By Bob Toth
Thursday brought to Cleveland the end of the Manny Acta era.
The fact that Acta was fired was not a surprise.
That he was fired with six games left in the season, with the Indians playing arguably their best baseball in months, was.
What possible benefit could firing Acta with a week to go in the season provide?
Certainly, his departure gives the Tribe brass the opportunity to see interim manager Sandy Alomar in the driver’s seat for six games on his own.
If the team was ultimately going to fire Acta anyways, why not do it after either of the horrendous losing streaks in August that effectively ended the season? At least then, the team would have had an extended look at Alomar’s managerial skills. A month to six weeks worth of case study seems far more worthwhile than less than one full week.
Keep in mind that Alomar has no professional experience in a managerial role.
Acta leaves town winning his final two games as the Indians’ manager, but the 65-91 record Cleveland posted with him at the helm was enough to seal his fate. The team was on pace to finish worse than they did in 2010 when he took over a young Indians’ team and led them to a 69-93 fourth place finish in the American League Central Division.
The 2012 season was a substantial and confusing step backwards for the Indians and their fans. The team seemed poised for great things after a 2011 season that saw Acta lead the club to a second place 80-82 record. That team, until decimated by injuries, seemed to be on the cusp of being a threat in the AL Central for years to come. The squad’s surprise success even got Acta recognition in the race for AL Manager of the Year.
Acta remains a sub-.500 manager in his major league career (.418). In his six seasons, only once did his team finish greater than fourth place. Never has Acta finished with a winning record in the big leagues. His three years in Washington leading the Nationals netted a career 158-252 mark, good for a .385 winning percentage. While improved during his tenure in Cleveland, compared to Washington, Acta still remained well under .500, posting a 214-266 record (.446).
Of the 31 everyday managers who have coached teams this season, only the Cubs’ Dale Sveum (.391), former Astros’ skipper Brad Mills (.384), and Mills’ interim replacement Tony DeFrancesco (.361) have worse career winning percentages. Even if you factor out Acta’s years in Washington, he would still rank 28th on the list.
For comparison’s sake, some former Indians’ players or coaches on the same list include: Charlie Manuel (3rd – .555); Ron Washington (7th – .537); Eric Wedge (23rd – .482); Buddy Black (24th – .477); and John Farrell (25th – .470).
In the end, Acta will go down as an afterthought in the history of managers for the Cleveland Indians.
Of the 44 men who have managed the Cleveland franchise since 1901, Acta ranks 33rd overall in his winning percentage with the team. Of the eleven managers below him, five did not even manage a full season with the club, including John Hart (yes, the one and the same, best known for his front office work during the most recent glory years of the Tribe) and his 8-11 (.421) mark as the interim manager for fired Doc Edwards in 1989.
Most disconcerting of the statistics is his place in the list of managers for career games under .500. With 52 more losses than wins, Acta trails just Pat Corrales (75 games below .500) and Al Dark (55 games below .500) for the worst mark in the storied history of the franchise. Acta is tied with Ken Aspromonte (1972-1974) for 13th place overall in the club’s history in games managed (480); Corrales is 9th (637) and Dark is 10th (588).
Despite his less-than-stellar numbers throughout his managerial career as a whole or just in Cleveland, how much of the blame should Acta have to shoulder for this awful season?
If Acta lost control of the locker room or had lost (or never had?) the respect of the players on his team, then there absolutely was a case to move in a new direction.
Dramatic tales of discord have not been publicized about the Tribe players from this locker room. As for respect, the fact that the Indians have had just one vocal leader throughout the season, Chris Perez, whose opinions were not necessarily well-received throughout the city of Cleveland or the Indians’ front office, could indicate that Acta did not ask enough of his veterans to step up and be supporting leaders of the team. Granted, three of the most veteran Indians’ players on the roster returning from the previous season spent the bulk of 2012 absent from the roster altogether – Grady Sizemore (injuries); Travis Hafner (paternity leave, injuries); and Fausto Carmona (detainment in the Dominican Republic for using a false identity, only to return three years older under his real moniker of Roberto Hernandez Heredia).
