- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ST. LOUIS

Depending on whom you ask, Manny Acta was either impressively stoic or exasperatingly stubborn.

The former manager of the Washington Nationals has strong beliefs about how best to do his job, and he stuck to them until the moment he was fired.

Acta came to the District preaching patience, and he leaves it preaching patience. Anyone who expected this most gracious of human beings to burn bridges on his way out didn’t really get to know him the past 2 1/2 years.

A firebrand who would get ejected once a week in his formative days as a minor league manager, Acta came to the conclusion long ago that the true path to success lies not with flashy displays of emotion but with a steady stream of humility, grace and optimism.

That patient approach to managing got him the Nationals’ gig in the first place and won him so much praise during his inaugural season. Patience, though, wears thin when you lose 102 games, watch your team find new and embarrassing ways to blow leads on a nightly basis and at times look lifeless on the diamond.

In those ugliest of moments, a manager is expected to make noise. Perhaps not a Lou Piniella rip-out-third-base-and-kick-your-cap-into-the-air rant. But some sign of emotion and frustration, something that lets players and fans alike know you won’t tolerate this stuff.

Plenty tried to draw that kind of reaction out of Acta, but it never emerged. And though the Nationals as an organization continued to offer support for their skipper and his style, frustration quietly began to build in some corners of the clubhouse.

“Personally, I don’t need that kind of stuff, but I think a lot of players do,” Ryan Zimmerman said Monday during his All-Star media session. “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.”

Zimmerman, as big an Acta supporter as there is, even admitted there were “three or four times” he wished the manager had raised a ruckus in public.

Whether Jim Riggleman brings a new sense of accountability and urgency to a clubhouse that has become complacent with losing remains to be seen. Though the Nationals insist the 56-year-old owner of a .445 career winning percentage will be given a chance to win the job on a permanent basis, few observers around the sport expect him to be at the helm in 2010.

Those same observers who expect the Nationals next season to turn to a taskmaster in the vein of Bobby Valentine, Buck Showalter or Larry Bowa also believe Acta will get another shot to manage at the big league level.

Regarded as one of the game’s up-and-comers when he landed the Washington gig, Acta still commands the respect of executives, managers and players around the sport.

And those who know what he’s going through know he’ll land on his feet. Not because he’s bound to change as a manager but because he stays true to what he believes.

“You have to be who you are. If it’s not good enough, then you’ve got to find something else to do,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, comparing Acta’s fate with his own failed record with three clubs before finally hitting it big with the Yankees. “The thing you have to really make sure you say to yourself is that [getting fired] doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Manny will resurface. He’s a young man. He knows baseball. That’s not going to go away.”

Neither will Manny Acta’s approach to managing, even if it ultimately didn’t work with Washington.

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