Jim Riggleman and the interim title: Take 2

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For the second straight year Jim Riggleman took over a horrible team at midseason as interim manager. For the second straight year he helped the team become slightly less horrible. And for the second straight year he probably won’t be asked back.
Here’s what Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo–himself an “interim” GM until just recently–said about Riggleman’s chances of managing the team in 2010:

I think Riggleman really did a good job handling the ball club after the All-Star break. I think he put us on pace to really focus and bare down on the fundamentals of the game, to play cleaner and more efficient ballgames. He had the players playing at a high level. I think he has done the best job he could with the ability level that he has.

This is the evaluating time of the year. We are all being evaluated, Jim included. Jim has done a great job. It’s going to be an intense offseason and a busy one. The ultimate goal is to make us a better ball club.

Riggleman has gone 29-42 since taking over the Nationals from Manny Acta and was 36-54 after taking over the Mariners from John McLaren last season. Obviously his combined 65-96 (.403) record in those two stints is hardly impressive, but consider that Washington and Seattle were a combined 51-108 (.320) before he came along. Over the course of a full season, that amounts to a 13-game improvement.
On the other hand Riggleman has now managed 1,245 major-league games for four different teams and has a lifetime 551-694 (.443) record, so while he may be good at turning historic awfulness into run-of-the-mill awfulness he hasn’t done much more than that with past chances. Riggleman is certainly a legitimate candidate for the full-time job, but my guess is that he’ll be part of the interview process before eventually giving way to a bigger, more fan-pleasing name.

Congress to pass bill depriving minor leaguers of minimum wage rights

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We saw this coming and wrote about it last weekend, but now it’s official: the new spending bill from Congress contains a gift for Major League and Minor League Baseball in the form of a provision classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Practically speaking, this means that minor leaguers are not required to be paid minimum wage or have other basic protections to which even part-timers at fast food restaurants are entitled.

The relevant provision — buried on page 1,967 of the 2,232-page spending bill, which will get almost zero time to be read and processed by most people before it’s ultimately passed signed into law by tomorrow — is farcically entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” It exempts from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 people who fit this description:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

It may be news to you that the multi-billion baseball industry, run by a few dozen billionaires and billion-dollar businesses, needed to be “saved” in such a fashion. Congress knew though. Maybe because Congress is so benevolent and wise. Or, maybe, because baseball’s lobbying operation spent millions plying Congressmen for this special law to keep it from having to pay workers a living wage.

Based on the response to our past writings on this topic, I suspect most of you won’t care all that much. You either believe that all or most of these players are wealthy via six or seven-figure signing bonuses or will make serious money in the big leagues one day. That’s not true, but many of you believe it. Or, alternatively, maybe you view minor leaguers as a bunch of kids farting around with a hobby until they start their “real life,” so why should they make a living wage?

To the extent you believe that and to the extent this does not bother you, I’d simply suggest that you ask how much money minor league and major league organizations make via the playing and marketing of minor league baseball and how much Major League Baseball benefits by having its training and development system costs legislatively controlled. Ask yourself whether the company that gave you your first entry-level position would’ve loved to have a law allowing it to pay you less than minimum wage and how you would’ve felt if that was the case in your situation. Ask yourself if anyone else would have cared all that much about the job you had when you were 22 and whether that would make a difference to you as you made the equivalent of $5 or $6 an hour for a multi-billion dollar business.

Maybe that still doesn’t sway you. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a greedy cash grab by baseball which now, thanks to specially-requested government intervention, institutionalizes and legitimizes the exploitation of young men with very little power and even less money. That you may be OK with it doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong.