Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Meditating on Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta

Some speculated that bench coach Jim Riggleman, left, would be the Nationals manager by now, but Manny Acta, right, remains in charge.
Some speculated that bench coach Jim Riggleman, left, would be the Nationals manager by now, but Manny Acta, right, remains in charge. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Tracee Hamilton
Monday, June 29, 2009

I would normally throw a guy like Manny Acta under the bus without a backward glance. His baseball team's winning percentage is hovering around a cool .300, yet he remains calm, even in the face of the Holy Trinity of baseball adversity: poor fielding, poor pitching and poor hitting, sometimes all at once.

Acta -- the public Acta -- is placid. Passive. Robotic.

Okay, comatose.

The Nationals manager constantly reads self-help books. He never watches sports on TV. And he enjoys "CSI: Miami."

Seriously, what's up with this guy?

"If that's the worst thing people are going to say about me, that I'm not going to go out there and create havoc and throw bases, I can die [happy] tomorrow," said Acta.

Recently, the worst thing people said about Acta is that he would be fired. However, his job is probably safe for now, and perhaps for the rest of the season. (The club has an option for 2010.) He might have Fox's Ken Rosenthal -- who on June 13 reported that Acta would be fired in a matter of days -- to thank for that. The rest of the media, The Post included, chased the rumor as well. Team president Stan Kasten can smell a journalist's blood in the water the way Lassie sensed Timmy was trapped in an old mine. (Unlike Lassie, however, Kasten won't run for help.) Acta may have been in trouble June 13, but he doesn't appear to be now.

"I think he has the demeanor to be a long-term solution as a manager," Kasten said last week at the National Press Club. " . . . I can't predict whether it will work here, but I think he will, I think he's going to serve as a long-term manager here. That's my hope."

Ah, the demeanor. For many Nats fans, that's been the rub. Acta won't throw a fit. He won't throw a water cooler. He won't even throw a party.

Acta doesn't need Zen; Zen needs Acta.

The 40-year-old Nats manager is sometimes compared to Joe Torre, in the "laid-back dude" way, not the "four World Series rings" way. But the amazing thing about Acta's mien is that it's not God-given. It's a choice. And it's not a choice he's willing to change.

"When I first started managing, I was probably way too brutally honest to my young players and said things that I shouldn't probably say to young kids that were starting to play the game," he said of his early years with Auburn in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he managed for four seasons (1993-96). "I spent too much time arguing with umpires and stuff and getting thrown out of the game until my farm director just flat-out told me, 'You're being paid to manage the ballgame, not to get thrown out the game. You gotta stay in the game and watch these kids and teach them how to play.' "

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