Manny Acta is the same manager this year that he was last year, when the Washington Nationals skipper was heralded for his style and leadership. He is the same manager who didn't panic when they were 9-25, the same manager who steered the team to a .500 record after that start.
He didn't berate players publicly. He didn't put on any shows in the dugout or scream at players. And he didn't lose control of himself in any wild outbursts against umpires.
That worked pretty well for him last year in his rookie year as a manager: never losing his cool publicly, setting an example for his players to see.
Yet during the team's disappointing start this year, he has heard some complaints about that same style — that he is too passive. Not fiery enough. Too Cool Manny.
Don't expect to see, though, any Earl Weaver or Billy Martin imitations, whether his team is 10 games over or 10 games under .500. It's not going to happen.
Acta spent years preparing to be a major league manager. He studied managers he worked for and those who faced his teams. He had a philosophy that he brought into this job about how it is done, and he remains steadfast in his beliefs.
"I am not going to change," Acta said. "The average fan doesn't realize that doesn't get you anywhere. People sitting in the stands may want you to make a fool of yourself and start screaming at someone in their face.
"I have read enough and have enough data to prove to me that doesn't get you anywhere," he said. "All the championships Joe Torre won in New York, that wasn't because he picked up a bag and threw it on the field. It was because Derek Jeter hit a home run, Luis Sojo getting a game winning hit. None of the championships they won was because Joe was doing stuff in an umpire's face."
Torre's a good analogy because a lot of Acta's traits — like intelligence and patience — also are seen in Torre, who came under fire in New York at the end of a tenure with the Yankees that included four World Series championships because he was considered too soft, too laid back.
Acta used to have emotional outbursts when he first started managing in the minor leagues. But he learned it took its toll and did nothing to help his teams win. So he had worked to maintain his control — keeping his head when others might be losing theirs — and believes his team is best served by that style.
"If I start acting like a loose cannon, then everyone behind me is going to act the same way," Acta said. "I try to get the best out of people by treating them right and creating the right atmosphere and behaving myself the right way, not screaming and yelling."
So don't expect to see any postgame rants about a player who swings at a first pitch in the ninth inning when the opposing pitcher already had walked two batters, such as when Felipe Lopez grounded out against Brad Lidge with the tying run at third base in Tuesday night's 1-0 loss to the Phillies. And don't expect any nose-to-nose arguments with umpires to "fire up his team," as the cliche goes in baseball.
Don't mistake that emotional control for a lack of passion, Acta said.
"That's the nature of people sitting in the stands and watching at home," he said. "They want to see people kicking dirt and yelling and screaming. That doesn't mean that guy has more passion than someone else. It only means that I have read enough and I know how to control my emotions.
"I have a choice to be who I want to be. I would rather manage this way than to throw something on the field or something like that. I don't think yelling and screaming will have any impact on the game."
Consider the performance so far of Mr. Intensity, Joe Girardi, in his rookie year as the Yankees manager. Remember, Girardi, the guy who cursed out his boss and told him to shut up publicly during a game, was the darling of baseball fans for that style. He was named National League manager of the year in 2006 even though his Florida Marlins won just 78 games — just seven more than Frank Robinson did in Washington. He also was the guy many coveted to manage the Nationals.
That fact is that the Marlins, with four guys who hit more than 20 home runs that year and nine in double digits, had more talent that everyone realized, which is evident this season. They should have won 78 games. Anything less would have been underachieving — sort of like Girardi's Yankees and their $207 million payroll are doing now with a 20-25 record going into last night's game.
This isn't football. Managing, like pitching, is a matter of control and command. If you can control yourself, you can command a presence among your players and in the game. Manny Acta has both.