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Dave Sheinin: On Manny Acta Firing, Delino DeShields, the Set for Life Series and All-Star Game

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In a news conference at Nationals Park on Monday, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo formally announces the firing of manager Manny Acta. Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7

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Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 13, 2009; 2:00 PM

Post national baseball writer Dave Sheinin was online Monday, July 13 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions about the firing of Manny Acta, his recent feature story on Delino DeShields and all the big news at the MLB All-Star Game.

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Video: Acta on First Day of Spring Training in 2007

You can read this installment of the Set for Life Series here.

Read more about Major League Baseball in Baseball Insider

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Rockville, Md.: Dave: if you were to assess blame for the woes of the Nationals on a proportionate basis, what percentage of blame would you allocate to Manny Acta and what percentage would go to ownership/management?

Dave Sheinin: Hi everyone. This was designed to be a combo chat on the "Set For Life" project and the All-Star Game, but in light of the news out of Nationals Park, we're going to make it a three-way deal. I'll try to get to as many questions, on all three topics, as I can. Here we go...

Good question, Rockville. Off the top of my head, I'd put 15 percent of it on Manny's head, the rest on ownership, the previous front-office regime and players underperforming.

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Ellicott City, Md.: I love the All-Star Game and look forward to it every year, but is there a chance that the This Time It Counts thing will ever go away? As far as I know, Bud Selig is the only person who though it was a good idea to make an exhibition game decide home field advantage in the World Series. Of course, I guess if they change it back to a strictly exhibition game he would just come up with some other equally stupid way to decide home field advantage.

Dave Sheinin: I don't think it's going away. MLB believes it has breathed some life into the event.

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Fairfax, Va.: What's your read on the feelings of the people involved -- hurt, or were all involved understanding? The reason I ask is to inquire about the likelihood of Acta being a future Nationals manager once "the plan" has had a chance to work a bit. All involved in the organization seem to think Acta was a better manager than the team showed, but something had to be done. Was the situation handled in a way that you think he'd be open to coming back if the team offered? Or do you think he feels scapegoated and would not come back?

Dave Sheinin: Hi Fairfax. I understand the sentiment, but I just don't see that happening. I believe Manny will get another managing job (after first serving as a coach somewhere), but it won't be here.

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Herndon, Va.: Dave,

First off, fantasic article on Delino DeShields yesterday. I can't remember a baseball article I enjoyed so much, and the fact that it came out of left field (i.e. not abour the Nats, Orioles, etc) made it especially nice.

Now my question - do you think Frank Robinson's old school, take no garbage brand of management would suit the Nats better? Personally, I think he'd be perfect but the Nats dynamited that bridge long ago.

Thanks and keep up the great work!

washingtonpost.com: Set for Life: Finding Himself Far From Home (Washington Post, July 12)

Dave Sheinin: Thanks, Herndon. As for your question, I believe the Nationals will hire someone with more "fire" than Manny Acta, and while I agree Frank fits that description, I don't think they'll go in that direction. Part of the reason they cut ties with Frank in the first place was because he didn't relate as well to younger players.

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NatsNut: Dave, I'm not looking for a bash-Manny-fest or anything, but generally speaking, what would sportswriters, insiders, players, etc. say was the one weakness of Manny's that needed replacing? You know, besides the losing.

Dave Sheinin: There were a lot of things I liked about Manny, including (most of the time) his game management and handling of pitchers. This may seem too obvious -- but the one thing everyone would change about him is his lack of obvious passion. That doesn't mean he didn't care. It just means he needed to argue a call once in awhile, or hold a couple more clubhouse meetings, or simply show some emotion in a news conference if only to make it clear the losing was tearing him up inside.

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Navy Yard: Manny got a raw deal. Moving on.....

I admit it: the Home Run Derby is such a guilty pleasure of mine! Predictions? Will Joe Mauer continue to do his best Godzilla impression and destroy everyone that gets in his way of winning everything in sight?

And did you see the campaigns Detroit fans did for Inge? My personal favorite was "A Vote For Brandon Inge Is a Vote for America. ... And Awkwardness!" But congrats to him, he deserves to be an All-Star.

Dave Sheinin: Ron Gardenhire had a great quote on Mauer entering the Home Run Derby: "I didn't know it was a Single-Up-the-Middle Derby."

