Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jim Riggleman/Mike Rizzo Press Conference

Prior commitments made it impossible to attend this afternoon's Media Availability with newly named full-time manager Jim Riggleman and General Manager Mike Rizzo at Nationals Park. Despite that setback, Sohna was able to record the proceedings on MASN (which televised the press conference). This evening, I transcribed the proceedings.

With that, here is the complete transcript from the announcement ceremony of Jim Riggleman being named Field Manager of Our Washington Nationals. No longer will he wear the "Interim" title.

Mike Rizzo: First of all it’s an exciting day here to announce Jim Riggleman as the permanent field manager of The Washington Nationals. You now how much I love those "interim" titles. It’s a great day to name Jim the field manager for The Washington Nationals. We went through a disappointing season in 2009 and halfway through the season we turned to Jim Riggleman for some stability to right the ship and he did, what I thought, was a masterful job in a very trying circumstances. He gave us a sense of balance, not only in the dugout, but also in the clubhouse. We went back to the roots of the game, the fundamentals, efficient play and with a big focus on pitching, defense and playing the game the right way. I felt we had a very efficient, talented manager in-house. After the season, we felt it was in our duty to the ballclub and the fans of Washington, D.C. to do our due diligence and look at all venues for a permanent field manager. We did an extensive search and came back to the realization that the best guy we had for the job—was in-house in Jim Riggleman. It’s my pleasure to introduce the 2010 Manager of The Washington Nationals—Jim Riggleman.

Jim Riggleman: Thank you, Mike. In a situation like this there are so many people to thank. I won’t do a lot of that as you invariably end up skipping some people who are very important to you. But first of all, I would like to thank the Lerner Family for allowing this to happen. And Stan Kasten, Mike Rizzo and his whole staff, my coaches, my family, some of which are here. Just the total support I have felt was coming my way throughout the remaining part of the season—from the time I took over. As I said, there are a lot of people to thank. I do have great respect for the game and that respect goes back a lot further than the Major Leagues. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Minor Leagues as a player and as a manager. The reason I am in a position to manage a ballclub is that, when I finished playing, I was given an opportunity by some great people—George Kissel, Lee Thomas—people who were running the Minor League System for The St. Louis Cardinals. They gave me the opportunity to continue on in the game after my playing days. And when I did that for a while, I was then given the opportunity to go to the Major Leagues by a person who I have the utmost respect for—that being Whitey Herzog—who gave me the opportunity. So I would like to thank Whitey for allowing me to come to the Major Leagues. That is (of course) back in the day for some of us who are older here--who remember (Paul) ‘Bear’ Bryant. If you were an assistant coach and you got to work for ‘Bear’ Bryant—it’s a good chance you are going to be a head coach some day. I think Whitey did that for me. Again, I appreciate Whitey Herzog for bringing me to the Big Leagues as a coach. I think for a guy that was a career minor leaguer that (Herzog's recognition)--validated me a little bit as a person who might be able to do more some day. I got that opportunity from some great people in Chicago—Ed Lynch, Andy MacPhail—I send thanks out to them for that. And you move on and other great opportunities in the game took place. But this has been a dream of mine to land right here. This is the team I grew up watching—The Washington Senators—still to me it is still The Nationals, The Senators, it’s all the same. It’s all Washington Baseball and this is a dream of a lifetime to grow up watching a ballclub and then end up playing or managing for that very ballclub. It couldn’t be better for me. So I am extremely appreciative—again to the Lerner Family and to Stan, Mike and his staff. It’s been a wonderful few months for me. I hope better things are ahead for the ballclub as we move forward. The last thing I will say before I hand it over to questions is I really appreciate the fan support we got. It was amazing the energy; I think our players felt in the dugout, during a game. For what our record was, I thought our fans were extremely excited about what was going on, on the field. And our players fed off that. We owe them a debt of gratitude and we are going to do better things in the future.

Question: Could you tell me your reaction when Mike Rizzo called you and said you had the permanent job?

Jim: Yeah, I was extremely excited about it. I was following things, just like everybody else was, I guess, who is a Nationals fan. I felt great about it. I don’t know how else to explain it—that I can really put it into words. It’s where I want to be and Mike is allowing that to happen. It couldn’t be better. It couldn’t have turned out better for me. The circumstances in which I got the job under were not ideal, but I have got to thank our players for the effort they gave to allow this to happen. If they didn’t go out and play hard I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. So it’s a culmination of a lot of feelings there when Mike said ‘it’s your job’. I am just very grateful.

Question: Coming off what the team did to end the season (seven game winning streak), knowing what you have coming back, and knowing management is going to try to put more pieces into it—how much momentum has carried into this upcoming season?

