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A year ago, a manager was hired

Last year, on Nov. 14, Manny Acta was officially hired as manager of the Washington Nationals, the first big hire for the Lerner/Kasten regime. He replaced Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer and something of an icon.

That day at Washington Square, I asked Ryan Zimmerman about the hire. Here's what he said in our story the next day.

"For Frank to have to deal with so many young guys for two or three more years, I think it might get a little tiring for him. You know, Frank was so good at what he did, and talking to him about hitting was so hard, because he was so much better than everyone else at it that he doesn't understand a lot of things you go through when you struggle.

"I think that's why Manny will be a perfect fit. He's such a young, energetic guy with a great personality. That's going to help our guys. If we're going to have young players, that's a great way to be."

A year later, that assessment seems to hold up. Acta is now 38, has a year of major league managing under his belt, has called team meetings, has managed a bullpen and an injury-plagued starting staff. He has endured the midseason loss of his hitting coach, learned to deal with the front office and ownership, balanced egos, etc.

Here's what he said that day:

"I think it's perfect for me because I know what I'm getting into," Acta said. "I like to put things together. We all know what's lacking. We're going to be patient and do things the right way."

A year later, considering how many times I heard Acta use the words "patient" and "patience" over the course of spring training and a 162-game season, that quote seems prescient.

This afternoon, the managers of the year in the National and American Leagues will be named. In some straw polling down the stretch, I asked a bunch of writers if Acta would appear on some ballots - a notable accomplishment, it would seem, for a team that finished 73-89. Yes, I was assured. He'll get some third-place votes.

The smart money for the NL award is on Arizona's Bob Melvin, whose Diamondbacks won a division title despite that whole having-been-outscored thing. If people held onto their ballots till the last day of the regular season - as you're allowed to do - it seems that Clint Hurdle of Colorado and Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia would deserve strong consideration. (We know now that Willie Randolph shouldn't appear on any ballots.) I would guess that Lou Piniella of the Cubs would also get some votes from those who believed his dirt-kicking tirade helped turn around the Cubs' season.

In the comments section of the Journal, there is lots of debate about ticket prices, attendance, whether the Nationals should pursue free agents, Ryan Church, Dmitri Young, Felipe Lopez and all manner of Nationals.

I have not heard many assessments of Acta, so in the few hours before the announcements, I leave that to this space. It seems to me that in coming years, he will be more scrutinized for his in-game moves, etc. But let me know what you think are his strengths and weaknesses, and whether you think he'll be the manager here on, say, Nov. 14, 2010.

By Barry Svrluga  |  November 14, 2007; 11:32 AM ET
 
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Next: Managers of the Year: Melvin and Wedge

Comments

I have supreme confidence in Acta for 2008 and 2009. Based on those performances we'll know if he knows how to win. And that's who I want in 2010.

I gleefully hope it's Manny, I love him. I am his mom.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | November 14, 2007 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Sect. 506, I hope that we can work amicably towards a joint custody agreement?

Posted by: natsfan1a (Manny's other mom) | November 14, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I think Acta is the right Man to execute the Plan. So yes, I think he's still here in 2010.

Here's a link to a recent interview that proves the point:

http://www.squawkingbaseball.com/?p=25

Posted by: Bob L. Head | November 14, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Grading Acta - Absolutely deserves to be in the discussion for Manager of the Year. In some years (2006 for example) his performance would have been enough to win the award. Melvin's accomplishment clearly is even more deserving this year. Hurdle, not as much (his team got hot); Pinella, not at all (kicking dirt, really?, that's his thing?).

Of all the candidates for Nat's Manager, I wanted Manny for what I had learned about him via World Classic, Mets, Expos, etc... He did not disappoint. I do think he may need to explain things more forcefully to umpires some times and I think he would be well served by a stronger third base decider. His restraint and discipline in dealing with the pitching staff was admirable. He did not have the horses for complete game efforts and he did not force it. He stayed true to his promise not to send relievers out more than 3 days in a row. He could stand to punch up the post game comments. It appears that his loyalty and consistency will likely be treasured by his players for years to come.

Posted by: NatBisquit | November 14, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

More support for Manny from the blogosphere:

http://www.firejoemorgan.com/2007/02/hire-manny-acta.html

Also, NatBisquit, great line re the "third base decider ..."

Posted by: Bob L. Head | November 14, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

From up here it looks like Manny Acta is a solid baseball tactician who knows how to motivate and teach his players. The combination is more rare than you might expect, and I'm hoping he'll be a long-term resident of the new ballpark.

How long? I don't see him breaking Connie Mack's record of 50 years in charge of the A's, but how many years is Bobby Cox working on down in Atlanta?

Posted by: Formerly Section 502 (Hopefully Designated for Assignment on Friday) | November 14, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Are you kidding me? Manny is perfect for this team. He doesn't have a huge ego. He's stone-faced calm when even I have a knot of anxiety in my gut comfortable in my living room (CHAD CORDERO!). He's loyal and believes the best of his people, which I think brings out the best of them. He has an open mind and still learns stuff. He has shown he'll go his own way sometimes and that takes ba...er I mean guts. He's funny and friendly, but he's kickass too. His popularity with players baseball-wide could go a long way in attracting them here. Plus he looks good.