Love Inge. Very happy for him.

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Burke, Va: Dave,

15%? Come on. Manny has been getting, I believe, a free pass from the media for a long time. In your opinion, what is a manager responsible for doing, regardless of the talent he is given to work with? What does it mean to you when it is said a manager 'has lost the team'?

Dave Sheinin: Go read Ryan Zimmerman's comments on Nats Journal, then get back to me.

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Billings, Mont.: As a Nats from from D.C. currently living in Billings, I was thrilled to see your feature on DeShields. What did you think of the minor league baseball experience at two-year old Dehler Park? A lot of people think it's easily the best facility in rookie ball.

Dave Sheinin: Hey Billings, thanks for checking in. I liked the ballpark in Billings (and loved the setting, almost in the shadow of the Rimrock). But I'll be honest: both myself and (especially) my photographer, Jonathan Newton, were disappointed we had missed the old Cobb Field -- which, as you know, was torn down two years ago to make room for the new park. It looked like an old, rundown ballyard, but it sure had character.

There's a great film about Cobb Field called "Cobb Field: A Day at the Ballpark." I highly recommend it if you want to see more of the old stadium.

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Riggleman: This will help.

Why not just hire Screech?

Dave Sheinin: No thanks.

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Stafford, Va.: Dave,

OK, we have the GM who resigned in disgrace, a pitching coach who got axed and now a manager who gets fired.

When do scribes like yourself start asking the questions of those at the top (i.e. the Lerners)?

I understand that Stan Kasten is the "face" of ownership, but the Lerners need to be called on the carpet regarding the "Cheap" questions. Their silence is just about validation of this, isn't it?

Dave Sheinin: Hi, Stafford. You think we don't ask those question? Do you think we haven't been beating down the Lerners' doors to get them to talk to us? You think we don't notice when they don't show up at the press conference announcing Acta's firing? What do you want us to do -- waterboard them to get them to talk?

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Sec 114, Row E: Wow, Big Day in Natstown.

What's the theme song for today's firing? Can I suggest, "You Don't Want What I Have" by Robbie Fulks?

Dave Sheinin: Ooh. Nice call. I can always count on you for a perfect musical selection.

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SW, Washington, D.C.: Watching the Nats, it appears they lack focus/discipline. How much of that is the manager and how much of that is the players?

I don't want to excuse Acta but baseball does not appear to be that hands on with coaches have significant in game impacts (in terms of player performance). Some of the blunders these guys have had in recent weeks are bordering on little league.

Dave Sheinin: Obviously, it reflects poorly on both the players and the manager. Again, I recommend reading Ryan Zimmerman's comments today at Nats Journal. He agreed that Acta was partly to blame, but he very subtly rips some of his teammates for not taking responsibility and playing with urgency.

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All-Star Pitchers: Dave,

Who is starting for the AL and NL teams in the All-Star Game? Which pitchers do you think have had the best first half of the season in both leagues? Beckett? Lincecum?

Dave Sheinin: Starters will be Lincecum and Halladay. Could've easily been Greinke and Haren, but I can't quibble with the picks. Those four guys, in my opinion, were the best in the game in the first half.

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New York, N.Y.: Dave, great article on Delino this weekend. I really enjoyed it. How much time did you spend on each of the three people you profiled in the series (Boulware/O'Bannon/DeShields)? Was any one more fun/time consuming than the others?

As a side note, this is the type of article that is much more pleasant to read in the paper (physical) than the web site. If it helps justify this type of reporting though, I'll go to the article and click on it a bunch.

Thanks Dave!

Dave Sheinin: Thanks, New York. They were all pretty much the same -- spend about a day with them, spend a week or so reporting and interviewing people around them, then spend a couple of days writing the pieces. I'd have to say I enjoyed the experience of doing the DeShields piece the best, because it was a part of the country I hadn't seen before.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Dave. In your very good article yesterday, one tiny detail absolutely leapt out at me. The ballplayers have to share seats on the bus? That is, two grown, athlete-size men per seat? Did I read that correctly? Four people sitting on each side of the aisle? I can't wrap my head around that and absolutely cannot comprehend it.

