Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jim Riggleman Introductory Press Conference

At 5PM this afternoon in the Media Interview Room at Nationals Park, new interim manager Jim Riggleman faced the assembled local reporters for thirty minutes before the very first workout of Our Washington Nationals under his leadership. Here is the complete transcript of that availability.

“I just want to take this opportunity to answer any questions anybody has concerning the ball club and the situation that has brought me to here at this point. But before that, I would like to mention, I think, on behalf of all the ballplayers, the coaches, and so forth, any clubhouse attendants—anybody from parking attendants to any of our personnel—the appreciation we have for the job that Manny (Acta) has done here. The work that Manny has put in here. I have been in the game a long time he was as thorough and complete as you can do. He is an outstanding manager that I know some really good days are ahead for Manny managing in the Major Leagues. Anybody would be fortunate to have him. It’s one of those situations where when you lose ball games—I have been there—with a couple of ball clubs. When you lose enough ball games and you feel like you are doing the right things, but you lose enough games, the manager is the one that usually takes the hit. And that’s what has happened. He and Randy St. Claire are both outstanding baseball people that are not with us anymore. Myself and the coaches (still remaining) feel we let Manny down. And this is the result—Manny is not here now. The players feel that way. And if we make any improvements here, it is going to be due to the hard work that Manny put in. The message that Manny had given that we tried to continue on. So, it’s going to get better. And I just thank Manny for the opportunity in bringing me here (in the first place). But to also thank him for the work he put in. At this time, I would just like to open it up to questions.”

Question: What changes do we expect to see on the field? I guess what I am asking is do you plan to manufacture runs and what are you going to do about the defense to settle things?

“Well, I think everything we have tried to do to this point was all correct. In theory, it’s all-correct. The ideas, and I don’t want to continue to harp on Manny so much, but Manny did all the right things. So there is not a whole lot of change to make. We just got to get some results. And we feel like if we continue with what Manny was trying to do on the field—and his strategy in the dugout—we continue those things—certainly sooner or later this talent that we have is going to surface and we will get the results that we want to produce. We are not going to be re-inventing the game. I don’t think any two people—if you take two great managers—you grab a couple of names out of the hat—(Tony) LaRussa and (Bobby) Cox. They are not going to do everything in the exact same way in any given situation. But they are both great managers. So if one was taking over for the other, he wouldn’t re-invent or change what the other was doing. And we are not going to change a whole lot that Manny was doing. But we have to find a way to get different results.”

Question: What did you learn from a similar experience last year (in Seattle—Interim Manager) and how is that going to affect your outlook in the second half of this year?

“The thing that I take from last year is that again I was working for a great baseball man there in John McLaren. We just tried to continue to implement the message. There wasn’t a whole lot we did different. We just worked. We did improve defensively last year, from last in the league to somewhere in the middle of the pack. We just kept working which was what we had been doing all along. We eventually started to see some results from that hard work. And what I think I draw from that is keep working, keep pushing, don’t let up, just stay on them—stay on the players to not take the losses—agonize over the losses. That was the message we were trying to give them. You know, losing should hurt and winning is hard. It’s hard to win. It’s easy to lose. You can lose and just accept it. But that is unacceptable and that is the message we tried to give them last year and we will continue to try to do it here this year.”

Question: Mike Rizzo said a couple of days ago that sometimes you just need a different voice. The things that Manny may have been doing were fine, but need to be presented in a different way. How will Jim Riggleman’s voice be different from Manny Acta’s?

“I don’t know if it will be much different. But there is something to that. That is the kind of statement I made in Chicago. I was there for five years (as manager for The Cubs) and I was let go there. And I felt like that if I were in the General Manager’s position, I would have done the same thing. I would have let Jim Riggleman out of there because I know he was saying the right things but we need to get someone else to give this message because the players are not getting it done. So that’s basically what it amounts to. I don’t think you can change a lot. I know Manny wouldn’t change anything that he did. And I wouldn’t question anything that he did. I just want to try to continue to pound the message in and maybe coming from someone else maybe they will respond or maybe they won’t—but we have got to try that.”

