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Written by Gary Benz

Gary Benz

Manny ActaManagers or head coaches tend to get fired for a variety of sins, the most ubiquitous and least defined is when they’ve “lost” the team.  How does one actually lose a team?  Hard to say but like porn, you know it when you see it.


To look broadly for a moment, here’s an example.  Former Cleveland Indians catcher/journeyman Kelley Shoppach seems to be doing his level best to ensure that Bobby Valentine has a one-and-done season in Boston.  He sent text messages to upper management complaining about Valentine, which is the modern/coward way of registering dislike for your boss.


The point, though, is that Shoppach, when found out, had no problem fessin’ up.  That means that Shoppach is fearless or stupid or both.  I’m guessing both but leaning to fearless because there’s nothing easier for a general manager to do than to cut a journeyman catcher, particularly one who’s bitching about the manager.  But consider that if Shoppach isn’t the dumbest player in the majors and understands the relative lack of leverage his modest career provides he’s done the math and figures Valentine must be gone.  Who am I to argue the point?


But let’s localize the example.  The Indians have fallen off a fiscal cliff of their own due in no small part to imprudent management with an amazingly consistent ability to make bad decisions.  And while it wouldn’t surprise if the players all looked around and said to themselves “if the owners don’t care why should we?” why is it that Manny Acta can’t seem to channel Lou Brown, the manager of the fictional Indians in the movie “Major League” and rally the troops against the avarice of the owners?


Maybe because he’s lost the team.


I’ve seen 40+ years of Indians teams and in well too many of those years they have been lifeless blobs of protoplasm so it is worth remembering that when you try to contextualize this year’s model.  Still, the team that slept walked through a recent west coast trip in which it won one game, barely, but mostly embarrassed itself for nearly two weeks is in the running for its own special place on the bobby prize shelf.


Particularly dispiriting was the series against Seattle.  Up until the recent series was completed, these two teams were twin sons of different mothers.  In truth they still are.  But as the Indians barely registered a pulse in losing three straight, the Mariners ended up looking like a much better team.


Is that how this is going to go for the rest of this season?  Probably.  The better question though is can Acta survive it?  The answer depends on what Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti want out of Acta.  


Presumably Acta was hired to develop the young talent on the roster and get them to a place where they could compete.  Of course that was Acta’s charge in Washington and his teams then pretty much look like his teams now.


That’s not to lay all or even the lion’s share of the blame at Acta’s feet for how miserable the Nationals were under him or how miserable the Indians are under him now.  In both cases he was saddled by bad upper management that delivered to him an odd mix of young players with some potential and aging veterans that came cheaply.  In truth few managers around can make that mix work.


I suppose you could just focus on the young players on the Indians roster and ask yourself whether they are developing under Acta.  That’s where it gets difficult.  Asdrubal Cabrera has hit some sort of wall the second half of the season and has been mostly a non factor.  Jason Kipnis is finding his second year difficult.  Michael Brantley is developing but Carlos Santana is struggling.


This isn’t to lay all or even the lion’s share of the blame for this on Acta, either.  Young players develop unevenly and the additional pressure placed on them by the various veterans who are not even meeting modest expectations isn’t helpful to the process.


Still, since this is a bottom line business, the blame will fall somewhere.  It would be far more useful, probably, to fire the roster and keep the manager but I suspect Antonetti wears rose-colored glasses and thus will fall back on what is more easier and probably cheaper; fire the manager.


That said, if Acta does survive this season it will only be because it really doesn’t much matter anyway.  There are no miracle workers in sports, just other voices from other rooms.  The problems with the Indians run deeper than the manager but that doesn’t mean they don’t also run to the manager.  


Which should cause some concern for Acta, considering how the bad facts are stacking up like dishes in a frat house sink.  


The Indians have had two losing streaks of at least 8 games this season.  If not for a good start to the season, the Indians would easily be on a pace to lose 100 games.  They are 4-21 in their last 25 games.  Every time you turn around the opposing team seems to have 7 or 8 runs on the board.  They fired their pitching coach in mid season.  They have a closer who is essentially out of control, which, in truth he always was but now that he’s failing to save games it’s become apparent again.


Anyone of those things would be a good marker for believing that the wheels have fallen off.  Collectively the wheels aren’t just off, the whole damn vehicle is stuck in 8 feet of mud somewhere off the coast of Lake Erie.  None of that speaks well for Acta.  Managers and head coaches have been fired for far less.


The case for Acta probably comes down to two main points.  He didn’t put this roster together and despite the shitstorm, he’s remained calm throughout.  Maturity shouldn’t be underrated.  It’s the lack thereof that will be Valentine’s downfall in Boston and forevermore.


Yet as calm as he’s been, it would be hard not to notice a certain “read between the lines” quality to Acta’s comments lately.  It’s not direct criticism of his bosses, certainly, but it’s not as if it couldn’t be taken that way.


That’s the kind of thing, too, that gets managers fired as well, unless they already know their fates.  Acta’s been down this road before.  I suspect he knows how this all turns out.


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