Dave Sheinin: Yes, you read it right. At the higher levels of the minors, where there are fewer players, it doesn't happen as often -- but in rookie ball, you just deal with it.

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Washington, D.C.: Are there any examples of baseball teams that fired their manager and then improved dramatically for the rest of the reason?

Dave Sheinin: The 2003 Marlins leap to mind. Fired Jeff Torborg, hired Jack McKeon, won the World Series.

I doubt that will happen here, however.

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Rockville, Md.: Can we just appoint a player/manager? I mean Adam Dunn was the only one who ever even argued calls this year, even having to come in from right field to do so when Acta refused? Talk about losing a team, when your player comes in from the outfield to argue then you know the players don't care what the manager thinks.

Dave Sheinin: Player/manager? Um, doubtful.

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Washington, D.C.: The Nats have two weeks to go before the trading deadline. The deal for Morgan was Step One in shoring up their wretched defense. But the front office must acknowledge as well that Adam Dunn is best suited to be a designated hitter, yet plays in a league that doesn't have one, and that Austin Kearns may just be done as a major league player.

In short, they need to be active at the deadline. And they desperately need to sign Stephen Strasburg. The Lerners might as well just give Scott Boras their ATM card; when landing the No. 1 draft pick is the highlight of your season, you paint yourself in a very tight corner.

So the Nats brass needs to A) get creative, or even just busy, at the July 31 trade deadline; B) sign Strasburg by Aug. 17; and then C) have a big talk. The Lerners and Kasten simply must decide who they want in the GM and manager roles for the long haul. If it's not Rizzo, cut him loose. He got more than a bag of balls for Lastings Milledge, so clearly he will find work elsewhere. If you want a big-name manager, go get him (and be prepared to pay for him). But the next hires for both jobs need to be the guys you see in those jobs a decade from now.

It's a tall order, of course. Perhaps they once saw Acta as that long-haul guy. Perhaps Jim Bowden left this team so completely screwed up that Miller Huggins couldn't have gotten more than 26 wins out them. Regardless of circumstances or The Plan or the economy or the cycles of the moon, this franchise desperately needs some stability.

Meanwhile, don't feel too sorry for Acta. He will no longer be forced to watch the array of miscues and misadventures that is Nationals baseball these days. The final atrocity he witnessed from the dugout was likely poor Tyler Clippard's balk on an intentional walk. (If you saw that in a Kevin Costner movie, you'd walk out of the theater -- not realistic. Yet for the Nats, grim reality.)

Dave Sheinin: Boz, is that you?

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Rockville, Md.: Any update on the Strasburg signing? Is it likely to have it go down to the Aug 17 deadline?

Dave Sheinin: No updates. The sense I'm getting is that there are no true, active negotiations. I've always believed the Nats' strategy would be to make a significant initial offer then sit on it for a long time. It will definitely go down to the deadline, and it may not even get serious until the day of the deadline.

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Left in our Wake(field): How awesome is it that a 42-year-old knuckleballer is in his first All-Star game. I feel bad for whoever has to catch him, though.

Dave Sheinin: It's a great, great story. Classy guy. Fascinating backstory. OK, maybe the ERA isn't what you'd like to it be. But I have no problem with his being here.

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Home Run Derby: Who is your pick to win tonight? I'm going with Adrian Gonzalez

Dave Sheinin: I'll take Mauer. Seriously.

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Denver, Colo.: I don't recall the terms of Kasten's employment. Is he strictly an employee of the Learners? Or is he a minority owner and would have to fire himself for there to be a change?

Dave Sheinin: He owns a small share of the team. I'm told it would be messy for him to leave the franchise.

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4 Players in 2 Seats: Wait, I'm still not sure I'm reading this right, sorry if I'm dense. You're telling me that four guys share seats meant for two people? The only way that could possibly work was if two guys let two other guys sit on their laps. Come on, that can't possibly be right. A standard bus probably seats at least 60, that should be plenty of room for everyone to have his own seat. By seat, I mean individual, divided spot; you must equate "seat" with "two divided spots".

Dave Sheinin: OK, you're right. I was referring to the two seats on each side of the aisle, or four total.

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Vienna, Va.: When was the last player-manager in the majors? Is it even a viable option anymore?

Dave Sheinin: Great question. I don't have time to dig it up now. Anyone know off the top of your head?

