Manager Jim Riggleman of the Chicago Cubs in action during a spring training game against the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. Photo: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
When Jim Riggleman was hired as Chicago Cubs manager on October 21, 1994, many Cubs fans scratched their heads.
Riggleman came with a built-in coaching staff from his days as a Cardinals minor-league manager, as Dan Radison, Dave Bialas and Mako Oliveras were installed as part of the typical managerial buddy system. But one thing GM Andy MacPhail insisted on was the hiring of Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins as pitching coach.
Somehow, the system gelled. Jenkins did a nice job with a young pitching staff that included Steve Trachsel, Kevin Foster, Frank Castillo and Jim Bullinger, and the Cubs rode an eight-game winning streak in the season's final week to within a couple of games of a wild-card spot, eventually won by the Rockies. Hopes were high for 1996, but when the team slipped to 10 games under .500 that year, Jenkins was dismissed; he and Riggleman didn't get along, and the manager had the front office's support.
The 1997 season was a disaster. Sammy Sosa, doing his best "Selfish Sammy" act, had a down year (with 36 home runs, but also a team-record 174 strikeouts) and the Cubs lost 94 games. Still, MacPhail stuck with Riggleman, and in 1998 it paid off with a playoff berth (that might have happened anyway, with Sosa becoming "SAMMY" and the home run race captivating everyone).
The Cubs decided to stand pat with an aging team in 1999, and for two months it worked; on June 8 they defeated the Diamondbacks in Arizona to go to 32-23, a game out of first place.
Then the wheels fell off, and the Cubs went 35-74 the rest of the year, including the worst month in franchise history in August (6-24). No-name guys like Dan Serafini, Brad Woodall, Brian McNichol, Andrew Lorraine and Micah Bowie started games. Rumors flew that the team had quit on Riggleman; whether or not that's actually true, he was fired at season's end and replaced by Don Baylor. Baylor took over and led the team to an even worse record in 2000.
So was it Riggleman or the team? Probably a little of both. He was the toast of the town after leading a modestly talented team to the playoffs in 1998; a year later, with many of the same players, he was a failure. He did a pretty good job with the Nationals, who seem on the cusp of becoming a contending team, and now has gone out on his own terms, rather than someone else's. Most guys who do that don't manage again ... but don't count Jim Riggleman out just yet.