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:

(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]

25 Responses

  1. Alex

    The Enquirer baseball analysis has been very poor with the return of Fayman and the new guy Nightengale. As for Riggleman, he seems to be doing a reasonable job off the field aside from the Winker and Homer debacles. So the Reds win seven straight and the same local media who chided Reds fans for wanting Price gone now want Riggleman to be given a long term contract for 50 games worth of managing. Man this is dumb.

  2. Keith

    I think a GIF of Jesse Winker bunting should be an auto-reply on twitter to anyone suggesting that we go ahead and hire Riggleman now.

    • Keith

      No, Winker was bunting on Friday night. Nobody out and men on first and second — otherwise known as a great opportunity to rally. Instead, Winker bunt popped out and the next guy hits into a DP. Inning over.

  3. Ted Miller

    Can’t fathom how anyone who watched the 10th inning last night would still want to hire Riggleman. That alone should be disqualifying.

  4. Scott Carter

    For the love of all that is good, I pray the Reds do not make Riggleman the manager. The Reds are no better fundamentally now than they were under Price. Almost nightly I gnash my teeth over some fundamental error that cost the Reds (case in point, Schebler missing the cutoff man last night cost a run) Physical errors happen, mental errors should not. Then there is the bunting, I went to bed after the Braves tied it at 4, but asking Barnhart to bunt with no outs and a runner on second is downright idiotic, even in old school baseball. You have a right-handed batter against a left handed pitcher and two left handers batters to follow, even if they are Votto and Gennett why give up an out. Even a ground ball to the right side has a chance of getting through for a hit.

  5. Jeff Gangloff

    I agree with a lot of what you said. I think the Reds should do a full on managerial search at the end of the season and hire the absolute best guy for the job. That being said, there is a group of people out there (and im not including you in this, Steve) that acts like Jim Riggleman is the absolute lowliest of the lows when it comes to managers and that the Reds shouldn’t touch him with a 10 foot pole. There really isn’t anything to base that on with the job that he has done this year. He may not be the man for the job, but lets give him a little credit where credit is due.

    • David

      They will leave no rock unturned in their “Search For” a new manager. And in the end, it’s hey …”Lookee here, it’s Jim Riggleman!!”

      Jim knows the Reds. He’s got the inside track. Jim knows Bunting (no, not Jim Bunning, he’s dead). Jim knows Fundamental Baseball, and Plays the Game the Right Way (tm, George Grande).

      I mean really, in November of 2018, will any of us have any further doubts that Jim Riggleman was The Best Man for the job? You know it’s true.

  6. Jeff Gangloff

    Looking back on it, I think the Winker thing was more mind games/trying to light a fire under Winker than anything. I dont think Riggleman was ever really going to bench Winker.

    He said what he said to try and stir something inside Winker, it backfired, then he went back on it. Still kinda lame, but I think he had different intentions in mind.

  7. GW

    I generally agree with the premise. However, I’m wondering where the love for Winker is coming from, from many of the commenters. Winker has a negative WAR of (-.8) for the year and negative dWAR of (-1.6). He is, by all measures, a Horrible OF mostly, I suspect because he is glacially slow. He has a slugging percentage below 400 in part because he hits few doubles, again ( in part) because he is glacially slow. Yes he has a good eye, OBP and “hit tool” as they say. But statistically he isn’t helping the team win and you can’t teach speed. Sad to say, but I’m not optimistic about him.

    • Sliotar

      I am not writing to this to try and change your opinion, I would simply suggest Winker be viewed in 3 contexts:

      1) Among MLB Rookies…2nd in OBP, 3rd in BB%, 12th wRC+ at 107 (above league average)

      2) He is on one of the worst-run MLB teams, with an interim manager, part of a 4-man outfield rotation…and he does not have a set position.

      3) This blog has been littered with hopes of Winker-Senzel reviving this team, because the talent pipeline is thin until around 2021 and this team shows no signs of the spending the money it needs to fill all its holes. Who is replacing him with 6 years of control?

      I think you would be surprised how many teams would be in on Winker in a heartbeat, if the Reds said (after only 256 PAs)…”We’ve seen enough. He won’t make it here.”

      • Jim Walker

        I don’t disagree. My primary concern is that the team will get into a “we’ve got Jesse for that mode” without doing the hard analysis of whether it should be Jesse or somebody else instead. And Trammell isn’t the only one who look like he might push the incumbents (Winker and Schebler) really hard. There are several others.

  8. kmartin

    I lived in Chicago during the 1995-1999 Riggleman era. I do not want a Riggleman deja vu experience.

    • reaganspad

      I lived in SF and Chicago during the Dusty era’s. Never was the guy I wanted for the Reds then, now or ever.

  9. Paul

    Mega dittos Steve, I hope the front office will restrain themselves. I don’t get the sense there are clubs clamoring to steal Riggleman from the Reds. No reason to rush this.

  10. Sliotar

    Steve,

    Excellent counterpoint to the fawning of the mainstream Reds media regarding Riggleman.

    And, especially, for reminding us of the absurdity of Walt Jocketty still being the de facto President of Business Operations.