Question: Jim, your style has been described as fiery. Manny was more laid back. How would you describe your style?

“I have kind of heard that the last two days, but I feel like I am a little bit of a softie. I think I am pretty easy. I think I am easy in the sense if players are not playing well—I understand that. It’s a tough game. But if they are not playing hard, then that irks me. If they are not respectful of the game, respectful of the uniform, respectful of the fans, the organization--if they do that, then I have a problem. And sometimes that has happened and I have had a few instances with the players where I had to address that. And that comes out because the camera doesn’t miss much. Somebody thinks I am fiery, whatever, but if players just play hard—like I said—I have no problem if you miss a ball. But if you don’t chase it after you miss it I have a problem!! So just give me a good effort and there will be no problems. And that might be perceived as if Jim’s not tough enough. I am not getting on them enough. I know they didn’t try to miss the ball. We just keep hitting them balls and they will finally catch them, I guess. Bill (Ladson) asked the question about defense. Well that’s what we have got to do. We just have to just keep hitting ground balls and take fly balls—eventually that work is going to pay off. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Question: Is there a particular stamp that you want to put on this ball club?

“I haven’t thought about that particularly. I think that any ball club you manage you manage to what you have on the team. Recently, Nyjer Morgan's been added to the ball club. That gives us the chance to run a little more and be a little more athletic. Getting guys like (Alberto) Gonzalez and (Willie) Harris involved more—get more athleticism and speed there so you can play the game a little bit more that way. But I managed 10 years in the Minor Leagues and in the Minor Leagues you have a different club every year. Sometimes you have some big sluggers, sometimes you have some smaller athletic guys that can run—and you manage the game accordingly. The players will decide what that stamp is—really—with their abilities.”

Question: From a practical standpoint, are there lineup changes, different guys you want to see in different spots? Any guys that haven’t played as much that you want to see more? What kinds of changes can we expect to see on personnel on the field in this situation?

“As I did when I managed in previous years, as a manager you sit around having coffee somewhere and you are scratching lineups out on napkins. I have been doing a lot of that lately when I was the bench coach. Just seeing what I could suggest to Manny. And it kept coming back to what Manny had aligned as pretty much the best ways. So I really don’t see a lot of change in the lineup. I might tinker with it a little bit, but that is what we did anyway. If you noticed a couple of times (Adam) Dunn hit 5th instead of 4th. Or (Nick) Johnson hit 3rd instead of 2nd. Maybe (Cristian) Guzman 6th instead of 2nd. We get a lot of hits. We hit pretty good but we haven’t scored a lot. So something in that lineup hasn’t produced runs, as it should for as good of hitters as they are. And as I would scratch out lineups—again as the bench coach—some of what Manny & I talked about—some of which we did—and it’s continued to produce hits and not runs. So that is not going to work.”

Question: Jim could you please take us though the hours, days now, that you found out Manny was fired. How you were offered the job and what you have done since?

“We (The Team) came back from Houston Sunday late and I came back here (Nationals Park) and went home. And right before I got home around midnight, I was contacted by Mike Rizzo and Mike said we were going to let Manny go and would I be interested in running the ball club. So Mike & I talked for a little while and he asked me to come in on Monday. So I came in on Monday and talked with him and Stan Kasten. We just basically just talked some baseball, really, for a couple of hours. And yesterday, was pretty much an off day. Again, just a lot of phone calls and that type of stuff—getting ready for today. So that has been about it.”

Question: How do you approach this today when you meet with your team for the first time collectively? What is the message you get out to them?

“I am going to talk to them about, again, let’s refocus. We have a lot of season left. There is a lot of opportunity to make a move in the standings. We are not looking to leap frog three or four clubs. But we can set our sights on just chasing a club—whoever is ahead of us. Let’s get after that club and see if we can close in on them. We can do that with hard work and continue the hard work we have put in. There is no reason to let up. The fans support us—great fans here—for what our record is—these fans have been tremendous. The media has been tremendous to us. If this was Boston or New York or Philadelphia or somewhere—you know—it would get ugly. But we have got to repay that. We’ve been treated very well here and we owe it to them. Let’s get after it and get a better result and show some light at the end of the tunnel for the future. Because I know the future is bright here. The people who are running the organization are passionate about it. They care. We’ve got some good things to look forward to. So let’s build on it and let’s win some ball games and get the enthusiasm of baseball in Washington back.”

