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Indians Indians Archive Managing Well? Or Just Managing To Get By?
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 07 acta managerIs Manny Acta a good manager? And, if so, how can we tell?

Or is he just not a target for fans because he coaches a team that doesn’t wear Orange and Brown?

We’ve been thinking about this lately as we’ve watched the Cleveland Indians work to stay in the pennant race.

When the Indians went looking for a manager after the 2009 season, the choices came down to Acta, Triple-A manager Torey Lovullo and current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. The Tribe selected Acta and he brought with him one of the worst records in the past 50 years of any manager with at least two years of experience.

Acta went 158-252 while managing the Washington Nationals from 2007 until being fired during the 2009 season, a winning percentage of .385 (10th-worst all-time). Only three other managers in the past 50 years carried worst career marks at the time – Alan Trammell (.383), Mickey Vernon (.373) and Roy Hartsfield (.353).

Since arriving in Cleveland, Acta, the longest-tenured coach in town, has led the Tribe from 69 wins to 80 to their current place, four games out of first in the AL Central and a half-game out in the Wild Card standings (heading into Wednesday night’s games).

Acta has a reputation for communicating well with his players and never seems to let things get too extreme during the highs and lows of the long baseball season (or as former manager Eric Wedge referred to it, “the grind”). While he doesn’t come across as being soft on players, he also doesn’t go out of his way to belittle them in the press (something that Valentine still can’t resist doing).

He is also good with the quotes, such as the about how “every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games, it’s what you do with the other 42 that counts.”

Consider what Mark Shapiro, at the time the Indians general manager, said at the time of Acta’s hiring:

“After speaking with an impressive array of candidates, we feel that Manny is a very strong and experienced leader who possesses great energy and enthusiasm along with tremendous communication skills and a positive mindset that will command a presence in the dugout, clubhouse and with our fans.”

Compare that what Jim Bowden, the general manager in Washington, said when the Nationals hired Acta:

“He really understands teaching, developing, building a young club. He has great people skills, but he knows how to put the hammer down.”

Sounds like the Acta we’ve seen in the Tribe dugout the past few seasons.

Indians beat writer Sheldon Ocker wrote about Acta in Sunday’s Beacon Journal, giving Acta credit for keeping the Tribe in the playoff race:

It’s difficult to quantify the value of a manager. You can’t do it with statistics. Wins and losses don’t really tell the story either, because those belong to the team in its entirety. It’s almost impossible to point out a game that was either won or lost because of the manager.

The way a manager runs a game — that is, the moves he makes, the way he sets his lineup and maneuvers his pitchers — doesn’t vary much no matter who is calling the shots. With few exceptions, virtually all managers do things the same way.

Acta knows this and doesn’t micromanage every pitch on either side of the ball. What makes him so smart in directing the action on the field? He is a serious student of the sport, and he enjoys delving into the esoterica of the sophisticated statistics that are stuffed into the computers of every self-respecting sabermatrician in the nation.

Because the regular season lasts for six months and encompasses 162 games, there are all sorts of ways to sabotage a club’s winning attitude and ruin the so-called chemistry of the clubhouse. Throw 25 young men in a relatively confined area for 180 days, men who are competing with one another for playing time and attention, and you have a recipe for discord, tension, even physical hostility.

You rarely hear Tribe fans complain about Acta when they gripe about the Indians. Usually the angst is directed at the “cheap Dolans”, under-performing players (Ubaldo Jimenez, Carlos Santana), or players with large contracts (Travis Hafner) or injured (Grady Sizemore).

It is almost as if fans have predetermined that the Tribe can’t contend in the division race because the team is hopelessly flawed, so anything the team gives them is OK.

But shouldn’t Acta share some responsibility in the end result? Or does he already and it just isn’t evident because the Indians are not at the top of the list for a majority of Cleveland fans?

Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott is in a similar situation.

Scott joined the team just a few weeks before LeBron James left in free agency and the team plummeted to the bottom of the standings during a slow rebuilding process. Scott hasn’t heard much criticism from fans, even when it came out last season that at least one of the players still didn’t know the playbook well into the season. He also got the benefit of the doubt this past season because the NBA lockout meant the team couldn’t run its off-season in a normal fashion.

Maybe the best thing that Acta and Scott have going for them is they are not named Pat Shumur.

Shurmur, entering his second season as Browns coach, has faced many of the same obstacles that Acta and Scott have, but without the benefit of having gone through it before.

He inherited a Browns team that was (and in some ways still is) in the middle of a massive rebuild as general manager Tom Heckert scrubbed the roster of aging players that contributed to consecutive 5-11 seasons.

He also came into his first season without the benefit of a normal off-season that seriously hurt the team’s preparations.

But fans continually criticize him, practically on a play-by-play basis, during games.

Tough crowd when you are the coach of the No. 1 team in town.

So that brings us back to our original question: Is Manny Acta a good manager?

After looking at it, Acta comes as advertised. He’s going to keep the Tribe in the game most of the time, he seems good at letting everyone know their role on the team, and he doesn’t take things to the extreme.

Is he the best manager in the game? Probably not. Is he the best manager for this Indians team? Probably. Could the team have done worse? Definitely. As entertaining as it would have been to have Valentine manage the Tribe, there is very little chance it would have ended well.

Now we just need to work on those Browns fans.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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