- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chances are Ryan Zimmerman wasn’t the happiest person at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon when the Nationals held a news conference to announce/reiterate the details of his new contract.

I imagine the happiest person at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon was beleaguered manager Manny Acta because he wasn’t the subject.

Although nobody in a position of authority with the ballclub is blaming Acta for that sickening 3-10 start, Manny’s job security these days would appear to be about the same as that of your average financial planner.

When the Gnats blew three ninth-inning leads over the weekend, I told a buddy, “This probably means Manny will be fired any day now.”

My friend did a double take and said, “You mean he’s still around?”

It’s customary in such cases to tell the impending victim, “Don’t send out your laundry.” If I were Manny, I wouldn’t even use the washing machine in my building. He might be walking an unemployment line before the spin-dry cycle finishes.

I don’t know if Acta is nervous these days, but he’s reminding me more and more of Don Knotts. If they ever remake “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” Manny might be a cinch for the title role.

Should Acta be shoved out the door, it will be a shame. By all accounts, he’s a bright young guy who relates well to the kind of young players on whom the Nationals hope to build their future.

“My hope is to be here for the next 20 years,” the 40-year-old Acta said last week when a reporter brought up the delicate subject.

The way things have been going, he might be lucky to be here 20 days after the start of his third season, when the Nats fell into their first swoon against the talented but hardly terrifying Marlins. That deadline will occur Sunday.

Short of using himself in relief out of the major leagues’ shakiest bullpen, Acta likely can’t do much to stem the slide. He is burdened with a team that might not win in Class AAA, much less the bigs. Aside from that pathetic ‘pen, the starting rotation is undependable, the defense uncertain and the hitting inconsistent.

Reacting to the collective collapse of the relievers against the Marlins, Acta and acting general manager Mike Rizzo shipped out three culprits after Sunday’s loss and brought in replacements. But somehow I doubt that Jason Bergmann (2-11, 5.09 ERA last season) is the answer.

Unfortunately, Acta’s competence, or lack thereof, isn’t really the issue. When a team goes or stays bad, the manager sooner or later gets drop-kicked off the premises. That’s the way it has worked almost ever since the game evolved from rounders in the mid-19th century.

Only one manager ever beat the system: Connie Mack, who hung around with the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years despite 17 last-place finishes, including seven straight at one point. By the way, Connie owned the club, too. Otherwise, he might be remembered today, if at all, as the Grand Old Man of Losing.

Acta would not be the first Washington manager to be fired, of course. So-called Boy Wonder Bucky Harris piloted the Senators to their only World Series championship in 1924, but that didn’t stop owner Clark Griffith from bouncing Bucky three different times. In baseball, as in much of life, it’s always a case of “What have you done for me lately?”

Another Washington manager, the widely unfamed Joe Kuhel, put the whole syndrome in perspective when Griffith cast him aside in 1949 after a 50-104 season.

“You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers,” Joe reportedly insisted at his farewell press conference. Only he didn’t really say “feathers.”

Baseball’s all-time boss when it comes to changing skippers is The Boss, George Steinbrenner, who hired and fired so many managers that newcomers started doing their laundry in the sink as soon as they were hired. As we all know, George set what probably is an unbreakable record by anointing and exorcising Billy Martin five times. The only lasting effect was a funny Miller Lite commercial featuring the pair.

There’s no need to feel sorry for Manny Acta, however, if the Lerner family makes him eligible for the Nationals Alumni Association. Manny will turn up somewhere else soon enough and hopefully have a few more human weapons at his disposal.

In fact, letting him go could be the biggest loss yet for the Nationals. One of too, too many.

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