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12/07/09 7:25 PM EST

Life is good for Riggleman

Skipper thrilled with post and chance to attend Meetings

INDIANAPOLIS -- Skipper Jim Riggleman said that he never would have become a big league manager if not for Whitey Herzog, who was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee on Monday.

It was Herzog who hired Riggleman to become the Cardinals' first-base coach in 1989. It was in St. Louis where Riggleman earned a reputation of being a good baseball person.

"He's the best baseball man I've ever been around. He's the whole package," Riggleman said of Herzog. "I wouldn't get the chance to manage in the big leagues if I didn't coach under Whitey. The example I use is, he's [baseball's version of legendary college football coach] Bear Bryant. If you've got a chance to be an assistant coach for Bear Bryant, you can go coach Georgia or USC or something some day, and that's the way it was if you worked for Whitey. It helped you get a chance to manage in the big leagues."

Riggleman was given a third chance to manage in the big leagues last month, when the Nationals announced that he would be their permanent skipper.

After replacing Manny Acta after the All-Star break, Riggleman, then the interim manager, brought excitement back into the Nationals. The change sparked improvement, and Washington went 33-42 under Riggleman after going 26-61 to begin the season. In fact, the club ended the season on a seven-game winning streak.

Riggleman said that had he not been named the permanent manager, he would not have felt as bad as he did when the Mariners decided to go into a different direction in their managerial search after the 2008 season. Riggleman had been the interim manager for Seattle, but the permanent job went to Don Wakamatsu.

"I'm thrilled to have the job," Riggleman said about the Nationals. "But as I said earlier at the press conference, I wasn't going to be devastated if I didn't get it, because I felt so good about what we did, whereas the previous year, I didn't feel good about the way I left Seattle. I felt like I left some things undone there. I wanted to get back there and get it right, whereas this one I felt like, 'You know what? We did everything we could do. I can live with myself.' I didn't live with myself too good [with] the previous one."

Before the 2009 season came to an end, Riggleman said that he would like to see the Nationals improve on defense and get better pitching.

He was able to fulfill one of his wishes when the Nationals acquired right-hander Brian Bruney from the Yankees on Monday for a player to be named. Bruney will pitch in the late innings and will compete for the closer's role, which is currently held by Mike MacDougal.

"I've heard a lot of good things about him, kind of a power arm to go toward the end of our bullpen," Riggleman said about Bruney. "He's got experience and he's got a good arm, so we're very excited about having him on the ballclub."

Left fielder Josh Willingham has been the subject of many trade rumors, but Riggleman sounds as though he wants Willingham to stay put.

"He's a good presence in the clubhouse and in the dugout, and he's a tough guy. He's all man," Riggleman said. "He's big in our lineup. ... So we don't have any desire to move Willingham, believe me.

"But he's a guy that a lot of teams call about, because he doesn't have an exorbitant salary. He does have a history of production, so teams are going to be interested in him."

Riggleman loves going to the Winter Meetings. He loves talking about trades with general manager Mike Rizzo and giving ideas to help make the team better.

"I think when you get this many baseball people in the same room, you get a lot of great baseball talk, things happen, ideas get exchanged that you maybe wouldn't have thought of," Riggleman said. "Somebody brings some things up, and you go, 'Wow, that's pretty good.' Deals get expanded, trades are talked about, not made. I think it's just a great time of year for fans and for all of us who are in the game. It's just a really interesting time."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.