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Crofton, Md.: Thank you for your time, Dave!

Up to the start of the season, I thought the Nat's were ahead of that team to the near north in the rebuilding process, now I think we are several years behind them. McPhail seems to have done a nice job in easing the direction of the club, filling positions with smart, athletic players. What happened here? Was Bowden that bad? Did the Lerners/Kasten think that we didn't have to spend any money to be competitive? Both? More? Your thoughts ...

Dave Sheinin: Hi, Crofton. You're right: the Orioles have moved light-years ahead of the Nats in the rebuilding. The O's may be ready to win next year. The Nats? No chance. The O's have cornerstone players at center field, right field, second base, catcher and maybe left field, plus a half-dozen major-league-ready young pitchers (a couple of whom are No. 1/No. 2 starter material).

The Nats, meanwhile, have only two cornerstone position players -- the catcher and the third baseman -- and five or six good young starting pitchers. Obviously, Strasburg would change the equation significantly, but not enough to make them contenders in 2010.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: If the Mets don't make the playoffs again, is Acta their new manager next year?

Dave Sheinin: I'm fairly certain Acta will need to go somewhere and be a bench or third-base coach (like Willie Randolph is doing now) before he gets another shot at managing. But there is no question he is still highly regarded in the Mets' front office.

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Re: DeShields article: Dave, how deeply did you delve into the subject of basketball with Delino? I know many athletes claim outstanding skills in more than one sport, but I saw him play in high school and his basketball skills were more obvious than his baseball talent. That scholarship to Villanova was the real deal and he always reminded me of Isiah Thomas. Did he regret not giving basketball a try?

By the way, did he mention a phone call he got during the recruiting process for basketball? A certain Bill Cosby called him to try to get him to go to Temple.

Dave Sheinin: I regret the fact I didn't get into the basketball angle with him very deeply. I do believe he struggles with the question of whether he made the right choice in picking baseball over basketball, which is only natural. But the guy did last 13 years in the majors and make almost $30 million, so he can't regret it too much.

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Washington, D.C.: If today's young players couldn't relate to a Frank Robinson-type in-your-face, show me results type manager, why should they respond to anyone who is in-your-face. It appears, then, that the average player, and the average player on the Nationals is just that - average, doesn't want to be pushed or challenged.

I, on the other hand, don't have a problem with an in-your-face manager telling players, receiving the salary they receive, to get your act together, get out there and practice until you can do what you're supposed to do, and then go out and do it. Sorry, but if you're going to get paid to perform, you should perform; not that you have to win, but that you have to show you're playing to win.

Dave Sheinin: Good points. Did you see that SI Players' poll a few weeks back, in which the least favorite managers to play for were Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen -- the two most in-your-face managers in the game? That says it all.

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Nats trade possibilities: Dave, beyond some of the obvious deals, what about this?

A) Can the Nats really get away with playing Willingham and Dunn in the field, no matter where they play? Don't they have to trade one of them to have something resembling a decent fielding team?

B) Given that there are very few prospects at the AA or AAA level right now, would the Nats be willing to trade one of their young starters to get a quality young everyday player?

Dave Sheinin: A) Having both Dunn and Willingham in your outfield is a disaster waiting to happen, but I think that was part of the reasoning behind trading for Morgan. Still, I think they would trade Willingham in a heartbeat if they could get something decent in return.

B) Yes.

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Burke, Va.: I read Zim's comments and I am back. Let's get past the "Manny's a great guy" mantra and look objectively at his body of work. Manny is a great guy - agreed. But being a great guy doesn't mean he did a great job managing. I didn't see much in the way of leadership.

Zim's right, he rarely went out to protect his players. They noticed. He seemed to tolerate some very sloppy defensive play, which is a manager's responsibility to fix. He didn't have much success there. He believed it was a waste of time to go out and 'talk' to the umpires because they wouldn't change calls. He's missing the point, big time. His players noticed. Complacency with losing seemed to be prevalent with the players - more than a few phoned it in.

The manager is supposed to communicate that complacency won't be tolerated and will be dealt with. Never saw any evidence of that by benching some that should have been benched. Situational hitting was horrible - how many times did the Nats fail to score a single run when the bases were juiced with one out or less? Way too many for me to count.

