July 13, 2009
During the overnight hours as the team was flying home from Houston to Washington, Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten informed team manager Manny Acta that he has been terminated. After yet another series full of disappointing failures, and after months of speculation about such a move, it was really not such a big surprise. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo made the official announcement this morning, lamenting that the Nats have "underachieved." Acta leaves D.C. with an overall 158-252 record. See ESPN ("So much for ... Manny Acta's patient optimism") and MLB.com.
Bench coach Jim Riggleman will serve in Acta's place for the time being. He has managed the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs (reaching the postseason in 1998), and Seattle Mariners. He is reputed to be a "a tough disciplinarian," quite the opposite of Acta's soft-spoken positive approach. Boy, does he have his hands full!
The team's lone All-Star, Ryan Zimmerman, told reporters that somebody had to be the scapegoat for all the losses this year, but he made it clear that the problem is with the team itself. Quite correct. Whether he likes it or not, Ryan is forced to assume a heavy leadership burden, at and he hasn't even turned 25 yet!
It was probably the most logical moment to do so, during the All Star break.Acta was gracious in his statement to the press, thanking the Nationals for giving him the opportunity to manage in the big leagues. He said he learned a lot from the experience, and has no regrets. I'm sure he'll get another chance to be a big-league manager before long.
I really did like Manny Acta, and was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt over and over, but at some point you have to say, "Enough's enough." How many other managers have kept their jobs after a team has performed as poorly as the Nationals have for the past two and a half years? During that period, the Nats posted winning records in only two months out of 15. Instead of gradually getting better or at least showing signs of improvement, it was a nightmarish downhill slide. Maybe it wasn't his fault, but as I wrote on June 15, "All the evidence points to Acta's extreme ineffectiveness in terms of motivating the players." There are a number of very promising players in the Nationals roster, and if the new interim manager Jim Riggleman can solve whatever "chemistry" issue that is vexing the team, there is no reason they can't start winning as many games as they lose -- and maybe even more than that next year.
I often wondered about the origins of Acta's last name, and learned from my Spanish dictionary that it means a legal certificate, or the minutes of a meeting.
I hope that the Nationals front office extends every possible courtesy to Acta. They didn't treat the previous manager Frank Robinson very well at the end of the 2006 season.
This drastic step marks the culmination of a leadership "purge" that almost reminds you of the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. After the end of the 2008 season, all of the team's coaches were fired except for pitching coach Randy St. Claire, and in early June St. Claire was fired too. Plus, general manager Jim Bowden was forced to resign just before the 2009 season began! So you've got a team with absolutely no continuity in terms of leadership, and not very many long-term contracts. That's not the kind of environment that breeds a winning spirit.
After the All-Star break, the Nationals resume play this Thursday back home in D.C., hosting the Chicago Cubs.