Jim: I think there is some momentum. Smarter people than me have said momentum is no better than your next day’s start. And I kind of believe that. The positive vibes that were flowing around the ballpark which again stimulates from our fans—who were getting excited about what was happening—and our players sending that energy back into the stands—it all worked together and that kind of results in momentum. It’s just a good feeling. I think a lot of our players felt it and I think they feel they can take that momentum to next season. It will be a great challenge. It’s a tough division. It’s certainly something you want on your side, if you can have it, and that’s momentum.

Question: What are some of the things you learned along the way—since this is your fourth Major League team (as manager)? And how are you different from when you first started?

Jim: As I said earlier, I really spent a lot of time in the Minor Leagues. But when you spend that much time in the Minor Leagues—not a lot happens in the course of a ball game that hadn’t already happened. You learn from things that took place from the first day that you start managing in the Minor Leagues until your most recent game. What you learn is more of the interaction with players. When to, when not to address issues--the subtlety of that kind of thing that, hopefully with time, will get better. That, and learning not to compromise what you believe in, staying true to your convictions. You learn that and when you get away from it—it generally comes back to bite you. So, I think much as anything, it’s just that. That experience tells me you have got to go with what you believe in—your gut instinct—whether it’s to hit and run here or whether to call a player into your office. Those are all learning experiences. They didn’t just take place in the Big Leagues for those four teams (as manager). They took place in the Minor Leagues. You know, you like to thank people and before we go any further I would like to thank our players for playing as hard as they did. None of the opportunities I have had in baseball—and I have had great opportunities in baseball, I have had great jobs--but none of that takes place unless those ballplayers who played for me in the 80’s, 90’s, in the Minor Leagues gave the efforts they gave. So, I owe a great deal of thanks to all those players who played for me in the Minor League because most of them didn’t make it, but they all gave me a great effort and I greatly appreciate them.

Question: You were put into a difficult position when you took over in the middle of the season. It became pretty apparent to you that the players responded to you. Was there anything that you tried to do at that time to try to win them over? To take over the clubhouse so they became your team?

Jim: Nothing specific, no. I worked here with Manny (Acta) and I really believed in what Manny was doing, and saying, and trying to get done. And for whatever reason, we were not getting it done. There wasn’t a lot different being said. We got to a point where we were really struggling and our record indicated that players have to be receptive to pretty much anything you have to say. So, I think we benefited from that, I think. No matter what I tried to institute, it was going to have to be received because what’s going on has not been working. And it wasn’t because of not enough effort from the manager and coaching staff--because I saw that every day, and I saw the work being put in--but there was no one specific thing that we tried to do. It was just a general feeling of, look; let’s just keep grinding it out every day. We have got to grind it out and sometime later we are going to be rewarded. If you remember, we lost the first five games I managed here. But we couldn’t give up on the message that it is going to get better if we keep working. If we stop working, it is just going to get worse and there will be a price to pay for that.

Question: You were obviously in this same position last year with Seattle and hoping to get a chance at that job (full-time) after that season ended. Did that weigh on you a little bit as you waited for the five or six weeks to see if you would get the permanent job here? That was obviously a difficult situation when that didn’t come through. How did you handle that?

Jim: To be honest with you, when my time in Seattle ended, I really wanted to go back there because I felt we had left a lot left undone. There were some things I tried to instill there and was not able to do. I wasn’t able to reach some players. And when that happens, you are really anxious to go back and get things right. Maybe, take a little different approach with players, or whatever, reach them in a different way. This situation here (Washington), as much as I wanted to come back, had I not been asked to come back, I would have walked away with my head high. I would have felt, you know what, we had done everything we could do. We left no stone unturned. We worked hard. We addressed issues. We did everything we could do and I hope to get the opportunity to continue. But it would have not been as painful as it was the year before—because you know—when we really didn’t show our best, you don’t want it to end. And that is the way it kind of ended the year before. This year, I felt good about the opportunity to come back. I thought I would. I thought I was the right person. However, if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t feel like it was because of something I didn’t do during the course of the work.

Question for Mike: You brought in a wide-ranging group of interviewees. Some had vastly different experiences and personalities than Jim. Specifically, I am wondering how you can reconcile Bobby Valentine and Jim Riggleman in the same group, when Valentine is such a different personality—we all know that. How can you begin to compare those two? And I want to ask this to Jim, as well. As you were waiting at home, how did you observe the process going on?

Mike: What was the question again? (Laughter) We felt, as before, we owed it to ourselves and the fan base of D.C. to exhaust all opportunities and look for all sorts of different dynamics, personalities and personality types--and to at least discuss the job of managing The Nationals (with each). We felt there was an opportunity right here to go out and select my first manager as a general manager and really nail down the job of the managerial job for years to come. We started with a list of 18 candidates and whittled that down to 10; spoke to several candidates both on the phone and in person. I flew to interviews, outside the city, to talk to candidates. With that all said, and knowing all along, and expressing to the media all along—we did have a great in-house candidate that I knew I could turn to when I finished making my decision. But, we thought we owed it to the fan base to look at all sorts of people—all diverse backgrounds—and really the only one real caveat I did have with my managerial search—although we did interview some who would have been first-time managers—I did want to stay away from an inexperienced Major League Manager—although we did talk to a few of them. I knew what we had here was a 10-year Major League experienced manager that I got along with very, very well for the last three months of the season. We had a very good daily dialogue and a good process we went through, before games, after games, on the road and at home. And a guy I knew we could both co-exist with in that kind of a partnership to get the franchise rolling in the right direction.

