When the phone rang in his apartment early Wednesday, Greg Riddoch looked at his wife, Linda, knowing it could only be bad news at this hour.
Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, was calling. He wanted Riddoch to meet him at his office. Riddoch long ago had predicted the rest.
Riddoch was fired Wednesday and replaced by Jim Riggleman, the Padres’ manager at triple-A the past two seasons.
Riggleman, 39, becomes the youngest manager in the National League. He opened his major league managerial career Wednesday against the Houston Astros and received a contract through the 1993 season with an option for 1994.
“This was my first choice all along,” McIlvaine said. “I felt if I was ever going to make a change, Jim Riggleman would be my manager. I think Jim Riggleman has the potential to be one of the finest managers in baseball, and it will be a very short time before everyone sees that.”
The move was anticipated two years ago. Everyone in the Padre organization knew that Riggleman was McIlvaine’s man when he hired him for the Las Vegas job. Riddoch was an unwanted inheritance from the Jack McKeon regime.
“I gave (Riddoch) every chance to succeed,” McIlvaine said at an afternoon press conference. “There has been two years of analysis and watching, a culmination of studying. . . .
“I think on the last trip (when the Padres were swept in three games by the Cincinnati Reds), the team was so down and so out, I felt I’d rather do it now.”
It would have been easy for McIlvaine to keep Greg Riddoch as manager. Riddoch was respected by Padre chairman Tom Werner, who recommended in August that McIlvaine give Riddoch a two-year contract extension.
Instead, McIlvaine informed ownership that he wanted to evaluate Riddoch the remainder of the season. The Padres collapsed, losing 20 of 34 games, and Riddoch was constantly being ridiculed by his players.
“In the end, it was my decision,” McIlvaine said. “I wanted to give Greg every opportunity to see what he could do, but I felt a change was in order. I think this is the best for the organization.”
Riddoch had braced himself weeks ago for the news, which was foreshadowed by a cold shoulder. McIlvaine and other members of the front office quit coming to the clubhouse. There was little communication between Riddoch and anyone outside his coaching staff.
“You just get that feeling when something’s about to happen,” Riddoch said.
Riddoch was composed after being informed of his firing Wednesday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. He thanked McIlvaine and then strolled through the front office, saying his goodbys.
He went back to his apartment, where he and Linda already had begun packing boxes days ago. They loaded the car and drove off toward their Greeley, Colo., home.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity I got,” Riddoch said, “but how could I be pleased with the way everything turned out? I just don’t think it was fair.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of, and really, I wonder what else could have been expected? They traded away our biggest winner (Craig Lefferts) on Aug. 31, and then (McIlvaine) comes out in the papers and says he’s getting rid of everybody in the off-season. How fair is that?
“It just wasn’t a good situation.”
Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn, one of Riddoch’s biggest allies in the clubhouse, said: “I just don’t like the way it was done. I don’t think it was handled very fairly. I don’t like the way they left him dangling for three weeks, and then decide to make a move with 12 games left in the season.”
Riddoch finished with a 200-194 record in 2 1/2 years, the third most successful manager in Padre history. Yet there were constant rumors that he would be fired, with many of them circulating at the All-Star break.
“It was a long year for Greg,” Padre reliever Mike Maddux said. “He was under a loaded gun all year. It was like playing Russian roulette every day.”
Riddoch, according to sources close to him, even offered to resign in early July when The Times reported that Riddoch would not return for the 1993 season. He apparently said there was no use staying if McIlvaine didn’t want him. McIlvaine refused the offer.
“I’m not going to talk about the private conversations we had,” Riddoch said. “I just want to leave everything alone. I’ll send some feelers out, and see what happens. I’d like to stay in baseball.”
McIlvaine never cited specific reasons for the firing, instead noting a litany of factors. Perhaps most alarming was the lack of respect many of the Padre players showed Riddoch. They not only criticized him quietly in the clubhouse but openly ridiculed him through the media.
“That is something the manager has to deal with,” McIlvaine said. “You can’t censure the players. They have the right to say what they feel. . . .
“I think there are times he could have been more assertive, and he could have taken the bull by the horns. I thought Greg would deal with it a little more. I was waiting to see if he would.”
Instead of summoning players to his office, however, Riddoch instead blamed the media. Bullpen stopper Randy Myers, who perhaps was more critical of Riddoch than any Padre player, said he never was called into Riddoch’s office.
“I haven’t seen finger-pointing like this in a long time,” Padre veteran infielder Tim Teufel said, “especially of this magnitude. Greg has a different view on situations and how to handle them than most people.
“He handled a lot of the situations with silence, and went on with his business. It’s something he might handle a little differently if he were in that situation again.”
Riggleman, who spent nine years in the St. Louis Cardinal organization, including two as Whitey Herzog’s first base coach, said he will not tolerate such blatant disrespect.
“That will not be tolerated,” Riggleman said. “My experience in St. Louis is that these are men, these are professionals. If you make good decisions and in the clubhouse, you will have respect.”
Riggleman already has a few different ideas than his predecessor. Instead of benching All-Star catcher Benito Santiago for the remainder of the season, as Riddoch announced, Riggleman said that Santiago will be starting several of the final 11 games.
“He’s been such a big part of this franchise,” Riggleman said, “that I think it’s only right that Benny play some games. I think the fans still want to see him play.”
Players said such decisions are why Riggleman was so popular in Las Vegas. Riggleman seldom shows an indecisiveness. Maybe his moves don’t always work, but players rarely second-guess his decision-making process.
“He’s the best manager I’ve ever played for,” said outfielder Jim Vatcher, who spent the year with Riggleman at Las Vegas. “He was always in control. He was decisive taking his pitchers out of games. He played everybody. Nobody sat around on the bench for two weeks. Nobody was in the dark.
“It was a thing where I was always confident he was making the right move.”
Said pitcher Jim Deshaies: “He just has a great approach to managing. You can relate to him so well, but yet he also gets your respect, and you know who’s boss. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t do great up here.”
Riggleman isn’t making any promises. It was such a hectic day, he was having difficulty just finding his way to the field. “It’s a very special day for me,” Riggleman said. “This is something I always dreamed of. I’m looking forward to this challenge very much.
“My style is to adjust to the style of the ballclub, and take advantage of the talent here.”
Said Teufel: “There was definitely something wrong, and the organization decided to fix it. I think he’ll bring a different attitude to this ballclub.
“This club could use a stronger personality at this juncture. Maybe Riggs has the answer. A change might do this team some good.”
A look at Greg Riddoch’s tenure as manager of the San Diego Padres.
Year W L Pct. Place 1990* 38 44 .463 T5 1991 84 78 .519 3 1992** 78 72 .520 3 Total 200 194 .508
* Replaced Jack McKeon on July 11, 1990
** Fired and replaced by Jim Riggleman on Sept. 23, 1992