By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 2009
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., June 13 -- Manny Acta always has said a manager is hired to get fired. On the day a report surfaced suggesting his time on the job is now measured in days, the Washington Nationals' skipper was surrounded by the man who hired him and the man who, according to the report, will replace him.
Hours before Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, a Fox Sports report, citing major league sources, suggested that Acta will be fired by week's end and replaced with bench coach Jim Riggleman. Team President Stan Kasten neither confirmed nor denied the report, saying: "I would never talk about personnel, because I don't. I've been asked a variation of that question [about Acta's job security] -- from some media outlet -- almost every day since the first week of the season. And if I had a policy to talk about personnel, I'd have to do that story every single day.
"Having said that, I can't tell you how perplexed I am by this season and this team and the things that are going on. And our record is, you know, very troubling for me every single day. . . . So yeah, I'm troubled by everything. We continue to look for solutions. Have I thought about every possible recourse? I have. As has [acting general manager] Mike [Rizzo], as have our owners. We're certainly not satisfied with our record; far from it. We're distraught over it and we're going to consider everything we need to do to make it better."
At least for the day, Acta remained on the job, trying to restore some dignity to a ballclub that fell to 16-44 with an 8-3 loss to the Rays. Acta, speaking before the game, said: "I haven't heard anything" about an impending firing.
Riggleman, who was hired as bench coach before the start of the season, said he had no knowledge of any plans that would install him as this franchise's next manager. "I don't know where that started," Riggleman said. "But we lost a lot of ballgames, and people speculate. But what we all would like to see happen here is for Manny to stick around."
Acta, 40, is in the middle of his third, and toughest, season. In spring training, he called this year's team the most talented during his tenure. But since then, the Nationals mostly have shown dysfunction. They lost their first seven games of the year. Their Opening Day center fielder was sent to the minors. Their starting rotation has four rookies. They lead the majors in errors. They haven't won consecutive games since May 8-9.
Even entering the season, Acta's contractual status put his tenure in doubt, as the front office had not picked up its option to extend Acta's contract through 2010.
As the season has fallen apart, Acta has continued to operate with his trademark principles: steadiness and patience. During batting practice before Saturday's game, Acta spent several minutes on the field casually chatting, and laughing, with Rizzo and Kasten. By coincidence, the man Acta replaced -- Frank Robinson, who is currently a special assistant to Commissioner Bud Selig -- was also at Tropicana Field. Acta and Robinson talked briefly before the game.
Acta (148-235) has a .386 winning percentage for his career.
Asked directly whether the organization supports Acta, Kasten said: "We always support everyone here and always will. But, you know, we're all just together trying to win every day, trying to turn it around. And we're going to continue to try until we figure it out. We know the future is bright, but we're not waiting for the future to get here. We're going to do everything we can to speed it up."