OAKLAND, Calif. -- Bill Rigney, the first manager of the Giants after they moved from New York to San Francisco, died Tuesday. He was 83.
Rigney was admitted to John Muir Hospital Nov. 18 with pneumonia, one year after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. His death was announced by the Oakland Athletics, who had employed him since 1982 as a broadcaster and a special assistant to team president Roy Eisenhart.
Rigney was an infielder with the New York Giants from 1946-53, hitting .259 with 41 homers. He served as the Giants' manager from 1956-60, leading the club in its first season after moving from New York to San Francisco.
"Baseball and the San Francisco Giants have lost one of their greatest treasures," Giants owner Peter Magowan said. "Bill Rigney, along with Horace Stoneham, Chub Feeney and Russ Hodges, personified the Giants when they moved West in 1958.
"He was our first manager in San Francisco, and he had remained our last link to that era of our franchise's history. Rig was a baseball man through and through. He was a wonderful storyteller and a warm, thoughtful human being."
Rigney later managed the Los Angeles Angels (1961-69), winning the 1962 AL Manager of the Year award, and the Minnesota Twins (1970-72), leading them to the 1970 AL West title.
Rigney also was a scout with the Padres and the Angels before a second managerial stint with the Giants in 1976. He served briefly as a radio and television broadcaster for the A's in the 1980s.
Until his health deteriorated, Rigney was a frequent presence in the Athletics' clubhouse.
"We loved to have him around," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "He had so much knowledge. He was such a great baseball guy. He's seen everything that can happen in this game. He always had good, sound advice. You would always come out feeling good about things after you talked with him."
Rigney was both Jan. 29, 1918 in Alameda, Calif. He is survived by two sons, William Rigney Jr. of Midland, Texas, and Tom Rigney of Berkeley, Calif.; a daughter, Lynn Schott of Kettle Falls, Wash.; and six grandchildren.
He frequently wondered if the current players cared as much as the Giants did in 1951 when they would met each night in his or another player's room and talk about what needed to be done as they staged their improbable comeback against the Brooklyn Dodgers and ultimately scripted the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff.
He talked frequently about the 1962 Angels and how that grab-bag group of second-year expansionists caught the caring feeling, shockingly leading the American League race on July 4 before finishing third, which might have been a good thing, he would say with a laugh, because he had so many characters, so many guys who would find any reason to celebrate, that he would never have been able to locate them all in time for the World Series.
He talked frequently about the caring vibes of the new ownership group in Oakland and how he was proud to be included as a senior advisor and have them lean on him as they did.
"When we were concerned about doing something stupid, we'd run it by Rig," Alderson said from his Bay Area home Tuesday. "He was our safety net, but he became more than that. Storyteller. Sage. Humorist. He'd sit with Wally, Roy and myself during a game and it was like having our personal color man. I'd love to take the two-hour drive from Phoenix to Tucson with him every spring and listen to the stories. Invariably, I'd laugh all the way. It was a wonderful experience working with Rig and it was a wonderful feeling to share in his first World Series championship after 50 years (when the A's won in 1989)."
Bob Rodgers also thought back Tuesday, recalling all the hours he and Fregosi spent with Rig in American League coffee shops and bars, talking about managing and caring.
"Rig liked to say that he was a product of Leo Durocher with Bill Rigney mixed in," Rodgers said. "I think Jimmy and I would tell you that we were a product of Bill Rigney with our own personalities mixed in. Rig would say that it's more important for a manager to know what a player can't do than what he can. He kept a lot of guys in the big leagues by making sure players didn't try to do what they couldn't. He cared about his players and about the game, and that rubbed off on both Jimmy and myself."
Rigney managed the Angels from 1961 into early 1969 when new General Manager Dick Walsh, a man the players called "the Smiling Python," brought in his crony, the misplaced Lefty Phillips. It seems incredible in reflection that Owner Gene Autry never brought Rigney back in a front-office or advisory position, but neither his firing by the Angels nor his previous dismissal from the helm of the San Francisco Giants by General Manager and close friend Chub Feeney dimmed his enthusiasm or passion.
After all, on his first night in his first spring with the Angels, at a civic welcoming banquet in Palm Springs, he heard a festive Autry tell the audience how the Angels had tried hard to hire Casey Stengel but were pleased to have been able to land Phil Wrigley. The audience didn't know how to react, but Rigney's laughter defused a nervous moment, and through the years he loved to tell that story on himself, one of a thousand stories that charmed baseball neophytes and veterans alike.
I was also there that night in Palm Springs, and for a young reporter, a baseball novice, there could not have been a more accessible, agreeable or better mentor, a safety net of my own through 40 years.
Cynicism may occasionally overshadow caring in a writer's prose, but for baseball man Bill Rigney it never did.
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