“The change was made uptown”
The repercussions of a second-half slide revealed themselves Thursday, and the Indians’ dismissal of manager Manny Acta had felt increasingly inevitable in recent weeks.
No rational person could reasonably assert that Acta was solely to blame for the precipitous descent from AL Central contender to bottom-feeder. But at the rate the Indians were losing games (42 of their last 57, to be exact) and at the rate Acta was losing clubhouse influence, a reasonable defense of Acta became increasingly difficult to muster.
And so the Indians replaced him with his bench coach, Sandy Alomar Jr., on an interim basis. And this, too, was inevitable, for Alomar is popular with fans, popular with the players and, more to the point, highly regarded in the baseball community as a manager-in-training and waiting.
But Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, who dismissed Acta three years after bringing him aboard, told a room full of reporters that this particular skipper story is not yet complete. Antonetti will perform an extensive, time-consuming search — one in which Alomar is, of course, a top candidate — to find the right man for the job.
“It’s exhausting,” Antonetti said of the process of finding a manager. “It takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of phone calls and trying to understand and get enough perspectives on individuals from a variety of areas to really have an informed opinion of someone.”
My advice to Antonetti?
Save your time, save your cell phone minutes and save everybody involved the hassle of submitting to a process that seems to have yet another inevitable result.
Just name Alomar the permanent manager and be done with it.
This is not meant to belittle the names that will be tossed into the fire of the rumor mill. While it’s silly to assume Terry Francona would leave a cushy TV gig to manager a team likely in need of a rebuild on a budget, there is no shortage of promising, up-and-coming managerial candidates available for such an opportunity. (Torey Lovullo, the Blue Jays’ first base coach, is a personal favorite, and he has past ties to the Indians’ organization as their former Triple-A skipper.)
Nor is this an affront against the benefits of careful deliberation and consideration. Even if the results are nowhere near as intended right now, the Indians do have a thoughtful process to the way they go about making decisions, and a managerial move is obviously a major decision to make.
But given these particular circumstances — with a perfectly reasonable candidate in place and many pertinent and pressing questions being posed about the direction of the franchise — I’d say Antonetti and Co. would be best-served to place their emphasis and put their time in elsewhere.
For a team in need of some positive PR at the moment, Alomar is as positive as they come. For better or worse, many fans here remain enamored with those teams from Jacobs Field’s nascent years, when division titles were as second nature as season sell-outs.
Alomar was, of course, a popular part of those teams, and, while nobody buys a ticket to see the manager in action, that popularity can’t hurt.
(Granted, the Indians will never reasonably be able to satisfy that certain segment of the fan base that only wishes to dwell on the ‘90s. Although Albert Belle did joke with an Indians staffer that he ought to be named the new manager because he is, in his words, “the people’s champ.” So there’s always that option…)
For a young team likely to endure a tough transition period, a rookie skipper like Alomar, who can grow along with his players, is a fit. Even Acta, in his conference call with reporters after his dismissal, noted what a “good baseball man” Alomar is (though Acta was also quick to joke that if he’s not qualified enough to be this club’s manager, he’s not qualified enough to give his opinion on who the next manager should be).
And for this particular assemblage of Indians players, Alomar is an ally. It’s not exactly fair, but the current crop of players seemed to sour on Acta. They didn’t feel he stuck up for them enough on blown or controversial calls. They didn’t feel he associated with them enough in the clubhouse.
Indeed, it’s telling that, several hours after the news of his dismissal had gone public, Acta had only heard from one of his players offering condolences.
Alomar is beloved by this bunch. Whether that amounts to much between the lines is a matter very much yet to be determined, because the talent level is clearly lacking. For whatever it’s worth, Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean won-loss calculation suggests that the Indians should have had four less wins than they had under Acta this season, and Baseball Prospectus’ manager data says Acta’s Indians outperformed their Pythagorean expectations more than any other AL club other than the Orioles.
When you consider those admitted approximations and when you note the fact that none of the eight men who started three or more games for the Indians this season have an ERA less than 5.00, you see that the Tribe has issues that go well beyond the managerial slot.
So that’s my unsolicited advice to Antonetti: Give Alomar his shot, and put the organizational emphasis elsewhere. Take the time you would have used to conduct that exhaustive skipper search and apply it to the other evaluations already taking place — evaluations of the scouting, drafting, development and injury prevention dynamics that put you in this hole in the first place.
Now that the ceremonial slaying has been taken care of, get down to the real roots of the problem at hand.
PS: I had a lot of fun concocting the ridiculous “Bizarro World” post that ran Monday, and hopefully the majority of you (between tears and beers, of course) took it in the light-hearted manner it was intended and didn’t seek out a short bridge from which to belly-flop.
Judging by comments posted and received here and on Twitter, some of you took it more seriously than others, and to those people I must state what ought to have been obvious: There are varying degrees of plausibility within that piece, and it is not meant as an absolute indictment of all that has taken place since the run to the ALCS in 2007 (not all of it, anyway).
But it is certainly interesting to look back at various avenues where a different course of action or the simple solution of more positive luck would have paid off handsomely. More than anything, it is also instructive to see just how much has to go right to build a big-league powerhouse, particularly in a market this size.
Nobody could reasonably expect the Indians’ front office to bat at the abnormally high percentage illustrated in that piece. But Tribe fans are certainly entitled to want and expect it to bat at a higher percentage than it has in the last five years.