The baseball world is still shocked (SHOCKED!) by the resignation of Jim Riggleman earlier today. It's not surprising. After all, most managers don't up and quit in the middle of a season. Many announce their intention to resign at the end of the year, like Jim Leyland did in 1999 or Al Lopez in 1965. Some are asked to resign (or about to be asked to resign), like Edwin Rodriguez this year. Some were forced to retire for health reasons, like John McGraw in 1932.
But very, very few managers simply up and quit in the middle of the season. Because MLB manager jobs are scarce, and there are lots of candidates. Riggleman's move seems well timed, as it allows him to appear that he left the Nats in good shape, while distancing himself from their probable decline later this summer. It frees him up from accepting just a one-year commitment when he might be a candidate for a three-year contract elsewhere. But is that scenario likely to play out?
It's difficult to tell. It's simply a move without much precendent. But there is SOME precedent. So, what can we learn from the past? Can it tells us what the future holds for James David Riggleman? Here are the managers that The Common Man could find who just walked away from their clubs in the middle of the season of their own accord. This list is probably not complete, as its a terribly difficult to identify all the managers who resigned, and then to filter them by those who retired in-season. And then to filter those by who announced their retirement in-season, but finished out the year. We're working with incomplete data. Still, what can we learn?
As early as 1945, Joe McCarthy, who had won 9 pennants and 7 world championships, and was considred by many in his time to be the greatest manager ever, told reporters "on account of my poor health I have requested that Colonel [Larry] MacPhail accept my resignation as manager. This he has refused to do. The Colonel proposed that I go home for a few days and see my doctor. He felt that the rest may prompt me to reconsider my decision." Finally, in May of 1946, that McCarthy finally got MacPhail (with whom he did not get along) to accept his resignation because "my physician advises that my health would be seriously jeopardized if I continued."
McCarthy was not done managing, however. He took over the Red Sox in 1948. He took that first team to a one-game playoff for the American League, but fell short against the Indians. But 1950, he had had it. Papers describe him as "ailing" and the Red Sox traveling secretary called him "tired and weary." There were reports he had influenza, and pleurisy. McCarthy was more blunt, saying that he was "disgusted after three years of beating my brains out....I've had enough of baseball. I just don't want to go on anymore." He also told reporters, "When a man can't help a club any more it's time to quit. that's all there is to say. I'm sick and weary and I'm entitled to quit."
The reaction? Pity, mostly. The papers seemed to understand that McCarthy was in pain, but they also took care to point out that he "did what he said he never would - quit under fire or as a loser" and pointed out that he was considered "a cold and aloof figure."
Billy Southworth was one of the most successful managers in National League history, but also had significant problems with his mental stability. He suffered a lot of personal tragedy, and was already predisposed to drink. He suffered a breakdown in 1949 and had to leave the Braves, but came back strong in 1950. In 1951, however, Boston had underachieved through its first 60 games and attendance was low. Billy was allegedly drinking again. So Southworth told GM John Quinn that "someone else could do a better job" leading the club. He turned the reins over to Tommy Holmes.
Paul Richards had a thing for starting from scratch. In 1954, he resigned from the White Sox, who he had piloted to a 91-54 record to take a dual role as the Manager and General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles in the club's 2nd season in the Charm City. He was the first man since John McGraw to hold down both jobs. But Richards tenure as a GM was not a very good one. The Orioles maxxed out at 76-76 in 1957, and after a step back in 1958 Richards was replaced at GM by Larry MacPhail. But Richards wanted to control the franchise, and was fairly clear about that desire. At the same time, he assured the press that he was not going to leave the Orioles after the season.
But when the expansion Astros offered him the GM job in 1961, he jumped at it, resigning his job as the Orioles' skipper with a 78-57 record and in 3rd place in the American League. He offered to stay on for the rest of the season, but the O's let him go and named an interim skipper. The Common Man has been able to find little public criticism of Richards in either 1954 or 1961, given that these were both promotions for him and, despite their success, the Orioles were out of the pennant race. In fact, in 1961, the Washington Afro-American called Richards "smart to leave this town."
Sweet Lou Piniella actually announced that he would be resigning as the manager of the Cubs in July of 2010, to focus on spending time with his ailing mother. After taking four days off to be with her in August, however, he became concerned that he needed to resign immediately. Piniella told reporters, ""I need to be home," Piniella said before Saturday's 5-4 victory over Atlanta. "My circumstances have changed a heck of a lot the last year, especially the last month or so. I just need to be home. I'm concerned about my mom. I love baseball but I love my family. When you talk about your family, it's a little more important than baseball, it's a lot more important." Lou retired on August 25, with the Cubs 51-74 and in 5th place, and the team was turned over to Mike Quade. Everyone has a mother, and thus was everyone supportive of Piniella and the decision he made, especially when he became concerned about his mother's immediate health. That said, it was generally understood that Piniella had probably managed his last game.
So, based on these few cases, what do we know? First, several of them never worked again. Piniella seems done, and Hargrove is working for the Indians as a special assistant, but hasn't really be mentioned as a candidate for any openings since leaving the Ms. Fielder Jones simply went back to Oregon and never came back. Southworth was seen as a liability, and never got another shot. Dickey never managed again.
Some of them did work again, but it was largely because of factors that were seen as mitigating their resignations. McCarthy did because the Red Sox believed that he was healthy again (and he kind of was, for a while). Richards did, in both cases, actually. He came back to run the White Sox for one year in 1976 before retiring for good. But that's largely because he wasn't perceived as quitting so much as he took a new and better job. He accepted promotions.
Jimmy Dykes, whose situation seems to closely parallel Riggleman's in that neither was overly successful before their resignations (Dykes' best finish leading the White Sox was 3rd), did eventually get another shot to manage. But it took another four years before he got another shot. So much for those "other offers" he thought he was going to get. Riggleman has had two and a half winning seasons in 12 years at the helm. And he seems to think he'll be better off breaking away from the paycheck and credibility the Nats job gives him. But history says he's probably not right about that.
Update: Via Al Yellon of SB Nation, we have two more. Eddie Stanky, who managed one game for the Rangers in 1977, and Don Zimmer, who demanded to know his contract status in 1991 and was displeased with the answer. Neither man has managed another game at the Major League level. Things not looking good for Jimmy Riggles' strategy.
Update 2: Intrepid commenter William points us toward Whitey Herzog, who TCM had forgotten resigned in 1990 in the middle of a disappointing season for the Cardinals, saying "I was totally embarrassed by the way my ballclub played up there. I think we've underachieved. I don't think I've dona good job as manager this year. Herzog was widely criticized by his former players and the press, and he has never manged again. Thanks William!