Heyman | Riggleman has difficult task ahead leading Reds
Interim Cincinnati Reds manager Jim Riggleman is expected to get at least a few months to show whether he can possibly turn things around.
Based on how the team looks early, it won’t be easy. Riggleman has quite a résumé – not many men have managed five different major-league teams (more on that below), and if you can name them all his teams, you are quite the expert. But he doesn’t exactly fit the prototype of recent MLB hires, which have emphasized the opposite; a lack of experience seems preferred by many teams.
And he can’t help but hear the speculation that Reds great Barry Larkin lurks, or that new Reds scout John Farrell looks an awful lot like a manager in waiting based his own résumé.
Whatever the case, Riggleman has the right attitude, which he’s also known for.
“Whatever they want here, that’s what I’ll do,” said Riggleman by phone, before he hustled into a meeting to get more up to speed on analytics.
Riggleman is an earnest man by nature, but he is extra appreciative of the Reds, who gave him the first opportunity after he became a rare person to resign from a managerial job.
“There were people who said ‘Never touch that guy,’” Riggleman recalled.
And he can’t forget that Cincinnati did remember him. (He’s right about that, but to be fair about the whole Nats situation, they are notoriously tough on managers, a point reinforced last October when Dusty Baker was let go following two 90-plus win seasons based on one loss that wasn’t his fault.)
Anyway, Riggleman, who has been interim manager twice before and has managed some pretty horrible teams (the 1997 Cubs opened 0-14), has operated under difficult circumstances before, and he’s good at it. But he knows there’s no magic elixir. In fact, Riggleman says the fired Bryan Price had the right message and was doing a good job, and for his part, Riggleman says he’s going “going to continue that message because it was the right message.”
His hope is that the response is different based on just a different voice. They were 3-15 when he took over, and are 2-3 since, and he will be judged on how much they improve (statistically speaking, they have to be better than a 3-15 rate). He considers it an “opportunity” in every sense. But from here, this is an especially tough assignment, and what may be hardest of all is to break the assumption that he is a caretaker while the Reds rebuild, and that they’ll find someone sexier as soon as they are ready to win – say Larkin or Farrell, who looked like a manager-in-waiting the moment he was hired, or maybe even Joe Girardi, who looks a little like a league-wide manager in waiting (disclaimer: I work with Girardi at MLB Network, where he is serving as an analyst/ broadcaster for now).
Pete Mackanin was hired under similar circumstances by the Phillies a few years back, and he earned a couple extra years as an interim by outperforming expectations (though he was let go with a year to go on his extended contract, as he did almost too well, and the Phillies sped up their timetable to win).
The comparison is obviously there, but Riggleman’s assignment is actually harder, one NL executive pointed out, in that “the Phillies had better players.”
Regardless, Riggleman – who becomes the 14th man to manage at least five different teams; Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson and Joe Torre are among those to have managed five, with three others managing the record six — is the steady hand the team needs now. So it makes sense they picked him to guide the young team when it’s down. Considering his even temperament and the team’s infuriatingly poor early play, it’s easy to see why he was picked.
Ultimately though, there’s an expectation they just may make another hire when they feel they are ready to win. Judging by their start, that may take a couple years – though you wonder if the firing of Price suggests someone there thought they should be winning now. The expectation around the game is that they will go with a sexier choice when the Reds are getting closer to winning, which is ultimately what the Phillies did in hiring Gabe Kapler.
The two most obvious candidates would seem to be Farrell, who guided the Red Sox to the 2013 title and was recently hired as a Reds scout, but as so many have, had experienced a bit of a rocky breakup with the Red Sox, with some negative player reviews surfacing after he was gone.
Larkin though, may ultimately be the favorite long-term, if he wants it, as he is seen as exactly the “high-profile, glitzy” choice that team owner Bob Castellini would prefer (Castellini once picked Baker, which has to be looked upon as a major success at this point, since they won with him and have consistently lost since he left).
Larkin is among a few Reds from their rich history who years ago expressed interest in the job (Paul O’Neill, who’s better known as a Yankees star in his heyday, is another), and while he has some managerial experience from the WBC (Brazil), he doesn’t have much, which means he fits the mold of the preferred candidates in recent years. He’s a well-spoken former star with a great reputation apt to relate well in the clubhouse, smart enough to carry out the wishes of a front office and not spoiled by old school beliefs from too many past managerial assignments. Larkin also receives high marks for his hard work with Reds minor leagues, especially in spring training but also during the season, when he has been known to travel around to observe the affiliates in aid of the prospects.
Larkin, reached by phone, said he doesn’t want to comment as it would be inappropriate to be seen as campaigning. The last time there was an opening, that’s what happened, so it’s understandable why Larkin is bring discreet. He certainly fits the bill for what most teams seem to be seeking in a manager now, so perhaps he’s the most likely guy – even more so than Farrell, who obviously has a track record of winning, including a World Series title.
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