLaren in June. But what manager does? Riggleman held out hope this winter of being considered for permanent status by new general manager Jack Zduriencik, but he has also been around the game long enough to know that was a longshot, at best.
"I was hoping, maybe he'll let me bring the team to spring training, and if he didn't like what he saw after a while, make a change," Riggleman said, sitting in a golf cart before the first workout of spring by the Washington Nationals, for whom he is now bench coach.
"But when you come in new, like Jack, reluctantly I say it's probably the best for everyone if you probably clean the slate and start totally new."
Riggleman, however, provided some cogent and mature observations Monday on the state of the Mariners, bringing a little bit of sanity to the festering Ichiro controversy and other unsavory matters.
The fact that there was animosity toward Ichiro, he said, stunned him. He asked himself, "How could that be?" While saying he thought the issue was "overblown," he also didn't deny it was very real.
"Some people say it's jealousy," Riggleman said. "I really don't think players are jealous. What are you jealous of? Everybody is making big money, everyone is having nice careers. ... I experienced it, and I still don't have a total feel of why there was a group on the club that just wasn't going to warm up to him."
In coming to terms with that question, Riggleman concluded, "I think it's a style of play. I think people feel he's not playing the game the way we play it here in America. He's not bunting enough early, he's not running as much as we'd like or whatever. They look at it as he's being selfish, and I don't know that's what it is.
"I think one of the main things is, his numbers are so good, but the team is not getting to the level we want it. So he's going to be the lightning rod for criticism. But if we had that one more offensive player, he would be recognized the way Jimmy Rollins is in Philadelphia."
Whatever the cause, Riggleman realized he had to deal with the matter head on, particularly after veiled criticism in the press, including a tirade by pitcher Carlos Silva in which he ripped unnamed teammates for being interested only in padding their stats.
"I got some of the guys I felt were critical in my office. I said, 'You know what? You're accusing a man of being selfish. Sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. Talk to him. Don't say it to a writer. Talk to him man-to-man, express yourself to him over a cup of coffee. It's not about taking a swing at somebody, or griping to writers. If you think he's selfish ... he's not in here saying to me you're selfish, but you're not even watching the game when you're not pitching. He could come in here and say you're selfish.'
"I just pointed out to them, we all have our deficiencies here. Let's each take care of our own spots, and the whole thing can come together. There was some divisiveness. I felt a lot of the things we were doing, guys were starting to get on board a little bit. We were making some progress. I think it would have been better in '09."
Some of the early camp stories Riggleman has read have reinforced that thought.
"I think everyone is going to take a deep breath over the winter. I think everyone probably went home and said, 'You know what, I need to get past that. I need to do my job.'
"Silva, I see he came in 30 pounds lighter. He must have gone home and said, 'Hey, I've got to stop bitching about Ichiro and get my ass in gear here.' "
Riggleman knows he rankled some team members with his strict managerial style and his attempt to "tighten up some things" within the team.
"The phrase I used a lot of times was probably 'ruffling some feathers' with some guys," he said. "But I felt it needed to be done. ... I felt we made great progress with our position players, but I felt like with our pitchers, some of them didn't really buy into what I was doing."
Specifically, Riggleman believes some of the relievers rebelled against the organizational decision to use certain left-handed relievers, which shifted some of the established roles in the bullpen.
"I was putting them in some situations, they really weren't getting left-handers out, but that was the plan we were going to do," he said. "Well, that wasn't working, so I'm sure a lot of other pitchers were saying, 'Why does Jim keep doing that; this left-on-left thing isn't working.' We were trying to see if those guys could get left-handers out, looking toward '09.
"That type of grumbling was taking place. I don't have a lot of patience for grumbling, and I probably wore a little bit of that emotion on my sleeves a little bit. I felt like I communicated with them and all that, but I know I lost some pitchers there. But I felt that it needed to be done."
Riggleman also thought he may have alienated some starters with his insistence they sit in the dugout when they weren't pitching — a practice that was being flouted by some, he said.
"If you're not pitching in the game, you should be in the dugout," he said. "That's just common sense, right and wrong. It's right to be in the dugout.
"I know I irritated those guys over nitpicking things like that. You know what? I'm right and they're wrong. I don't think that's debatable, is it? You should be in there."
In the end, as tempestuous as it was at times, Riggleman clearly treasured his Mariners experience. Though it didn't result in a job, at least it reminded people that this guy was once a hot managerial property when he guided the Padres and Cubs, earning a playoff berth in 1998.
"Our record didn't do much for me," he said, "but I hope people realize, 'There he is; I didn't know where he was. He's still managing.' "
In the best way — from the heart.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.