    I still see people writing about the Reds and stating, “Bob Castellini is dying to win. He just doesn’t know how.” That point has factually been proven wrong, by Castelllini’s own actions, it greatly lessens the writer’s credibility.

    Mike Illitch did everything he could, overpaying players, getting Dave Dombrowski, etc. for the Tigers to win the World Series before he died. That is a benchmark for “dying to win” (literally, sadly). Keeping Jocketty around, in power, is about keeping control and making $.

  11. eric3287

    The Reds went 36-37 post All-Star break in 2016 and outscored their opponents. They went 51-44 pre All-Star break in 2014. If they want to hire Riggleman based on 40 games, they might as well re-hire Price.
    Barring a miracle playoff run, this has been almost a worst case scenario season for the Reds. The 3-15 start put them in a position where they almost HAD to fire Price, but also was going to be impossible to sustain. They had no choice but to improve, and unfortunately people look at who the manager is and figure he deserves the credit. The loss of Senzel for the season means they’re likely to head into 2019 in the exact situation they were in at the beginning of this season. Just an all around awful, and wasted, season of Reds baseball, almost 100% because of incompetence in the front office.

  12. David

    I saw Stupid Bunting Logic open for Journey way back in the day at the Coliseum.

    Seriously, Riggleman may have improved team morale, which is a real thing, even if it is intangible with respects to team/player statistics.
    The Starting pitching has been rounding into shape the last few weeks. The bullpen is in better shape now that any other time in the season. Hernandez and Lorenzen are healthy, and Peralta was sent down.
    Schebler was hurt for a good part of April (elbow).

    And a lot of other stuff that means that the team Bryan Price took out of Arizona to play the first month of the season is not nearly as good as the June 26th version of the Reds. The June 26th version of the Reds is not a “Championship” caliber team yet, but has played pretty well since May. And yes, there are really people banging the drum for Good ‘Ol Jim Riggleman to get hired on. Maybe they know something I don’t, but but this BUNTING MADNESS has got to stop. Oh yeah, it’s just solid fundamental baseball. (facepalm)
    Your best hitter, who has the highest BA among qualifying hitters (at bats) in the National League, and is batting….Cleanup, is told to bunt to advance two runners with no one out. I mean…..huh?

    Which opens a base to walk the next man, who is also a pretty good hitter (Suarez), allowing your competition to pitch to your 6 and 7th place hitters. So, did Riggleman’s deep thinking see that playing out?
    And now, Billy is about to be put into the lead off spot …..again. Tell you what fans, this Reds team just CAN’T handle winning. It’s too much.

  13. Redgoggles

    Agreed. How Jocketty has escaped media pressure while Price lost his job (with an average roster of roughly 50% major league players) is beyond me. (Do you think Hernandez, Lorenzen, Disco, Harvey Blandino, Dixon would have made the team any better under Price? Not to mention return to health by Schebler and Suarez.) I would prefer the local media focus on that than try to justify naming Riggleman manager due to a week of success. I cannot even believe this is newsworthy. So frustrating! If they name him manager without a thorough search, I will lose any all remaining hope in this front office, whoever is in charge.

  14. George

    For a while I was beginning to feel that I was a member of a very small minority who felt that the local Cincy media were weak when dealing with the Castellini organization. All the negative scenarios suggested in Steve’s article and enhanced by the RLN posters are just around the corner if Bob C. and his trusted inner circle are in charge.
    Mancuso writes;
    “The Reds have been crippled by in-group bias and myopia — a culture of narrowness — for years. At crucial times, owner Bob Castellini has operated his billion-dollar baseball team like a mom and pop produce stand.”

    Reds fans should know a Tiger can’t change its stripes. Bob C. is what he is and to expect change is only based on hope. Bob C. will not go outside his circle of security, Jockey is the evidence (he is still here), Williams is the evidence (Where is his Baseball resume of success), he can’t do it. It is his team; his money and the Organization is making money for the investors.

    I enjoy baseball being played by players (both good and bad). I don’t enjoy a business being run by a family whose only thought is the family .

  15. jctrum

    To throw my hat in the ring on this issue, if the definition of insanity is attributed at times to follow the same patterns and expect different results, if for the most part the same structure is in place, and some changes have been made, but foundationally we are no different now than a couple years ago, I’m expecting Riggleman to be the next Manager. Do I want him to be? Not really, but BC is the owner, Jocketty is somewhat involved (maybe?) and people on the inside track have gotten the job before. If they go a different route great, but why expect a standing structure to change when it’s foundation hasn’t?

  16. luciusruber

    Steve,
    Always enjoy you thoughtful posts. Any thoughts who you think should be in the running for manager for the next few years?

  17. cupofcoffee1955

    Don’t like to hear Uncle Walt is still involved. How many more years to we have to end up in last place before he is shown the door? Bob C. must love him.
    I have seen Hal McCoy likes Riggleman too. He calls him a good baseball man. I think the only reason the Reds would hire Riggs as the manager is it would be easy. Remember when they canned Dusty, they hired Price. It was easy for them.
    Thank Riggs for a job well done at the end of the year but please… bring in someone new for 2019.

  18. James H.

    Hiring Riggleman full time after this season would be a boondoggle.