Hello from Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where obviously the All-Star Game proceedings are taking a back seat in NatsTown to the managerial change. Just about everyone I’ve run into today has been asking about Manny Acta, Jim Riggleman and the way this all went down. There’s a lot of sympathy for Acta, and most everyone believes he’ll get another shot to manage in the big leagues again.
Ryan Zimmerman held court for 45 minutes during the NL player availability session, and while eventually the questions turned to his individual success and the amazing number of former Tidewater-area teammates at this All-Star Game — Zimmerman, David Wright, Justin Upton — the bulk of the inquiries were about the news out of D.C.
Zim himself didn’t find out definitively what happened until he woke up this morning in his St. Louis hotel with the TV still on ESPN and the news about Acta scrolling across the bottom of the screen. That news, combined with his grandmother’s death last week, has put a bit of a somber tone over what should be a joyous occasion.
I’ll have plenty more on Zimmerman in tomorrow’s paper, but here’s a sampling of what he said today. I’ll be interested to hear if all of you have the same reaction I did: Zim was talking like a real team captain today…
On the firing? “He can’t go out there and play obviously. I don’t think he can turn double plays or get big hits. So obviously, not all of [the blame] falls on him. But I feel confident saying this because I think he’d say the same thing: It’s part of his responsibility and part of being a manager. But I don’t think he has any regrets and I don’t think he would change anything he did for however many years he was there. That’s one thing about him. He had his ways, and it’s not necessarily that his ways were wrong. But I just don’t think they worked out like the front office and those guys who make decisions would have liked.”
What needs to change? “I think there needs to be accountability and some responsibility taken. We have the built-in excuse of being young, but I don’t think we’re really that young anymore. A lot of our starting pitchers have enough innings and enough experience to get past that point where they’re not young any more, and I think some accountability needs to be taken. When things are done wrong, people need to be … not punished like a dad punishing kids, but there needs to be a little more sense of urgency and wanting to win. I think some people there are so used to losing they don’t have that fire to win. That’s the next step we need to take, and once we do that we’ll get to that next level and start being more competitive.”
Is this a wake-up call for players? “I hope it is. The only problem, I think, with our team is that there’s not that sense of urgency. We’re talented enough to win. If you look at our lineup and look at our young pitching, sure we have our spots that aren’t as strong as other teams. But I think we’re way better than what we’ve done. As bad it sounds — and it shouldn’t have to happen like that - but something like this happening will maybe wake some people up and get them to realize, ‘Hey, this isn’t just about me. It’s about everyone.’ Unfortunately, it takes someone like Manny, who is a great person and was a great manager, to lose their job. Hopefully it will change some of these people’s minds and they’ll turn it around the second half.”
On Riggleman: “He’s been great all year as a bench coach. Hopefully he’ll be the same person he’s been all year. … I think he’s obviously ready for the job and has had experience before. I think it’ll be good for us and we’ll see what happens from there. I don’t know if he’s the long-term answer that they’re looking for … but for now I think he’ll be great.”
On the clubhouse culture being changed: “I think they’ve done a great job of that so far this year. Not to say we had a bad clubhouse or chemistry before, but to kind of get a few people out — not naming any names or anything like that — I think that’s a huge thing in baseball. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the chemistry and want to play for the guy next to you, it doesn’t mean anything. To get past that hump and get towards more of a character-driven team is going to be huge for us and is going to be the next step for us to get to the next level and become competitive and win day in and day out.”
Did players think Manny didn’t show enough fire? “Every player is different. Personally, I don’t need that kind of stuff, but I think a lot of players do. It’s so different from a player to player basis, so it’s hard for me to speak for everybody. But there were some points sometimes where some people have said some stuff on our team — not to him, obviously, but player-to-player — that they would’ve liked him to do more of that.
“He’s not a very controversial person. … But I think sometimes you have to go out and do that. Not just because you’re the manager and you’ve got to do that, but because your players want you to step up.”
Were there times you thought he should have done that? “I would say yes. Not a lot. If you asked me, I’d say three or four times. Some other people might say 10 or 15 times. But he’s not going to be a Lou Piniella that goes out there, picks up bases and throws them. But at some points, I think you have to do that stuff. Even if you think your player is wrong, you have to go out there and stick up for your player. I think that kidn of gives the player the feeling that, ‘Hey, this guy has my back no matter what. He’s always going to be there for me, so I’m always going be there for him.’ Do I think that’s why everything went down like it did? No. I think Manny did a great job. But that subject is always sensitive, whether managers do that or not.”
On being a veteran leader? “The first couple of years, that was kind of pushed on me, and I wasn’t ready for it. It’s hard to come into a big league clubhouse and be a 21- or 22-year-old kid and be looked upon to be a leader. It takes a lot of respect to get up in front of those guys and say things that are controversial. For me, the first couple years I was very quiet. I still am quiet. But you have to make sure you have the respect of your peers first. Now I feel like I’m past that. I’m an old 24, if you can say that. But I enjoy that role. I’m very lucky to do what I’ve done at such a young age and to have the opportunity to do what I’ve done at a young age. Now obviously being there for the long-term, I feel it’s my responsibility to mold the team and build this organization to what all the front office guys want now. I think we have something special. We just need to get over that hump, expect to win and not go out there every day and expect to lose.”
How will Riggleman be different? “To be honest with you, I have no clue. He’s been great as a bench coach all year. Hopefully he’ll be the same person. He’s always been very optimistic, very positive, and I think that’s what we need here. But at the same time … he’s managed a long time, he’s managed some teams that have a lot more big name guys than we have. Hopefully he can relay that to some of our younger guys.”
Was it awkward playing last month after Fox report came out? “I would say it was awkward, because anytime reports like that come out, it’s usually not just thrown around. There’s obviously some credibility to it. So when it first came out, it’s hard to play. We’re all close. We all go to war and go to battle every day. We obviously have a respect for him like he respects us. Whenever those things come out, it’s difficult to look the other way and not be distracted by it.”
On Acta’s personality: “With Manny, it was never about him. He was very unselfish. He was very worried about us. That’s why it’s so hard to see him go. But things like this happen. It’s tough when it happens, but obviously you’ve got to move on and get better.”