Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will Valentine's day come early for Indians?

I don’t know much about Manny Acta – as a person or as a Major League manager. I’ve never interviewed Acta; never seen the man either. What I do know about him is the managed one of the worst teams in baseball last season. Now, managing the Nationals isn’t a fate the baseball gods should put in any decent man’s hands. The Nats are a hopeless lot in a league with other going-nowhere organizations like the Padres and the Pirates. Acta could have been Walter Alston, Connie Mack, Casey Stengel and Sparky Anderson rolled into one, and he still wouldn’t have been able to turn the Nats into a winner. He might develop into a Sparky-like manager -- someday. Yet I find it curious that Indians GM Mark Shapiro (and team president Paul Dolan) has kept Acta, 40, on a short list of candidates to replace Eric Wedge. Aside from being a Latino and bilingual, two plusses in baseball, Acta brings little else. In my opinion, he's a gamble. But managing in the Major Leagues isn't like playing roulette in Vegas, so Shapiro should go for a manager whose resume looks a bit more substantial than Acta’s. I saw that candidate on Shapiro's initial list: Mike Hargrove. And maybe if the Astros can think about rehiring Phil Garner, the Indians could have brought Hargrove back. He certainly knew the organization and Cleveland, a city where he played and managed. If Hargrove, 60, had rekindled the passion inside, I would have welcomed the man back. Hargrove, however, wouldn’t have been my first choice anyway. Shapiro has been looking at another candidate as seasoned as Hargrove in Bobby Valentine, a man fresh from managing in Japan. Valentine, 59, has never lost his passion. When the Mets fired him in 2002, Valentine chased managerial openings elsewhere. Nobody rush to hire him, despite the fact he had won with the Rangers and with the Mets. His only opportunity came with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, and Valentine took it. He’s back from Japan now; he’s ready for another go at the bigs. Shapiro should give it to him. He should pick Valentine because he’s an experienced outsider, someone who can judge the ballclub without appearing to be, as Wedge did, Shapiro’s footman. The organization seems to have enough Shapiro lackeys in the front office to last it a decade. He won’t be hiring a lackey in the frank-talking Valentine, whose enthusiastic candor might not keep him on Shapiro’s list. Still, Valentine's glibness would be a wonderful change, though, from the reticence Wedge showed he favors. In Shapiro's delusional world, the Indians are a ballplayer here or there from being a contending club. The organization is filled with players with high ceilings – talent that just needs to be nurtured. To him, bad isn’t as bad as it seems; just disregard the fact the Tribe finished light-years away from .500 last season. Shapiro won’t be able to sell Valentine this fiction. Valentine won’t let him. He also won’t let his players dodge responsibility – to the team, to the community and to the media. Keep in mind that Shapiro isn’t necessarily going to pick a manager who will warm to the media; he’ll pick a manager who can lead an inexperienced and rebuilding ballclub. The fact his choice might be able to curry favor with the media could be a bonus. What he needs is somebody who isn’t inexperienced like Dodgers bench coach Don Mattingly, a rumored candidate. If Shapiro's choice happens to be Mattingly or Valentine or Acta, the Indians will be better for it. The organization (and its flaws) will certainly be more transparent than it ever was during the Wedge years.


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