Friday, June 24, 2011

Professionals Behaving Badly

Professional athletes are notorious for holding out for more money or whining to the media when they think they aren't making enough money or whatever. This is one reason I would never consider coaching on any sort of professional level because I would never tolerate having to babysit millionaires, or at least people who make a 6 figure salary to play a game.

A few days ago, there was the curious case of Jim Riggleman, who abruptly resigned in mid-season as manager (not player) because the club had not exercised the optional contract extension for the next year. Riggleman has done a good (but not spectacular) job since becoming manager. He's turned the team into a fairly respectable one that plays .500 ball this season. With some shrewd off season signings and some good draft choices, I had heretofore predicted that the Nationals would continue on the path to competitiveness for the next few years. But then Riggleman resigned mid-season, so its anybody's guess where the team might go from here.

The Nationals (I refuse to refer to them as the Nats) are a relatively new team, having moved from Montreal in 2005. The old Expos were so bad that the final years they have average game attendance worse than many minor league teams. (Some games had less than 5000 fans attending a stadium that held upwards of 50000 people.) Basically after the move, the franchise operated as an expansion team, and were so nearly bankrupt that Major League Baseball itself had to assume control of the team for a while until it stabilized.   

Riggleman makes (or would have made) $600,000 for managing the Washington Nationals baseball team for a season, which in baseball time is roughly 6 months, with a few months puttering in the meaningless preseason and the option of coaching a week or two extra if a team makes it into the playoffs.

So, giving Riggleman the benefit of the doubt, he's making $600000 for a little over eight months worth of work. It would take me well over a decade of work to earn that kind of money, and yet he says the team is "disrespecting him." Perhaps they are; perhaps they aren't. I don't know anything what is going on in the Washington clubhouse and front office, as they are not even a team a really follow except for a few series a year where they play the Braves.

Why I bring this up is because Riggleman said it was "about respect." I found that somewhat bizarre a statement because if he was worth his salt as a coach, he would never tolerate a player to quit playing mid-season because he wanted more money. I find not living up to one's contract that one entered into in good faith (particularly now that the team may erase any gains its made in the last two years), to be a sign of disrespect to a company, particularly  a company that is willing to pay you over a half a million dollars to coach a kid's game.

I had heretofore had a fairly high opinion of Riggleman, who was fairly well respected as both a manager and as a class act that didn't need to grab headlines like some managers. He said, oddly, in his press conference announcing his resignation, "I'm not sure if I'll get another opportunity, but I promise you I'll never do a one-year deal again."

In the normal business world, this might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In the weird world of professional mercenary athletes (and coaches apparently), he'll probably be hired again. To the organization that hires him, I would only warn with the old Latin dictum, "Caveat Emptor."

Let the Buyer Beware. 

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