Nats Candidates Russell, Acta Feel They're Ready to Make a Jump

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 28, 2006

ST. LOUIS, Oct. 27 -- John Russell is managing winter ball in Venezuela, enduring bus rides that end at 6 in the morning, a young team that doesn't play particularly well at home -- all the while wondering where he'll manage next season.

Manny Acta is in Phoenix, working out with a group of major leaguers that, early next week, will head for Japan and a series of games against top competition from the Japanese league. He already knows one job for which he interviewed, manager of the San Francisco Giants, is closed. Three more remain open.

Both men are candidates to manage the Washington Nationals. Neither has managed in the big leagues. Each believes he is ready.

"Absolutely," Russell said yesterday.

"I'm ready to do it," Acta said.

With the Nationals' manager search 3 1/2 weeks old, there is little telling where it's headed or who might end up on the list. But under the heading of most eager for a major league job fall Acta and Russell, two men with significant experience as managers at the minor league level who have had contact with the Nationals, as well as other teams, over the past few weeks.

Russell, 45, is the Philadelphia Phillies' Class AAA manager, and he was interviewed by the Texas Rangers last week. He had his first conversation with Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden yesterday, an hour-long talk over the phone from Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, where his team -- Aguilas de Zulia -- pulled in after an overnight bus ride.

"It went well," Russell said by phone. "We talked about a lot of different things, a lot of aspects of the job and what they're looking for. We'll see."

The two sides did not schedule a formal interview, though Bowden said he would be in touch next week. Russell said it would be no trouble for him to fly to Washington for an interview and leave his Venezuelan team behind; he did that when he interviewed in Texas, where he is on a long list of candidates to replace Buck Showalter.

"I think I have as good a chance as anyone," said Russell, who played parts of four major league seasons with the Rangers. His managing career in the minors included eight seasons with the Minnesota Twins, regarded as one of the best minor league operations in baseball. He managed at every level, from rookie ball through Class AAA, before joining the Pittsburgh Pirates' staff under former manager Lloyd McLendon in 2002.

"He did okay," McLendon, a coach for the Detroit Tigers, said yesterday.

Russell managed future Twins such as Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski, Jacque Jones and Cristian Guzman, who's now a shortstop for the Nationals.

"I'm not bragging, but I've had success a lot of places I've been," Russell said. "The players I've had have had success after they got to the big leagues. That's something that's one of my strong points. I can get players to get the best out of themselves. It's not always that they're the most talented guys. But I've really been able to get a team atmosphere, and that's important to me, to do things as a team rather than individually."

Acta, too, had a long career as a minor league manager, largely in the Houston Astros system. But he has now coached five years in the majors, two as the third base coach with the New York Mets and three before that with the Montreal Expos -- the Nationals' predecessors.

Though Bowden and team president Stan Kasten weren't in charge at the time -- the team was then owned by Major League Baseball, and current Mets GM Omar Minaya was the general manager -- Acta said his familiarity with the club still counts for something. He worked with Nationals regulars such as catcher Brian Schneider, first baseman Nick Johnson, second baseman Jose Vidro and pitcher John Patterson.

"I've only been gone for two years," he said. "I'm familiar with a lot of those kids, and some of the guys coming up in the minor leagues. I still feel familiar with the organization."

Acta, who lost out on the Giants' job to former San Diego manager Bruce Bochy, is a candidate in Texas as well, and he could surface as a candidate with the Padres as well, though he said he hadn't yet heard from them. He met with Bowden and Kasten on Tuesday.

"Everything went very well," he said. "It's a very, very attractive job, and of course I'm interested in it. With the new stadium coming up, and the involvement of Stan Kasten and Bowden and the Lerner family, it's very exciting. I was presented with a very nice plan, and it looks like the franchise is going to be very successful in the future."

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