Manny Acta, the second manager in Nationals history from 2007 to 2009, will join ESPN as an in-studio baseball analyst in English and Spanish. Acta will debut Sunday night on Baseball Tonight, the cable network’s baseball show. He will be a frequent voice on baseball across several of the network’s English and Spanish language shows and programming — but he still hopes one day to return to the dugout as a manager.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to step back from the game for a little while and take this challenge,” he said in a telephone interview with The Post. “It’s allowing me the opportunity to stay in the game and look at it from a different angle. It comes at a perfect time for me. My daughter is a senior in high school and I get to spend this last year with her. It was a good time.”
Alex Cora, a veteran infielder who last played in the majors with the Nationals in 2011, also joins ESPN and ESPN Deportes as a baseball analyst. Both will make their debut Sunday night at 7 p.m. on Baseball Tonight previewing the World Baseball Classic game between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Acta begins his full-time broadcasting career but with an eye on returning to baseball. He followed Frank Robinson as the Nationals’ manager in 2007, taking over a team that lost 91 games the previous year. Acta compiled a 158-252 record in two and a half seasons at the helm of the Nationals, dismissed midway through the 2009 season. After three seasons as the Cleveland Indians manager, he was fired with six games left in the 2012 season.
Acta, known for his unfailingly calm managing style, said he was contacted by some teams for jobs as a bench coach or special assistant this winter but none as a manager. He wasn’t interested in either type of role and needed some time away from being directly involved in the game every day. After managing two organizations during rebuilding periods, he wants to manage again but will wait for the “right opportunity.”
“I want to get one with an winning organization and the next level,” he said. “I’ve paid my dues and I will wait my turn. There are only 30 jobs. … I used to tell myself that all I knew was baseball and that if I was going to be out of baseball I was going to be in a super market asking people ‘paper or plastic.’ So this is a good opportunity for me.”
Acta said he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine, who sandwiched jobs as major league managers with stints at ESPN as baseball analysts. This isn’t Acta’s first work as television baseball analyst; from 2007 to 2011, he said, he appeared on Spanish-language Fox Sports as a guest analyst during the playoffs and World Series.
Acta has been amazed at how much the Nationals have grown since he was in Washington. He is high on the signings of Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano, and the addition of Denard Span. (He said the closest the Nationals had to a leadoff center fielder-type like Span was Brad Wilkerson.)
“We were there in the middle of the rebuilding process and they have evolved tremendously,” Acta said. “I think Mike Rizzo and the ownership have done a tremendous job of putting that type of team on the field. As much as people were excited about the rebuilding, it wears on you. People want to win. You have to be patient. They’ve done a tremendous job. They have to be the favorites to win that division.”