Sorry, Manny might have had the temperament to manage the Red Sox, Yankees, or Dodgers, but even the current managers of those teams back their players and utilize situational leadership with each. Never saw much of that with Manny. And near the end he seemed resigned to the fact it wasn't his fault - that he played who they gave him to play. Good managers get the most out of the team they have, regardless of the cumulative talent total. I don't believe Manny did that.

Zim was right - a good manager comes out and takes a lot of the heat publicly for the team's performance. 15%? I'd say this year's record is over 50% Manny's responsibility.

Dave Sheinin: I just can't agree with that. Not when you look at the hideous bullpen he was handed, and the conscious choice that was made this winter to sacrifice defense for the sake of offense.

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Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.: Did you ever ask Delino what it was like, seriously, working for Peter Angelos?

Dave Sheinin: No, but he played there in an era when the Orioles' payroll was among the top five or so in the game, so I doubt he had too many complaints about Angelos.

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Player/Manager: Pete Rose, late '80's?

Dave Sheinin: That's what came to mind for me, but I have this suspicion there was someone since then. Can't put my finger on it...

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Washington, D.C.: Interesting article about DeShields. There is one way though in which Billings is close not just to baseball, but to the Orioles -- it was the home (and I am pretty sure the burial place) of Dave McNally. Another baseball connection, though not to the Orioles, was that the auto dealership that Dave and his brother bought had been Archie Cochrane Motors (before they made it McNally Motors) -- Archie Cochrane was the brother of Mickie Cochrane, who played for, then later managed, the Detroit Tigers. So, yeah, it is a long way from Billings to Orem Utah, and there aren't many African Americans ... but Billings is closer to baseball than the moon would be.

Dave Sheinin: You're right on McNally. Thanks for the thoughts.

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West Chester, Penn.: A side point to your Delino DeShields article, probably not worth a mention in the chat, but as a (male) divorce lawyer I am tired of reading about wealthy men who are wiped out financially by a divorce. I can tell you that the reverse is almost always true: Studies confirm that, post-divorce, most mens' income actually increases while their former wives' goes down, often by more than half. DeShields may be the exception to this rule, but if so, he's a pretty rare one.

Dave Sheinin: Thanks for the perspective, West Chester.

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Alexandria, Va.: I know he's 80 years old, but I'd love to see Earl Weaver manage the Nats for a week or two. I doubt anyone on the team would be the same after that interlude!

Dave Sheinin: Well... that would certainly be interesting, n'est-ce pas?

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Triangle, Va.: Does this move signal a further housecleaning at season's end, that perhaps Rizzo won't be promoted to pernament general manager?

I hope the Lerners realize that, just as in the case of Strasburg, they are going to have to overpay to get good manager/GM talent -- not only due to their track record in three years as owners, but the perception of Washington as a baseball graveyard dating back to the 1940s. Like it or not, changing the culture won't come cheap.

Dave Sheinin: I look at it the other way around. To me, I don't think ownership would allow Rizzo to make the significant changes he has made if there wasn't at least a decent chance they make him the permanent GM.

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Bethesda, Md.: A few comments:

1. Acta was never destined to be the long term manager. Best guess is that, even if he had succeeded to some extent, he would have been the one who was unable to push us over the top. Very few of the managers who have WS wins are "rookies." Most are on their 2nd or 3rd go-around. It is a learning process.

2. Let's not keep crying about Frank Robinson. There are virtually no true superstars (in any sport) who become great managers and that extends from Johnson (Walter not Davey) to Williams (Ted not Jimy) to Jordan to Robinson to Rose (wait, there is another piece to that name). They don't seem to be able to deal with the lack of talent, dedication, and single minded creativity that exists on the rest of the roster.

3. Can we stop on the Lerners are cheap thing. There is exactly no objective evidence of that. There is, however, evidence that they don't like to waste money (there is a difference) and are willing to subject themselves to a certain amount of pain in bringing a quality product to the table. 4. What is, in my opinion, the worst mistake that the club made was the Strasburg pick. They have painted themselves into a corner where they will have to give into Boras's demands, despite (as Boz so rightly pointed out) the lack of success of early draft round pitchers. The real gutsy move would have been Dustin Ackley.

