If you know my writing, I love writing where sports and HR intersects. I always feel the HR department is like your sports operations department: they set the culture, they find and source talent, they develop players/employees, and they oversee the business. Sadly in this case study, this really hits home.
Yesterday, Jim Riggleman decided to resign from his position as manager of the Washington Nationals because he thought Mike Rizzo, the General Manager of the Nationals, and the front office never reach out to him about his contract and he thought he deserves an extension. Rizzo didn’t give an extension, Riggleman gave his final stand, Rizzo didn’t bite, and Riggleman left. To have an HR perspective on this, let’s look at Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman.
Mike Rizzo was considered one of the best scouts in baseball. He started scouting for the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox and then went to the Arizona Diamondbacks on their inaugural season in 1998 and became Director of Scouting in 2000, where he started to make a name for himself. After the 2006 season, he joined the Washington Nationals as an Assistant General Manager. In March 2009, he became the interim General Manager when Jim Bowden resigned after the Dominican Republic skimming bonus scandal. In 2009, Rizzo drafted Stephen Strasburg; traded outfielder Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh for outfielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett; and signed Strasburg to the biggest contract given to a drafted player in the last minute. Those sequences lead to Rizzo removing the interim tag and became a full-time general manager. Rizzo received a five-year extension after the 2010 season after drafting and signing Bryce Harper and made critical trades such as Matt Capps to Minnesota for Wilson Ramos and other prospects.
There’s no question Rizzo got his job because he was great evaluating talent and can make business deals with agents and other general managers in baseball. Although 80% of his job is scouting players and development, it is the 20% Rizzo is still working on and that’s handling the media. Rizzo did not handle the situation well when reporters wanted to ask Nationals hitting coach, Rick Eckstein, about the Nationals hitting slump earlier in the season. It seems Rizzo wants to control all situations, which makes him look like a dictator.
Jim Riggleman is a journey manager. He started managing for the San Diego Padres in 1992, then went to the Chicago Cubs in 1995, where he led them to a National League Wild Card in 1998. In 2001, after been fired by the Cubs in 2000, he was the bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2001-2004. Riggleman returned as bench coach in 2008 for the Seattle Mariners and became interim manager when John McLaren was fired later that year. In 2009, Riggleman was hired as bench coach for the Washington Nationals. In that same year, Riggleman became interim manager when Manny Acta was fired. After the 2009 season, Riggleman signed a two-year deal with a club option in 2012. Although 2009 and 2010 were a struggle, 2011 was looked at as a bridge to 2012, where you have Strasburg returning and Harper called up to the majors. Initially, it looked like a lost year when the Nationals were 27-36 and last place in the National League East. However, Riggleman and the gang won 11 of the last 12 games, are one game over .500 (38-37), and have sole possession of third place and possible wild card talk. In addition, this was Riggleman’s dream managerial job since he went to Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD and went to Frostburg State.
Although Riggleman was at home, his overall record as manager was 662-824 and 140-172 record as Nationals manager. Riggleman was getting gigs all over baseball because he was a “by the book” guy. However, in 1998 when the Cubs faced the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Divisional Series, he put Kerry Wood on the mound, although he had not pitch since August 31. The Cubs were swept by the Braves and the following year, Wood had Tommy John surgery, ending the Cubs playoff aspirations in 1999 before the season begins and Riggleman was gone the following year. This propped up the discussion that Jim Riggleman is decent manager who does not make good baseball decisions.
The HR Perspective
The reason I wrote a long description of Rizzo and Riggleman is because you need to see two different viewpoints, where they come from and how Riggleman’s resignation resonate. On the base of communication and goal setting, I fault Rizzo for not communicating well to Riggleman before Spring Training about what were the Nationals team goals during a transition year for not only the team, but for Riggleman. If Rizzo thought Riggleman was not the right fit, he should still talk to him about his expectations and what should be discuss during and after the season. Rizzo failed on that end.
Although Rizzo did not handle the contract extensions/goal settings talk well, he always had a stance that you wait until after the season ends to make your decisions since he had to wait being a full-time general manager. Rizzo’s negotiations with Scott Boras and making trades that eliminate part of the losing culture put him in the driver’s seat for a full-time position, and then the five-year extension.
Coming to his contract year in 2011, Riggleman knows this was his make-or-break year. He had a new team in 2011 that was young, athletic, and eager; where in years past, the Nationals were getting leftover veterans to make up the roster. If we’re basing by results, Riggleman did a great job since the Nationals are over .500 for the first time since 2005. However, from quotes from both Rizzo and Riggleman, Riggleman wanted a “conversation” of his contract extension. If Riggleman started the question with, “what are the goals and expectations of the team,” Rizzo would of listen and have that conversation. However, Riggleman talked about his contract extension and the rift started. It escalated today when Riggleman gave Rizzo a choice today and that was it.
While Mike Rizzo made some mistakes, he was right standing pat on his values that you have to finish the season to know what you got. I believe Jim Riggleman wanted to stay in Washington because he founded his dream job. For this dream job, he wanted job security. If it was his last year, it would be likely Riggleman gets that extension because Stan Kasten was still the president of the Nationals at that time since Kasten was a people’s person. Instead, Riggleman had to deal with a baseball person, not a people’s person. Riggleman went all-in on a baseball person…and was called on his bluff. If Riggleman didn’t make good baseball decisions, he did not make a good read on his business decisions as well.
With Jim Riggleman gone, how does this affect the Washington Nationals this season and even next? No one knows, but there’s one question at the end of the baseball season: Was Jim Riggleman the glue, a contributor, or a standby for the Nationals? We would know where the Nationals are in the next 3+ months.