Weakness: his shy, aw-shucks shuffle when he comes onto the field. Although I think it's ADORABLE, he could look a little tougher, even if he's just taking a pitcher out. Some people griped about his propensity to take out offense (Dmitri) in late innings, which I sometimes agreed with.

I think it would take a major screw-up for him to not be our guy in 2010.

In short, I'm his mom too.

Posted by: NatsNut | November 14, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

In Baseball Prospectus voting, Acta finished third (ahead of dirt-kicking Lou):

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=6897

Posted by: natsfan1a | November 14, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Manny is probably the most-approved of executive in our nation's capitol right now beating out the others in something of this order:

2) Tom Sohn (DC United)
3) Joe Gibbs
4) Eddie Jordan (Wizards)
5) Glen Hanlon (Caps)
6) George W. Bush

Posted by: Icarus | November 14, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Note to Nats FO:

Keep Manny through 2017. Make it a solid decade for baseball in DC. :-)

Posted by: Juan-John | November 14, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I had the pleasure of meeting Manny Acta at Spring Training this year. He impressed me then and even more today. He is a 100% class act(a). :)
He is good with the fans, kids, and from what I can tell, the media. I hope he is here for the long term (like a Bobby Cox in Atlanta).

Posted by: ChrisC | November 14, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

My Cubs-fan girlfriend likes to play a game on all those close ups of his poker face during games: What's Manny Acta thinking?

The winner is the most absurd, but plausible thought to accompany that facial expression. Since there's only like two expressions (stoic and stoic-er), it gets pretty funny.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | November 14, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I think we're all Manny's mom. He did a great job and I'd be happy to see him get a long term deal. My only issue is I think he could have let some SP's go another inning or two but maybe he will when he has some proven ones in which he has confidence.

Posted by: Avar | November 14, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I think 3rd place votes is about right. He predict their record better than most sportswriters and other baseball people did, which is the equivalent of over-achieving. And he did do a good job with pitchers, and apparently the clubhouse, too, which is most of a manager's job. Some of the strategy stuff, well, ... my head still itches from some of Frank's moves. But still. It's hard to know what was Manny, and what was the FO's orders to "play this guy."

I agree with Barry & al. that 2009 will be a critical year for everyone involved. If they continue as they have been, sub-.500, for 3 more years, I think he will almost have to take the hit (but only after Bowden).
Suppose they finish next year close to, but not at, 81-81. Forgiveable. "It's still early." "Nice bunch of guys."
Now suppose they finish 2009 around 75-87. That might cost them bad at the gate, too, depending on how it plays out. IF that happens, then 2010 will be do-or-die, playoffs or bust for Bowden and Manny both. If they die, the team will probably start bleeding talent and money at that point, and Kasten doesn't get fired.

Posted by: cevans | November 14, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I've gushed so much over Manny this season that I should be his mom too, so I'll suffice it to say that just knowing Manny is in the dugout gives me confidence in this team.

As long as Manny remains an even-tempered motivator -- and there's no indication he's apt to change his approach, especially given how well it worked in '07 -- I'll be hoping to see him at the helm.

Posted by: Hendo | November 14, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

". . . I think he could have let some SP's go another inning or two . . ."

Yeah, but you have to consider:

1. Remember what happened to Bergmann in May: threw 110 pitches -- not an obscene number -- against the Braves, hit the DL less than a week later. For a manager, that's the operational definition of snakebite. (And remember how a lot of us second-guessed Manny then for leaving Bergmann in so long.)

2. There was a pretty fair selection of arms in the bullpen most nights.

Posted by: Hendo | November 14, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

The thing that I find most unsettling about Manny has nothing really to do with him. It has to do with being used to two years of Frank Robinson, and always having that little bit of tension surrounding the game, wondering what Frank thinks of what's happening... like when a pitcher doesn't throw strikes when someone is bunting, etc. However, that is certainly small potatoes... and Manny is miles ahead of where Frank (and probably, most other managers) would be in terms of team cohesion and chemistry. I can't think of too many places where he didn't pretty much do things by the book... but that is OK. A lot of times when you see a manager go against conventional wisdon, it is making a high-risk, high reward decision, as opposed to playing it safe.

Anyway, by almost any criteria that matters, Manny is The Man!

Posted by: Wigi | November 14, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

New post.

Posted by: Hendo | November 14, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Srong points from Hendo. And impressive memory! I hope I didn't second guess the 110 pitch night but don't remember. Can't argue that Manny was cautious after that and can't really fault him. Like I said, until some of these guys prove they can handle the workload, I think he's right to be quick on the trigger and no doubt the bullpen was great most nights. If we had missed the playoffs by 2 games, I might aruge longer but in a clear re-building year, I have to quickly concede your points.

Posted by: Avar | November 14, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Manny will be fired during the middle of the 2010 or 2011 season. This says nothing about Manny's managerial skill or effectiveness. It's just that a manager's shelf life with a particular team is usually pretty short, and something will come to pass where Manny is perceived as holding back the team's development, whether that will be true or not.

Posted by: John Wetteland's Bullpen Explosion Society | November 14, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Manny Acta will be the 2nd inductee into the Washington Nationals Hall of Fame.

Posted by: LetTeddyWin.com | November 15, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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