In the shadow of All-Star weekend, where the giants of the game gathered like towering oaks, a shrub of a story was lost.
Manny Acta was fired as manager of the Washington Nationals.
At 26-61, the Nationals have made their home in the league’s underbrush. They hold the worst record in Major League Baseball by nine games.
A team doesn’t flirt with failure on an epic level when only one thing goes wrong.
It’s like gaining weight—you don’t gain 30 pounds from one meal—it takes years of bad decisions.
And firing Acta wasn’t the first step on the road to recovery.
He was a nice guy and he cared, sometimes too much. Unfortunately, the same effort can’t be said for all his players.
My Acta Moment
On July 31, 2008 a handful of reporters meandered down to the Nationals' postgame press conference.
It was another depressing 8-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals ninth-straight. One in which the Nationals made three errors, left 11 men on base, and were drowned out by throngs of visiting Phillies’ fans.
This was not going to be a fun press conference.
The door from the concourse swung open, a Nationals official walked in.
Acta would not be appearing.
The reporters rushed to the locker room, where they were met by former Nationals GM Jim Bowden.
The word came down that catchers Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada, along with infielder Felipe Lopez, had been released on the eve of the trade deadline.
Acta was “too upset” to appear before the media.
The loss was bad enough, on top of having to say goodbye to three of his guys.
Acta didn’t have that “this-is-just-a-business” coldness to him. He’s a real person.
A real person who knew that by letting go of Lo Duca at 36, it was his last chance in the majors.
When the Nationals take the field tomorrow against the Chicago Cubs (July 16), it will be interim manager Jim Riggleman signing his Nationals scorecard for the first time.
But, that scorecard will look just like Acta’s, filled with the same names and same mistakes.
The Nationals have committed 82 errors, the most in baseball, and thrown 42 wild pitches, 28th in the majors.
Riggleman still has a bullpen with an ERA of 5.71 and only 14 saves, both rank last.
The first step to recovery didn’t start with Acta: It will start with a trade.
The Nationals need someone like Tom Coughlin, someone to enforce discipline and be a strict and inspiring leader.
It has been trickling out that Acta irregularly enforced the rules.
Evidently, recently-traded outfielder Lastings Milledge showed up late to the team meeting the day before Opening Day.
He was fined, but started the next day.
Managing a baseball team is like being a parent. A manager has to be consistent and firm when enforcing the rules. A team, like kids, will test their boundaries and see how much they can get away with.
He was the guy who was more of a friend than a parent.
Acta and his calm nature had lost control.
Feel bad for the Nationals and feel bad for Acta.
The team lost a good man and a good man lost a job. This is not a time to rejoice in Washington.
Manny Acta is a nice guy.
Sadly, sometimes nice guys finish last.
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