It was a move that was questioned at the very time Jim Riggleman took it.
In December, 2004, coming off four seasons as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bench coach, the former manager of the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs accepted the role of St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Field Coordinator.
It seemed a step down or at least aside, but Riggleman proved to be a significant asset to the Cardinals player development organization. Still, while Riggleman enjoys teaching, from the very start the 54-year old made it clear he still fosters a desire to manage again in the major leagues. He is now undertaking another move that potentially aims him back in that direction.
This week, at the conclusion of the Cardinals Winter Instructional League, Riggleman amicably parted ways with the Cardinals for at least the second time, a union which began in 1976 during the playing phase of his career.
His new job is a reprise of an earlier role, major league bench coach, but this time with the Seattle Mariners under John McLaren. Ironically, McLaren himself was the club’s bench coach before assuming the top spot during the 2007 season upon the resignation of long-time M’s manager Mike Hargrove. Mike Goff had the job in between, but his contract, like that of most of the Mariners’ hold-over staff from the Hargrove days, was not renewed for 2008.
Riggleman spent twelve years playing and coaching in the Cardinals minor league system before becoming the organization’s Director of Player Development in 1988. Whitey Herzog added the former Arkansas manager and to his coaching staff for the White Rat’s final two seasons on the bench, 1989 and 1990.
From there, Riggleman’s travels took him to San Diego and Chicago, where he managed at the major league level for almost seven years, followed by coaching stints with Cleveland and the Dodgers.
While coming close, Riggleman hasn’t yet been offered that third shot at a top big league spot. In the fall of 2004, before returning to the Cardinals, he was interviewed by the New York Mets for the managerial opening that eventually went to Willie Randolph. Ironically, after the 2002 season, he was a serious contender for the Seattle Mariners’ managerial position, but Bob Melvin was hired instead.
Returning to the Cardinals, Riggleman joined familiar friends, including manager Tony La Russa, with whom he played in the Cards’ minor leagues in 1977. Here and now, some, including myself, thought Riggleman would be a very serious candidate should La Russa leave.
However, Riggleman, like the rest of us, believes La Russa’s plans to come back for a 13th season in St. Louis are firming up. During a Friday phone interview, Riggleman told me this, “I think that Tony is going to come back, but I don’t know…”
In a round-about way, La Russa may have contributed to Riggleman’s decision to leave. In other words, knowing he would be a managerial candidate in future years wasn’t enough to keep Riggleman in a Cardinals uniform any longer – at least in this go-around.
Riggleman explained his goal. “The thing I want to do is manage. No matter where you are, there are different ways to get back to the job of managing. I was a coach, then went to player development and now back to coaching. But, for me, it is all secondary to what I really want to do.”
Riggleman’s departure allows him the chance to re-establish his visibility outside the Cardinals organization, which can better position him for any managerial jobs down the road.
Unlike some others who have left the organization recently, Riggleman seems to be leaving through the front door. “I left on good terms, I think,” he told me on Friday.
Still, in recent weeks, the Cardinals, an organization that prides itself on continuity, have seen an unusual amount of turnover. The Cardinals axed General Manager Walt Jocketty and Senior Director of Professional Scouting Bruce Manno.
Director of Professional Scouting Marteese Robinson departed for a position with the Washington Nationals. Minor League Hitting Coordinator Gene Tenace will not be back in 2008 and neither will minor league pitching coaches Sid Monge and Al Holland. Other coaching changes have yet to be announced.
Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow was gracious about the coaching carousel, which includes several individuals changing jobs.
“We are currently reviewing our staffing for next year and there will be some changes. Gene Tenace, Al Holland, and Sid Monge will not be returning next year. They have all done good work, represented the organization well, and helped many players improve. I’m sure they will all have continued success in whatever they choose to pursue,” Luhnow said.
In addition to all these moves, the Cardinals currently have posted a number of open positions in Baseball Operations, including Manager of Minor League Instruction as well as Area Scout Supervisors in two different areas of the US.
Perhaps the timing of many of these openings is purely coincidental and it should be noted that some turnover is expected to occur every year. But even if La Russa returns, the fact that the Cardinals will be undergoing considerable change in 2008 cannot be disputed.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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