The job of interim manager — in baseball and other industries — is a tough one. You’re pretty much guaranteed to inherit a bad team in turmoil. Firing the old manager itself causes disruption. If you’re the interim person’s boss, you just want the operation back running smoothly.
In fact, the skill set for succeeding as an interim manager is not the same as for a permanent replacement. The ideal interim person should have familiarity with the organization and experience with similar situations. An interim designation fits the bill when the organization needs immediate senior administrative capability, but isn’t ready or able to fill a permanent position.
Jim Riggleman, a four-time interim manager at the major league level, was the perfect person to take over for Bryan Price when the Reds fired their manager in April.
But experienced executives well know a good interim period doesn’t mean the temporary manager will have long-term success, especially when change is needed. If you look at the past four seasons, the need for the Reds to do something different is certain. Reds fans have to hope the team’s ownership and front office understand this better than sportswriters.
Because the #narrative generating machine has sparked to life.
In addition to straight reporting, national and local baseball writers are paid to come up with narratives. (People who write for blogs like Redleg Nation produce narratives, too. In fact, that’s sorta all we do. We’re generally not paid for them, though.) A viewpoint gaining traction in recent days is the Reds should delete the “interim” in manager Jim Riggleman’s title. Presumably this would replace the thorough search at the end of the season promised by the front office.
Leading off was national baseball writer Bob Nightengale:
It’s time to take the interim tag off #Reds manager Jim Riggleman’s title. Doing a magnificent job. No need to hire a manager this winter when they already have fine one in place
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 24, 2018
(Yes, Nightengale is the guy who had Joey Votto 5th in the NL MVP voting last year.)
C. Trent Rosecrans wrote this week at The Athletic that the Reds are winning now because Jim Riggleman has helped them find “the little things.” Rosecrans’ piece follows another post at The Athletic by Justin Williams from a month ago saying the Reds success was due to Riggleman taking the club back to basics.
Last night, Enquirer beat writer John Fay added to the quickly congealing conventional wisdom.
“There’s a good chance that the managerial search never begins because Jim Riggleman gets the ‘interim’ tag removed from his title.”
If form holds, Reds broadcasters won’t be far behind in sharing this opinion.
Let’s slow down and look at the evidence. The Reds are winning because they are hitting and pitching better, not because of Jim Riggleman’s bunting practice. The Reds are winning more than earlier in the year because they have Eugenio Suarez, Scott Schebler, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen and, to some extent, Matt Harvey. Joey Votto has started hitting like Joey Votto – remember his first month? They’re winning more than they did under Bryan Price because it would have been impossible for these players to keep playing that poorly.
Despite the suggestion of narrative-fulfilling headlines, the articles from Rosecrans and Williams don’t connect “little things” the Reds have picked up from Riggleman’s extra practices with winning. Did Riggleman make Billy Hamilton fast so he could cut off a single in the gap? Have the Reds been committing fewer errors or base running blunders? Not that I’ve seen. Did Riggleman have early practice sessions on how to hit grand slams? Because that would merit reporting.
In between the two Athletic articles, the Reds had a 4-10 narrative-busting skid. That was under Jim Riggleman’s little things and back to basics regime.
The Fay article has zero backing for the claim in its headline or lede sentence. In fact, the quote from Dick Williams in the piece says the opposite. Consistent with what they’ve been saying all along, Williams says the Reds haven’t really begun their search.
That’s not to say Riggleman has done a poor interim job. He has managed the bullpen more aggressively and flexibly than Bryan Price did. He makes his share of good strategic decisions, as well as those that backfire. Maybe he’s a positive voice in the locker room (although wasn’t he in the clubhouse before?).
But don’t forget, Jim Riggleman is the same guy who wanted to bench Jesse Winker a few weeks ago. Riggleman called Winker the odd-man out and offered an incoherent explanation. Then he changed his mind after he “thought about it.” Yikes.
Bottom line: Jim Riggleman has better players to put on his lineup card. How people who cover the team every day don’t see this as the main explanation for improvement is hard to understand. If the Reds are playing so well right now, what exactly is the benefit of rushing to designate Riggleman as permanent?
Riggleman’s career record as a major league manager is 691-854. He’s hardly George Anderson. The Washington Nationals didn’t want to extend Riggleman’s previous contract, so he walked out in the middle of the season. It’s hard to imagine the Reds, or any major league organization, overlooking that.
As Chad pointed out: “Maybe Riggleman really is the best manager available. If so hire him full time. But I kinda doubt it. It’s not like the smart teams out there have been beating down his door trying to hire him the last few years.”
It’s certainly possible sufficient losing, questionable strategies and continued sloppy play will prevent Riggleman’s rehiring. But Reds fans shouldn’t have to live through that just to see the correct hiring process.
What about the feel-good winning streak?
It’s hard to remember in the midst of calamity, but the Reds had several 5-game winning streaks under Price. They won 7 of 8, 9 of 11 and 9 of 13 in other occasions.
Haven’t the Reds almost played .500 ball under Riggleman?
Well, the Reds were 19-15 at the start of last season. They had a stretch of 45 games later in the season when they were 24-21. Bryan Price’s Reds had a nice 69-game stretch in 2016 when they were 35-34.
If the Reds hire Jim Riggleman based on recent feel-good, they’ll be repeating the same mistake they made when they hired Bryan Price without looking at outside candidates. It would be a prime example of emotional decision-making that is the hallmark of failed organizations. It would represent an enormous mistake, akin to the same old … stuff … that has held back the Reds the past half-decade.
The Reds have been crippled for years by in-group bias and myopia, which led to a culture of narrowness. At crucial times, owner Bob Castellini has operated his billion-dollar baseball team like a mom and pop produce stand. As the understanding of what it takes to win baseball games has changed at breakneck speed in the past ten years, nostalgia for 2005 proved to be an unsound operating principle for the Reds. Walt Jocketty brought in a veritable Jurassic Park of assistant GMs to help run the team. The movie dinosaurs ate most of the scientists.
Incredibly, Jocketty still plays a key role in the Reds backroom. If you doubt that, answer this. Why does Jim Riggleman always mention Jocketty in the list of people who will make roster decisions? If the Reds dump their plan to conduct a full end-of-year manager search, in favor of Jim Riggleman, the tell-tale fingerprints of Castellini and Jocketty will be all over it.
Hiring the familiar (and familial) is the Bob Castellini/Walt Jocketty playbook. One that hasn’t worked well lately on the baseball side of the business.
The Reds desperately need a thorough end-of-year search for their next manager. It should include up-and-coming major league coaches from winning organizations, not necessarily people with experience as big league managers. They should talk to people who are conversant with modern thinking about how to win baseball games. And yes, the search should include Jim Riggleman.
It’s up to ownership to get this right. It’s important they understand the real lesson of teams that have succeeded in rebuilding. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are often cited as examples of major league organizations that conducted smart rebuilds. After all, they each won a World Series a few years after they stripped down the team. But it’s crucial to remember the first step those owners took was bringing on a new front office with modern thinking and let them do their thing.
Here’s a new narrative: Reds ownership should come out and say they support a thorough search and waiting to the end of the year to pick the next manager.
[lead photo: Meg Vogel/Cincinnati Enquirer]
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.