GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Baseball forgives almost anything. Cheaters, liars, criminals almost always get second chances. Sometimes it hardly seems fair to the outside world, but within the game, inside the baseball family, there is always a feeling of charity, a wish for forgiveness. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody deserves a reprieve.
Except quitters. There is hardly any coming back from that. Quitting is about the only unforgivable sin in the game. Never quit on a team, during an at-bat, or in the middle of the game. Careers have been ruined by such a perception. Few can ever recover from that reputation.
On the backfields of the Cincinnati Reds spring training complex, only minutes away from the major league clubhouse, but symbolically thousands of miles from the major leagues, 60-year-old Louisville manager Jim Riggleman hit ground balls to several of his young infielders during batting practice on a recent weekend morning. The day was sunny and pleasant yet hardly anyone was watching. Admission was free, and fans were allowed to get close to the action, but most didn't bother to show up, save for family members, or overzealous autograph seekers. It's the minor leagues, after all.
"Mas rapido," Riggleman sternly told a young Latino second baseman, urging him to quicken his throw to second base during a double play drill.
"Mas rapido," Riggleman yelled again after every ground ball. The young second baseman tried to hurry each throw, but he seemingly failed to impress his boss with each one.
At the end of the drill, Riggleman chuckled and told his young player he'd done a good job. All those pleas for a better effort were simply a joke.
It was the one moment of the day when you believed that Riggleman had come to terms with his fate. It was the one moment where you believed that perhaps Riggleman will get another chance in the majors. It was the one moment that you believed Riggleman was happy to be there in spite of what had happened. He still enjoyed those quiet moments in baseball's backfields with young players that only the baseball lifers can appreciate. And you hoped other people, the ones of charge of hiring men like Riggleman, had noticed it too.
In 2011, Riggleman, in the final year of his contract, 75 games into the season, resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals when the team would not give him an extension. Riggleman believed then, and he believes now, that he was simply a lame duck manager. So he quit. The Nationals, with a 38-37 record, were possibly headed toward their first winning season since arriving in Washington and Riggleman didn't want to be there anymore if he had no future in the organization. It was a puzzling decision that perhaps nobody but Riggleman really understands to this day.
"As I've told many people, it wasn't the smart thing to do," Riggleman said. "But it was thought out and it had been going for awhile, but it wasn't the smart decision. But I thought it was the right decision. That's the consequences sometimes. Things don't work out perfectly as you hope. I got to live with my decision."
In 12 years as a major league manager Riggleman compiled a 662-824 record (.445). One of his teams lost more than 100 games. Only once in the six seasons he managed for a full year did his team win more games than it lost. Only one of his teams made the playoffs. Yet three times Riggleman was asked to manage on an interim basis. It spoke of the respect people had for him in the game. He might not have been the guy to take you to the World Series, but he was a good caretaker. If there was a team in shambles, Riggleman was the right man to calm the waters. Hand him a mess and Riggleman was the man to clean it up. It's a thankless position, but one that's appreciated in the game.
Yet Riggleman's chances at another major league managing job, perhaps even a major league coaching job, appear grim at best for the moment. Most of the goodwill he amassed seems to have washed away.
"I do know that there's some people in baseball who are 'Hey, Jim resigned and we have no interest in him,'" Riggleman said. "I knew that was going to be the case with some people. I respect their thoughts on that. I know why I did what I did and I can live with it."
Said one National League general manager: "I think his resignation is a significant stain. Unless there was more to the story, quitting in mid-season is pretty hard to forgive."
An American League general manager said: "The people I know that know Jim speak very highly of him. So I'd be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt largely based on that. How it was portrayed doesn't reflect well on him, but it's easy to draw the wrong conclusions when you don't really know what happened firsthand."
In the fall after he left the Nationals, Riggleman was hired by the San Francisco Giants to do some scouting. During the winter, the Reds called and asked if he would be interested in managing at Double-A Pensacola. While a few other teams had informally spoken to Riggleman about a job, the Reds were the most aggressive.
Riggleman pondered the offer and decided that starting at a low level of the minors might be the best way to get back to the majors. Plus, Riggleman had spent some time during his career in player development, so working with young players could bring him some joy. So far it has. He says he enjoyed last season. While the Nationals cruised to the most successful year in franchise history, Riggleman was just fine with the long bus rides. There were no contract controversies, or a barrage of press asking about his status every day. He simply was able to manage. That was a good thing.
And perhaps the time he spends in the minors proves to people that while Riggleman might have asked out of what he believed was an untenable situation in Washington, he never had the intention of quitting on baseball. Maybe those moments on the backfield with no one watching will show he is committed to the game, even if he wasn't committed to the Nationals.
"It could be perceived that I need a job," he chuckles. "Or it could be perceived that 'Jim never wanted to stop managing. He loves managing, that's why he's doing it now.' But I did what I did and don't really overanalyze it. I certainly understand anybody who has any negativity toward it. I certainly understand their feelings about it. But you can't put a blanket statement on anything. There's some Hall of Fame managers who have some resignations on their resume. So, you can't just say, 'Well, somebody resigned...' You need to know what the reasons were. I respect everybody involved in my situation: the Nationals, ownership, everybody. It just became the right thing to do."
It's unlikely that Riggleman's future will be determined by how well his Louisville team does this year. Minor league teams are rarely judged by their records. It's simply a matter of whether the prospects who pass through are prepared for the majors. But most likely, Riggleman's fate will be decided by whether the men in charge of the big league jobs are willing to forgive baseball's biggest sin.
Though content to be in the game again, Riggleman wants another shot at the majors.
"From the time I left my position I always wanted to manage in the big leagues," Riggleman said. "That's never changed. Wherever this takes me that's where I'll go. I'm fortunate to be doing this, never mind managing in the big leagues. I'm very fortunate the Reds took me on to do this."
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Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.