September 21, 2021

Jim Riggleman, Still Light on His Feet

January 19, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

Baseball personalities rarely lead lives connected to their home communties, which is what makes Jim Riggleman’s tenure as manager of the Washington Nationals so unique.  This morning Jim was introduced to a breakfast crowd by a local Bethesda, Maryland woman who said “Jimmy” was the first boy to ask her to dance, back when they were twelve and going to the same DC-area middle school.  “He showed his leadership skills even back then by having the courage to walk across the floor and ask a girl to dance,” said his long-time friend, Alicia Beach.null

Riggleman grew up here and graduated from Richard Montgomery High School in the DC suburbs, though it might have been more appropriate for him to have gone to Walter Johnson HS.  He resides now in Tampa, FL, although many from those days in Washington come out to cheer for him at Nationals Park.

The breakfast was sponsored by a local homeless support organization, Bethesda Cares.  The meeting celebrated ten persons who found permanent housing out of this harsh winter, but the draw was the guest speaker who attracted local business supporters looking for a chance to talk “inside” baseball.  Riggleman came back from Florida for a chance to lend support to all that Bethesda Cares does.

Riggleman describes himself as a “Bull Durham” kind of baseball man, one of those who grew up as a minor league lifer, whose favorite players are still those guys who would “run through a wall” for you in every Palookaville Low-A team across the country.  One of those guys who still keeps in touch with his pre-teen dance partner.

In his prepared remarks, Jim talked about his humble beginnings making $500 to $1,000 a month in the minor leagues, yet realizing how lucky he was, how many of the best lawyers in town would have gladly changed places with him.  Now he realizes that as a manager in the big leagues the guys he manages make more money than the most important doctors, people whose contributions to the community are so much bigger.

Riggleman talked about the distance he has traveled, but raised an issue of concern to all managers, their permanency in the job or lack thereof.  Saying that Mike Shanahan, the coach of the Redskins, has a five-year contract, Riggleman stressed the freedom that such security provides.  “Shanahan can tell players it’s his way or the highway.”  In the NFL, the head coach takes a major role in building the team.  The baseball manager may have input into some personnel decisions, but the player development system in baseball is so much different than football’s. The longer term gestation period for talent puts the decisions about the baseball roster largely in the hands of the GM.

The modern day baseball manager lives in a different world, one where his contribution to team chemistry is all about diminishing the impact of players dissatisfied with playing time or their place in the lineup.  Managers, he said, get involved more in the day-to-day operation of the team than in deciding what kind of talent is there to start the season.  But Riggleman likes the Nationals that GM Mike Rizzo has put together for 2011 and the longer term directions the team is taking.

Riggleman lamented the games that were lost last season to lousy defense and is happy to have a better team to put on the field. But the best teams in both leagues have deep and talented starting rotations and there the Nationals cannot compete with the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies who can put top tier starters on the mound day in and day out. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury has hurt in that regard admitted Riggleman.

The Nationals are taking a “front to back” approach with pitching, emphasizing the strength of their bullpen, he said. He specifically called out the additions of Henry Rodriquez–who throws 100 mph–and Todd Coffey who will help the bullpen.  He likes the guys that are coming back too, like Sean Burnett who reminds Riggleman of his minor leaguer team mates, guys who take the ball even when they they worked the night before and the night before that.

The most frequent questions were about the pitching.  One compelling questioner asked, “Why does Livan Hernandez, who has done so much for the Nationals since Opening Day in 2005 get so little respect?” After what he did last year, doesn’t he deserve the Opening Day assignment again this year?”  It was a pointed question, one that called on Jim to make a commitment from which he could not swerve.  “Livan deserves that Opening Day start, there is not doubt about it,” said Riggleman.  Left unsaid were the many things that could come between what Livan deserves and what may yet happen.

Riggleman tried to be honest and candid as much as possible and he stressed that he can give an average of four interviews a day during the season. Moving through the questions Riggleman showed that same deft footwork, those same moves that wowed the girls back at Richard Montgomery High School.

He is a focused individual, a man on a mission.  And nothing would do more to make his old classmates happy than for him to fulfill that mission and achieve success with the Nationals this season.  It might help Riggleman land that long-term contract to skipper the Nationals.  It’s an attractive story, one of a local guy making good in his home town and it would make many folks here as happy as a school girl, one who watches patiently and then sees that single brave lad making his way across the floor to ask her to dance.

Special thanks to Sue Kirk, Executive Director of Bethesda Cares, for her contributions to this article.


3 Responses to “Jim Riggleman, Still Light on His Feet”
  1. Ken Voytek says:

    Nice column. I like this Horatio Alger story. That means there is hope. He also attended Frostburg State College I recall. He escaped the mean streets of Bethesda and that is cool.

  2. Alicia Beach says:

    Ted, It was both a pleasure meeting you and reading your delightful article. I am so glad that you captured and wrote of the character of Jimmy. I can tell you that down to a man (woman) all 660 graduates of the Richard Montgomery Class of 70 think the world of Jimmy, a somewhat unusual occurrence in such a large urban high school.

    Jimmy brings a quality to the Nationals that transcends what most managers can offer the team, and your article captures that beautifully. Lets hope that management recognizes what a gem they have with Jimmy and give him the time to create the incredible team that the Nationals will become under his leadership. Thank you, Ted. Warmly, Alicia
    @Ken Voytek

  3. Ted Leavengood says:

    Well said. I share your hope that the Nationals management and fans–they are tough bunch of critics–come to appreciate Jim Riggleman for the classy, intelligent guy he is. I truly hope he succeeds with the team and guides it to the top in the next few years.

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