Acta’s perceived lack of intensity and unwillingness to support and defend his players on any one of a number of close calls or bad calls by umpires would be reasonable wedges that could have existed in his relationships with the members of his young team and could have been reason to find new leadership.
If the front office believed that he was not capable of maximizing the production of the players that he was given, that too could have made a case for letting the sixth-year manager go before the end of his contract.
Indians’ fans were subjected to some lackluster, underwhelming efforts from two star players, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, on multiple occasions. Cabrera played multiple games where it appeared his focus and effort were not up to par. In the event of Santana, his lack of hustle earned him an undesired day off the following night.
Should Acta be allowed to take the fall for the failure of the 2012 season? Is he truly to blame for the late July collapse?
As manager, Acta had the option of replacing slumping players at his discretion. The roster that he was provided, however, lacked quality depth to be able to do so. With a gaping hole in left field all season, it became that much harder to fill a second outfield spot to give Shin-Soo Choo a day off. The Indians played a large stretch of the season without a true backup shortstop on the roster to spell the team’s AL All-Star at the position. Santana had to struggle through a first-half slump playing nearly every day at catcher instead of splitting time at first base, as he had done the year before, because Lou Marson, his backup, was also struggling both offensively and defensively at the plate. One month into the season, the team was calling up a journeyman utility player, Jose Lopez, to bat cleanup in the lineup!
Say what you will about the things Acta could control – the rotation order, the lineup, defensive positioning, debating whether to argue or not to argue, deciding when to bunt or substitute players, etc. – but how can he be blamed for the actual players on the roster and the lack of overall talent they exhibited?
With the exception of the expanded 40-man rosters of September, Acta had a pool of 25 guys to rotate in and out of the lineup and bullpen rotation. Unless he had, unbeknownst to the people of Cleveland, the ability to draft, sign, and/or trade players as a job responsibility this whole time, he cannot be blamed for the cards he was dealt.
Acta did not draft our current farm system.
Acta did not resign Sizemore, or even more so at an unnecessarily high price that prevented spending on other positions of greater need.
Acta did not trade away the top two pitching prospects for a pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez who has simply failed to live up to the expectations placed on the midseason pennant-chase acquisition that he was.
Acta did not fail to acquire a right-handed bat for a predominantly left-handed lineup while in contention in 2011. He furthermore did not acquire light-swinging, left-handed hitting outfielder Kosuke Fukudome or harder-hitting, much older lefty Jim Thome.
Acta did not fail to again acquire the same needed right-handed bat with an entire offseason to do so, instead acquiring an outfielder (Aaron Cunningham) who lacked any one strong characteristic that even merited a spot on the roster.
Acta did not leave the left field position up to chance with a right-handed slugger, one who had played for him in Washington and who seemingly wanted to play in Cleveland, readily available in the free agent pool, one who has earned every penny of the first year of his three-year contract in Minnesota.
Acta did not, with his team still in striking distance coming off of a momentum-changing victory over Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers, stand still at the deadline in 2012, only acquiring ANOTHER utility player (Brent Lillibridge) and a minor league first baseman/outfielder (Lars Anderson), neither of whom appeared to be able to make the substantial impact necessary to push the team into a commanding spot atop the division.
Acta did not do these things.
Acta did suffer the consequences for the errors of another. He is the scapegoat.
Cleveland fans will never know whether or not Acta could have led the team to the playoffs. He did not get the level of support necessary from a general manager or a front office to remain in contention for a full season. His superiors stood pat twice, in the offseason following 2011 and the trade deadline of 2012, instead of supplementing the positive strengths of the team with upgrades that could have potentially pushed them over the top.
Acta is the sacrificial lamb for Chris Antonetti.
To even have a shot at saving his own hide, Antonetti needed to make a move to show he has paid attention to the failures on the field. Antonetti is in a position to have corrected any of the aforementioned transgressions, in addition to numerous others unsaid. To fire Acta now, during the season, while there are still a few people paying attention, makes it appear as though he is committed to trying to right the wrongs. He does so, all while getting a positive public relations boost from a fan base grasping at any links to the more successful past, including Alomar and his place in Indians’ history from the 1990’s.
Antonetti did all of those things. Why did he wait so long to correct his errors that he now needs to blame others for his own failures?
Photo: John Grieshop / Getty Images