Question: In your opinion, how much of an impact does a manager have on winning a ball game for a baseball team?

“That is a great question. I think Billy Martin once said—and I tend to agree—the best managers lose the fewest games a year for their team. What he was saying was that Billy felt if I only lose three games for our team this year by the decisions I make—and somebody else is making enough bad decisions that they lose 10—then we are going to get a little edge. Somebody has got to make the decisions in games. Nobody is going to agree on all of them. But somebody has got to make the decision, the strategy of the game. Most of it, the other dugout knows exactly what you are going to do. You know what they are going to do. There are a couple of things that might happen a night that somebody might do differently than the other. You might get everything wrong tonight. You might manage a bad ball game. And Adam Dunn hits a three run homer and you win and you look pretty smart. But the manager, his impact, I think is more in the clubhouse, behind the scenes, creating an atmosphere where players can succeed. You just get an aura about the club that you are going to win ball games. And sometimes that positive feeling that surrounds the ball club carries. I have seen it happen. I saw the ultimate optimist—Tommy Lasorda—win ball games in Los Angeles (with The Dodgers) with teams that when you looked out onto the field: ‘How are they winning?’ And they go to The World Series. But they believed in themselves and they got it done. You see LaRussa and Bobby Cox and these guys overachieve with ball clubs every year, so the manager can have an impact, but it’s not so much strategy, it’s more the atmosphere they have created.”

Question: To get back to the defense, you said earlier that you would just keep hitting them balls and they eventually will pick them up. What if they don’t? Has there been a Plan B discussed internally the last couple of days?

“Our lineup is pretty much what it is. And are players are actually good players. We know they are going to make plays. They are good players--Ryan Zimmerman, Guzman, Johnson have great hands. They know how to play. They are pros. Our catchers have done a good job. Second base we have had a little bit of a revolving door there. Some of that will continue. Some of it will stabilize. We are catching the ball better. We just miss-communicate on a pop up. Or, we make a very untimely error. The pitcher has thrown some ball to second that we don’t seem to know who is covering. Things like that that everybody in baseball does. You can watch, and I won’t name the team, but I was watching a team that is in first place right now. The rightfielder and second baseman stood there and let a pop up drop in between them. When you are in last place that sticks out. When you are in first place and they won the game anyway—it’s forgotten and not written about. So we are going to make mistakes. But again, they have got to be mistakes of aggression and not be passive. We just have got to continue to work and I don’t think there is a—what if we don’t. I just know that we will.”

Question: You are in your second interim manager job in a row here. At this point in your career is that fun for you?

(Chuckling over the question). “I like to manage. Coaching is great. Coaching jobs are precious. It’s hard to get them. Managing jobs are that much more precious, but it is what I like to do. Nothing compares in the game to playing. Playing in the game is the ultimate. If you have played the game and you can no longer play then the next best thing that excites me is managing. Some people it’s hitting, some people its pitching coach—whatever. But for me—it’s managing. It’s an opportunity to manage. If I am managing in AA, or AAA or A Ball—whatever—when that umpire says play ball your competitive juices are flowing and you like to manage that ball game. But managing at the Major League Level is the ultimate. It’s what I love to do. Would I like to get something more long term? I think all managers would like to have your club in Spring Training and get it started from spring training and run with it. But I would have done that in the year 2000 if I didn’t lose enough in ’99 (with The Chicago Cubs). I didn’t get to take my team back to 2000. Ultimately you have got to win some ball games and create your longevity as some great managers have done. Some names I have already mentioned.”

Question: Jim, could you go over some of your roots around here (DC Native) in town and high school and following The Washington Senators? How long of a stretch of time was that?

