Sunday, June 26, 2011

Riggleman Walks Away, His Own Way

Posted on Huffington Post, June 26, 2011

By Steve Daley

Jim Riggleman grew up in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington D.C. But it’s clear he doesn’t know much about the culture of the Federal City.

No one quits here. Absent personal disgrace (see Anthony Weiner) or historic ignominy (see Richard M. Nixon), no one in Washington walks away from the job title or the money or the dinner parties or the town car.

The angry and the disgruntled, those bothered by budget cuts or endless wars or the incompetence of others above their station, leak stories to reporters. They let feuds percolate. They whinge in private, or call the “Reliable Source” at the Washington Post. Nobody actually quits.

But last Thursday, Riggleman, a 58-year-old baseball lifer, resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals. He just quit. And he did so in mid-season, with his team in third place.

That’s rarefied air for a franchise that has been at the bottom its division in five of the six years of its existence. At this writing, your Washington Nationals have a record of 449-596 since the National League club stumbled into town from Montreal in 2005.

Timing is everything, of course, and Riggleman’s team had won 11 of its last 12 games and owned a modest winning record (38-37).

“I’m too old to be disrespected,” he told a gaggle of gobsmacked reporters after the Nats had defeated the Seattle Mariners,1-0.

The issue, as far as we know, was contractual and the fact that Riggleman was reportedly the lowest paid manager in the game is likely not irrelevant.

He says he “repeatedly” asked Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo about extending his one-year contract. When Riggleman asked for a meeting, Rizzo told him once again the “time wasn’t right.” The manager said he would not be on the team bus for the flight to Chicago. And he wasn’t.

Inside the Beltway and the 202 area code, Jim Riggleman is as rare as a polar bear.

Counting the roll of those public figures who walked away from a pretty good job on a matter of what they considered principle doesn’t take but a minute or two.

A few good men fell by the wayside over principle during Watergate. Veteran diplomat George Ball, a fierce opponent of Vietnam policy in the Kennedy and Johnson years, became celebrated for almost resigning, but not quite.

Back in the 1990s, Peter Edelman, a senior advisor to Health and Services Secretary Donna Shalala, quit in protest of President Clinton’s approach to welfare reform.

Others who had a Howard Beale, “mad as hell” moment, who turned in the top security clearance in anger or outrage or even shame?

I’m waiting …

Washingtonians resign to spend more time with the family. They resign to move to K Street, or Santa Fe, or the Kennedy School at Harvard.

They so rarely resign on principle you have to conclude they really don’t understand the concept.

Think about Iraq and Afghanistan. Think about Katrina and FEMA, about the boys and girls at the Securities and Exchange Commission or the other regulatory agencies during the recent and ongoing economic meltdown or the oil explosion in the Gulf or a dozen other scandals and affronts.

Jim Riggleman gave them back the watch and likely ended his baseball career. At some level, it had to feel pretty good.

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