Question: Jim, five games into your time as manager, you were 40 games under .500. After that you played the last 70 games, I think, four games under .500. Which team is it? The awful team earlier? Or, the almost pretty good team late? And what do you do with that team next to figure out which one it is?

Jim: I think we are closer to the latter group. When your record is what your overall record is, or was, you know there are areas you need to improve in. So, it’s a work in progress. It’s certainly closer to the latter though—to cut to the chase and question. We are a lot closer to that record than what we were 40 games under—at that point in the season. That’s the interesting thing this winter, to see if we can tweak. That is a total team effort. That’s all the way from ownership, all the way to your Minor League managers who have seen players and have reported on players and can give you an idea who the prospects are—what deal you can make—and stuff like that. It’s a great, interesting time, but the bottom line is we have to do better. And hopefully, we will play more like we did those last couple of months, rather than what we did the first couple.

Question: Mike, you talked about how comfortable you were. Specifically, can you mention a couple of things what you like about Jim as a manager? What qualities you like about him being the manager?

Mike: He’s got a discipline and toughness to his personality, first of all. He’s a quiet kind of a leader. He’s not a boisterous personality, but he connects with players very, very well. I don’t know if the media knows this but Jim conducts a post-game meeting with the full team after every game. I thought that added a lot of success to the last several months of the season. There was open dialogue. You talk about an open door policy, the manager left the door open, but the manager left the office quite a bit and mingled among the players. There was much more open dialogue between coaching staff and manager—and between manager and players. There is a regimen and a rigorous fundamental workmanship that we put the players through the last three months of the season—at home, taking infield on a regular basis and doing fundamentals that, quite frankly, most other Major League teams don’t do during the course of a season. But Jim and I addressed what we thought were weaknesses throughout the season and we thought, given where we were in the standings and the youth on our ballclub—it was beneficial for them to go through those daily rituals of infield and pitchers fielding practice and that type of thing. We discussed, vigorously, how the game should be played. And although we failed at times to produce, there was always knowledge of how the game should be played. Those were a lot of the smaller things that gave me a comfort level with Jim. And we just kind of had a feeling when we got together in the manager’s office; there was an ease of conversation. We are both the kind of people who say what is on their minds. And, I think, there is a good dynamic between both of us.

Question: You briefly touched on growing up here and this is a dream job. Could you have ever imagined growing up and watching The Senators—being the manager here? And what is the reaction of the folks here in the community that knew you back then?

Jim: You grow up thinking about being the shortstop. You don’t grow up thinking about being the manager some day. To be associated with the ballclub in any capacity is special. I think that anybody, if you are in Minnesota—you want to grow up and be with The Twins—or managing The Twins or coaching or playing for The Twins. The same thing exists in all the cities. This happens to be my hometown. To end up coming here after several stops as coach somewhere else and all that—to come here is very exciting. And it’s exciting for friends and family that now have a heightened interest in the ballclub because we are close family. We are close friends. We were Senators Fans that became Nationals Fans. And they are now talking a little more baseball with me—interchanging ideas—just a heightened interest in what is going on here, especially now that I am here and have so many close friends.

Question: It’s been a decade since you left The Cubs, in that time, were there points or times you were worried that you would ever get another permanent managing job?

Jim: I think wondered is the right word. It’s the thing I like to do. There is nothing better than playing the game. If you can play the game, nothing will ever match that. Once you can’t play anymore, don’t play anymore; managing is the thing that excites me. I enjoyed coaching. I never had a stint that I didn’t enjoy where I was at—as far as coaching. When I went down to become the Field Coordinator with The Cardinals—I enjoyed all of that. But, my feeling was that if there was some divine intervention that came to me and said: ‘you will never manage again’, then I would have gotten out. I stayed in the game because I still wanted to manage. If I had doubted that would ever happen (again), I would not have continued. But like you said, you had to wonder as the years went by.

Question: Have you made any decisions as far as your coaching staff? We know some changes have been made already.

Jim: Mike and I are discussing that and will continue to do that. That will also be a team effort as to how our staff ends up. We don’t have anything to announce on that at this time, but I think we will soon.

With that final answer, the formal portion of the media availability concluded. Individual one-on-one interviews continued for the local press.

Today Press Conference Photo--Haraz N. Ghanbari (AP)

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