Nationals turn to Acta, naturally

Acta named manager of Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals formally named Manny Acta their manager during a news conference at the Washington Square Building on Tuesday afternoon. He will wear No. 14, the same number he wore as a third-base coach with the Montreal Expos from 2002 to 2004.

Acta signed a two-year deal with two one-year club options for 2009 and 2010.

At 37, Acta becomes the second manager in Nationals history and the third youngest skipper in U.S. pro sports behind Jets coach Eric Mangini and Nets coach Lawrence Frank.

The Washington position will be Acta's first managerial job in the Major Leagues. He spent the past two years as the Mets' third-base coach and three years with the Expos in the same capacity under former Nationals manager Frank Robinson.

Almost three hours after he was formally named manager, Acta refused to believe that the Nationals would be a struggling team in 2007.

Forget the fact the team is going to overhaul its pitching staff and that one of its best players in 2006, outfielder Alfonso Soriano, is a free agent and most likely will play for another team next season. In his mind, good things will happen for the Nationals.

"I always believe I can win," Acta said. "I always approach it this way: The opposing team has 25 guys, we have 25 guys. Maybe in the long run, we have a team that is stacked with superstars. I don't try to see it in the long run. I break it down from game-to-game. I'm not only positive. I'm overly optimistic.

"I know [on paper] it's a long shot because of the depleted starting rotation, but it is baseball. You never know. We are going to work hard. We are going to do everything possible to win a game on an everyday basis. The bottom line is, pitching and defense wins games."

It was that positive attitude and the fact that he was the most prepared of all the managerial candidates that helped convince the Nationals that he was the right man to take them to the next level.

During the interview process, it took 30 minutes for team president Stan Kasten to believe that Acta could be the right guy. Acta even came up with his own ideas on how to improve the organization.

"I could have not predicted back to when we started that this was going to be our hire," Kasten said. "It was getting to know Manny, hearing about him first, meeting him, learning more about him. That's what made out decision fairly easy. He was intent on listening to our plan, how we wanted to go about improving our franchise. I really think we have a manager who is not just on board ready to do the job in the Major Leagues. He is on board with our plan."

The interview process began for Acta on Oct. 24 at around 9:30 a.m. ET, when he met with general manager Jim Bowden in the lobby of a hotel in a getting-to-know-you session. That same day, Acta and Bowden had lunch with Kasten and assistant general manangers Bob Boone and Mike Rizzo.

"We spent a couple of hours eating and talking baseball. They were selling to me the plan that they have in place," Acta said.

At around 6 p.m., Acta met with the Lerner family, the owners of the team, in the conference room at the Washington Square Building.

"After I left, I had a good feeling. I felt I was the fit they were looking for," Acta said. "Quite frankly, I thought if they wanted me to meet the owners, I must have made [an impression]."

That night, Acta went to check out of the hotel when he saw Bowden, who told him that he was sticking around another day.

"I went, 'Oh, boy, this is serious here.' It was a terrific process," Acta said.

Said Bowden, "It was evident to me that Manny has a tremendous blend of intellect, motivational skills and discipline. The wisdom that he has drawn from his whole career is amazing. With managers, they are usually strong in one area or another area. He is well balanced all the way around. He really understands teaching, developing, building a young club. He has great people skills, but he knows how to put the hammer down."

Acta then went to Japan to coach the Major League All-Stars for more than a week. Once Acta returned to the United States last Thursday and dropped out of the Athletics' managerial search the next day, he was informed by the Nationals that the job was his.

Acta accepted the job because he felt the Nationals already have good position players, and are planning to rebuild the farm system, add new players to improve the team each year and move to a new stadium in 2008.

"We are going to have a winning team for years here. As you know, it's a very tough division. We are going to put ourselves in the best position possible," he said.

Acta began his coaching/managerial career in the Astros organization, and his first coaching job was for Class A Asheville in 1992. The next season, he made his managerial debut with Auburn in the New York-Penn League, and he guided the team to the NYPL championship series in 1994. He had a stint with Class A Kissimmee and guided the team to its first Florida State League championship in 1999, before moving up to coach with Triple-A New Orleans in 2001.

Acta's first big-league coaching job was under Robinson. As Robinson was putting together his coaching staff in Montreal for the 2002 season, hitting coach Tom McCraw, who had worked for the Astros when Acta was in that organization, recommended Acta be a part of the coaching staff.

During his three years with Montreal, Acta was more than just a third-base coach. He was an infield coach, a liaison for Robinson with the players and an interpreter for right fielder Vladimir Guerrero and right-hander Orlando Hernandez.

Acta also has managed in the Dominican Winter League, and he was the Dominican Republic's skipper in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March.

"When you manage in the Dominican, you are really managing stars," Kasten said. "He has this great impressive list of experiences with young kids, developing kids, handling stars and he handled them all superbly every where he has been."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.