Indians dismiss Acta; Alomar named interim

Cleveland went into freefall after winning start in skipper's third season with team

September 27th, 2012

CLEVELAND -- A ballclub can only absorb so many blows before someone goes down for the count. It seemed inevitable that somebody would be held accountable for the Indians' collapse in a season built on so much promise.

Cleveland dismissed Manny Acta from his duties as manager on Thursday. Sandy Alomar Jr. -- beloved in the clubhouse and by the Indians' fan base -- was promoted to the role of interim manager after serving as Acta's bench coach this season.

"Manny is a tremendous person with great baseball experience and an unparalleled work ethic," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "Every day he was here, he worked tirelessly to make the organization better. Unfortunately, our results on the field fell short of our expectations.

"We're disappointed that we weren't able to win more consistently under Manny's leadership, but we we felt a new approach at this point will give us the best chance to have success moving forward."

Promoting Alomar was a logical move, considering multiple teams have considered him for managerial positions over the past two offseasons. Antonetti indicated that Alomar would indeed be the primary candidate for the permanent role, but the organization will consider others as well.

One name already linked to Cleveland's search is former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

As for Acta, who did all he could to stay true to his optimistic outlook over the course of the past two trying months, he was simply unable to lead the Indians out of a historic downward spiral. Acta switched lineups, called meetings and tweaked roles, but Cleveland's stumble proved too steep.

The Tribe believed a change was needed.

Acta, who spoke with reporters via phone on Thursday evening, was surprised to learn the news. That said, he expressed no regrets and did not have any harsh words for his former employer.

"My challenge going forward is not going to be to find another job," Acta said, "it's going to be where to find better people to work for and better people to work with. Unbelievable people from top to bottom, from ownership to the bat boy. I had a great three years of relationships here and have no regrets and no bitterness.

"It's part of the business. I understand it. I was hired to win as many games as I could. I gave my best."

Antonetti arrived at the decision -- along with president Mark Shapiro and CEO Paul Dolan -- on Wednesday night. Out of respect for Acta, the club felt it was best to inform him of his dismissal before the conclusion of the regular season.

"The timing is strictly out of respect to Manny," Shapiro said. "We just reached the decision last night, and in light of that, we don't feel -- with our overwhelming universal respect for Manny both personally and professionally -- that we can go through the next six days having already made that decision."

Both Antonetti and Shapiro were quick to add that Acta is hardly on his own in terms of responsibility. Multiple decisions by Antonetti backfired and numerous players fell far short of expectations this year. The result was a rapid descent in the American League Central standings that caught everyone involved off-guard.

It was shocking in its severity.

The Indians resided in first place as late as June 23, when the club held an admirable 37-33 record. On July 26, Cleveland seemed poised for a second-half push when the team pulled off a dramatic comeback victory over Tigers ace Justin Verlander, closing to within 3 1/2 games of first in the division.

From there, the bottom fell out on the season.

Since that stirring win over Detroit, Cleveland has gone a Major League-worst 15-42 with four losing streaks consisting of at least five games. The Indians labored through 11 straight losses from July 27-Aug. 7, falling one shy of the franchise record of 12 consecutive defeats set in 1931.

Dating back to July 27, the Indians' pitching staff as a whole (5.37 ERA) and their rotation (6.44 ERA) have each posted the worst ERAs in the Major Leagues. The offense has not been much better, ranking in the AL's bottom four in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, average with runners in scoring position, home runs and runs scored.

Along the way, Cleveland suffered the first 0-9 road trip in the team's 112-year history and experienced two losing streaks of at least nine games in the same season for the first time. The Indians went 5-24 in August for the worst one-month showing in team history. In the past 30 years, only three teams -- the 2012 Astros and 1999 Cubs being the others -- have turned in a month with 24 or more losses.

"It's hard to comprehend right now," Indians reliever Joe Smith said. "Youre sitting there looking at it and you have no idea how we just completely fell apart in the month of August. That was unbelievable. It was miserable. It was the most miserable month of my professional career."

The Indians parted ways with pitching coach Scott Radinsky in August. As it stands, the coaching staff currently consists of interim pitching coach Ruben Niebla, hitting coach Bruce Fields, bullpen coach Dave Miller, third-base coach Steve Smith and first-base coach Tom Wiedenbauer.

Cleveland will finish its season, which has six games remaining and ends on Wednesday, with Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh serving as Alomar's bench coach.

The Indians plan to re-evaluate the makeup of their coaching staff after the conclusion of the season and their managerial search.

Entering Thursday's off-day, the Indians (65-91) were tied with the Twins for the worst record in the AL. Cleveland is trying to avoid becoming the fourth team in Major League history (the 2006 Rockies, '05 Nationals and 1991 Angels are the others) to finish a season in last place after being in first through 70 games.

Following an 80-82 showing last season -- when a multitude of injuries dragged them down -- the Indians entered this season confident in their ability to contend. That belief was bolstered by the fact that the Tribe stormed to a 30-15 record with a healthy and productive roster at the start of last season.

Cleveland never repeated that run of success and Acta ultimately paid the price.

"I have great respect for Manny," Dolan said in a press release, "and appreciate the effort he exhibited not only leading our team, but also the contributions he made in our community over the past three years.

"I fully support Chris' decision to make this change and am confident that he will lead a tireless search to find the right individual to lead the club to our ultimate goal of winning the World Series."

Acta, 43, was hired by the Indians prior to the 2010 season, when the organization was in the midst of a rebuilding period. Expectations understandably increased with each year, but Cleveland was unable to keep pace on the field. In nearly three full seasons, Acta guided the Tribe to a 214-266 record.

Over six seasons as a manager -- including a three-year run with the Nationals from 2007-09 -- Acta has posted a 372-518 ledger.

"I'm not the guy to point fingers or blame other people," Acta said. "I have always taken up the challenge of the teams that are given to me and try to make them better. I knew what the package had when I bought it from day one in 2010 when I came in here. My job was to make it better and we didn't get better."

This will be the third time in the past four years that the Indians will finish with more than 90 losses, and they have not turned in a winning record since 2007. Cleveland is also playing out its fourth straight year with a losing record, marking the longest such streak since the team went seven years with a losing record from 1987-93.

As the organization maps out its plan for this coming offseason, and the seasons ahead, the hope is that a new voice will aid the team's direction.

The 46-year-old Alomar, who was brought on board Cleveland's coaching staff by Acta prior to the 2010 season, has been viewed as a manager-in-waiting. The Blue Jays interviewed Alomar for their managerial vacancy after the 2010 season, and both the Red Sox and Cubs showed interest in him a year ago.

Cleveland fans remember Alomar best for the 11 seasons (1990-2000) he spent in an Indians uniform during his 20-year Major League playing career. He won the AL Rookie of the Year Award for the Tribe in 1990 and was named to six All-Star teams (winning the All-Star MVP Award at the '97 Midsummer Classic in Cleveland) during his time with the team.

Acta initially hired Alomar to be Cleveland's first-base coach, a role he filled during the 2010-11 seasons. Last offseason, Alomar was promoted to the role of bench coach, a move that put him one step closer to becoming a manager.

"Sandy is a very good baseball man," Acta said. "He was very helpful to me for three years. He knows the game very well and he's going to get a start at managing."