“I grew up in Rockville (MD) and went to Richard Montgomery High School. Then from Richard Montgomery, I went out of state one year to Jamestown, North Dakota. I went one year out there, transferred to Frostburg (State University, MD) and finished up there. I got drafted (in 1974 by The Los Angeles Dodgers). And because of baseball, I pretty much left Rockville when I was 18 (years old). I was away playing ball every summer in various leagues. Then when I signed professionally, I was gone and settled into Florida. But growing up here we had The (Washington) Senators and you may have covered The Senators. We loved The Senators, but we didn’t win enough and we lost then. We didn’t support them enough and we lost them. For years, while I have been in baseball, I felt—‘Man, you have got to have baseball in Washington! It’s the Nation’s Capital. It’s America! It’s baseball! We have got to have it in The Nation’s Capital!' So, I was thrilled when the ball club was brought here. And I felt it would be nice to work for the Washington Ball Club because it’s home and it’s who I grew up watching Frank Howard, Fred Valentine—you remember any of those names? Danny O’Connell and those guys. They were in last place but everyone stuck around to see Frank Howard hit in the 8th inning before you went home because he might hit a home run. It was a great thing to have (in DC) and we just lost it—it was terrible. And now we have got to take advantage of this opportunity to have it back here in Washington.”

Question: Was today’s practice regularly scheduled or was it something you felt was necessary?

“No, it was scheduled. The All-Star break—kind of traditionally—you come in Wednesday before the Thursday Games—sometimes you don’t—sometimes teams come in early on Thursday. But rightfully so, Manny scheduled this workout for Wednesday and I agreed with that. I know some players want that extra day off—and I understand that. I don’t blame them. But at 26 & 61, I don’t think that sends a good message to the world that we don’t need that work—that we will be all right. We need to be out here and the players will be here.”

Question: Over the next couple of weeks there will be some focus on some possible moves made. Is it a challenge managing a team that can certainly be active before the end of the trading deadline?

“The only challenging part of it is when you are managing a ball club—you like your players. You get close to them. You empathize with them. You appreciate their efforts. You hate to lose players. But my background—managing 10 years in the minor leagues as I mentioned earlier—your roster is always changing. If you are in AA, and a player is needed in AAA, you lose a player. And another player comes up from A Ball—and you start re-teaching the situation that you have been teaching all along. Now, you have new faces. The draft comes and rosters change. I have always just felt like the players that I am given to manage you best evaluate as to what their best qualities are and take advantage of those qualities. And just manage the ones you have. If people get traded, we don’t like that because—as I said—you get close to players. But we understand you are going to lose some at times, players get hurt, and you get new players. You just have to keep teaching the system and roll with that.”

Question: Do you sense any guys quitting or giving up in the clubhouse?

“No. Quit is a strong word. I don’t see that, but what I think can happen is it just seeps into your psyche that here we go again. And that’s not quitting, you have just been beaten down enough that you find a way to lose a ball game and it can’t help but affect some people. I think these three days off gives us an opportunity to regroup and I hope we can take advantage of it. We are going to play some very tough ball clubs, but this is The Major Leagues and it’s suppose to be tough.”

Question: Could you re-visit the off-season after you took the bench coach job—I believe—while you were still in the running for the Seattle job? What was the thinking there and what was the part of the attraction for this job—returning to your roots?

“When I was managing in Seattle, I was hoping I would be retained there. The General Manager was not retained. The New General Manager came in and that process took a while—interviews taking place. During those interviews for the New General Manager, Manny called me and asked if I would be interested in coming to Washington, if I didn’t go back to Seattle. And I said—absolutely. So that had to run its course and play out. Finally, when the GM was named, some weeks went by and I got a phone call that said I was not going to be retained as the manager. I was disappointed. They kind of cleaned house there and started all over after a disappointing ’08. I got swept up in that and they are doing a great job out there (right now), so I think their decisions have been rewarded with the efforts they have gotten both from their staff and on the field. I would have liked to have been retained, but if I could be anywhere not managing—then Washington was going to be a great situation for me with having grown up here and having family here.”

That final answer concluded the Jim Riggleman Introductory Press Conference.

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