Dave Sheinin: Nice takes, Bethesda. But I believe that when they hired Acta, they expected him to be a rising star who would be here a long, long time -- not an Alan Trammell type, who would give way to the established Jim Leyland type when the team was ready to win.

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Kessinger City, Ill.: Don Kessinger of the White Sox was the last player-manager.

Dave Sheinin: Hmmmm. Kessenger City? What's the deal with that?

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McLean, VA: Dave, how much say did Manny have over the roster? Beyond the too young starters and the shaky bullpen he was given, was he stuck with Kearns no matter what? Same with Belliard, who has given no reason to be in a major league uniform this year?

Dave Sheinin: Those are front office decisions -- or actually, ownership decisions, because of the money those players are owed.

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Germantown, Md.: You and DeShields only alluded to it, but does he still have a comfortable nest egg to live on post-divorce, or is he coaching because he actually needs the money (as opposed to supplementing his retirement income)?

Dave Sheinin: I think it's somewhere in between. He's not in any type of financial difficulty, but as he says, it doesn't hurt to have some income coming in, no matter how little.

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Arlington, Va.: Interim GM and now an interim coach. Which position gets filled first.

Dave Sheinin: Both will come after the season.

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Hair's The Issue: Kasten, Rizzo, Manny. Not a head of hair among the three. That's the Nats' problem right there.

Dave Sheinin: Ha! Nice call.

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Bear, Del.: I've enjoyed your series on how former pro athletes are doing post-retirement. There seem to be 2 categories: Those who plan ahead, and those who don't. In Delino DeShields case, if his finances are in a precarious state, $35,000 a year is not going to do a whole lot to improve things. I hope current athletes read these and get to thinking, that could be me, and plan accordingly.

washingtonpost.com: Set For Life: When Wealth and Family May Not Be Enough (Washington Post)

Dave Sheinin: Thanks, Bear.

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Burke, Va.: Who do you see the Nats going after to fill the manager job?

Dave Sheinin: There are some intriguing possibilities. It's too early to have much of a read, beyond speculation. But you can start with Bobby Valentine, who is likely in his final year in Japan. Rizzo also has a good relationship with Bob Melvin. Kasten has always loved Jim Fregosi.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Player/manager -- Torre/Mets?

Dave Sheinin: That was before Rose.

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Washington, D.C.: I know the Nats have underperformed, but I feel this team, given a weak NL East, is only two years from legitimately contending and Acta should have been given the opportunity to show what he could do with an actual team. The team, as configured, reminds me of the late 90s A's -- terrible outfield defense (Grieve, Stairs v. Dunn, Willingham), strong offensive core (Giambi, Stairs, Jaha v. Dunn, Johnson, Willingham), good young bats (Chavez, Tejada v. Zimmerman), and young pitching on the way (Hudson, Mulder, Zito v. Zimmermann, Detweiler, Ballester, Strasburg, etc.). We know what those A's teams did in 2000-2003. So I'm hopeful for the Nats. Bullpen arms are easy to find (as, once again, the A's have proven over the years), but unfortunately, Manny won't get the chance to show what he could do with a half-decent team.

Dave Sheinin: Interesting take. Those A's teams also had some, shall we say, chemical assistance. Perhaps the Nats just need better drugs. Kidding, folks!

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Arlington, Va.: As a long-time Detroit Lions fan, I'm starting to seem some similarities between current Nats management and the Matt Millen era. The President repeatedly fired everyone below him until it became apparent to everyone but him that the President was the problem. Do you see the same thing happening with the Nats? Manny didn't deserve this.

Dave Sheinin: Oh God, let's hope not.

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Denver, Colo.: Washington, D.C.: Are there any examples of baseball teams that fired their manager and then improved dramatically for the rest of the reason?

How about the current Rockies!

Dave Sheinin: Bingo!

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Arlington, Va.: You previously mentioned the time when the O's were in the top five in payroll. Here's some nice trivia for you, the O's were the last team other than Yankees to lead MLB in payroll. That was back in 1998 (and the team didnt make the playoffs). That was the last time the Yankees did not have the highest payroll in the majors.

Dave Sheinin: Nice point, Arlington.

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Dave Sheinin: OK everyone, gotta get back to work in St. Louis. Thanks for all the questions.

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