Monday, July 13, 2009
Manny Acta Relieved Of Duty Press Conference
Here is the complete press conference held today beginning at 11:30AM at Nationals Park, in the media interview room. The announcement where Manny Acta was fired as Manager of Our Washington Nationals--replaced on an interim basis by Jim Riggleman. Senior Director of Baseball Media Relations--John Dever led things off.
With that--here we go--all 25 minutes worth:
John Dever: “Ok folks, thank you for being here. Good Morning to everybody for coming on short notice. We would like to welcome our viewers on our rights holder—MASN—The Mid Atlantic Sports Network. On my right is Nationals Asst. General Manager and Vice President of Baseball Operations—Mike Rizzo. And of course, Nationals Team President Stan Kasten. Mike is going to make a couple of announcements here in a second. Afterwards, we will open up to everyone for questions. Please identify yourselves and direct your question to one of the two participants.”
Mike Rizzo: “Yes, I would like to take today to make an announcement that The Washington Nationals today have relieved Manny Acta of his duties as Manager of The Washington Nationals and named Jim Riggleman has the Interim Field Manager. And also with that said, we are going to make Pat Corrales the Bench Coach for The Washington Nationals for the remainder of the season. I will be meeting with Jim Riggleman later on this afternoon to discuss a multitude of issues that we have with the ball club and the upcoming calendar. And with that said—we are taking all questions.”
Question: Obviously, when you make a mid-season change the idea is that you can do better for the rest of the season. Can you talk about the timing of this and whether you believe another manager could have gotten more than 26 wins out of the talent?
Mike Rizzo: “As far as timing, this was a decision we finalized over the weekend with the management team here in Washington. We feel that the team has underachieved. We feel we have a better ballclub than shown on the field. 26 & 61 is unacceptable to not only The Lerner Family, but also Stan Kasten and myself and the ballclub. So we feel with a different voice and a possible different feel in the clubhouse that we can have a more successful second half of the season. We think we have pieces in place here to have some type of success. We also acknowledge our flaws as a ballclub. And we are working hard before the trade deadline to address those flaws and to make prudent baseball deals to improve the ballclub for the long term also.”
Question: Mike, why now? And was it a sense that he (Manny) was losing players in the clubhouse?
Mike Rizzo: “I don’t think he was losing players in the clubhouse. I do believe that we kept for a while now—we kept thinking that this was going to turn around. We were going to start playing better. And we have always continued to underachieve in my opinion. So we thought that this was a prudent time to make a move. The All-Star Break gives us the opportunity to get our ducks in a row—to prepare not only the staff for the second half of the season—but the personnel on the ballclub and the players in the clubhouse.”
Question: Mike, you have interim here as the title for Jim Riggleman. Does he have every opportunity to have the job if he has a good second half?
Mike Rizzo: “Jim Riggleman is a terrific baseball guy, baseball person. He’s a baseball guy from the old school. He’s a guy with nine seasons of experience as a Major League Manager. And he is certainly a guy that I respect greatly. I know the organization respects him greatly. And he certainly will be an candidate to be an long-term answer as the manager.”
Question: Does management have any specific expectations of Riggleman moving forward past this second half of the season?
Mike Rizzo: “Yes, we have specific goals and expectations for the second half. They are not predicated on wins and losses. We have a plan in place where we are looking at many objectives. One of them is to play the game the right way, to continue to play hard, as they did under Manny Acta. And we are going to continue to stress the fundamentals. We need each and every player to look at themselves and take accountability for the seasons they are having. And we need the club to stay focused. Those are just a few of the goals and expectations for the second half. And with that said, we are very excited about our prospects going forward into the season. We look at a very good, young starting rotation. We look at a core of several young and exciting players. We are very excited about the trade we already made this season—acquiring Nyjer Morgan & Sean Burnett. We like the dynamic that Nyjer brings us to the outfield and in the lineup. And we like the role that Sean Burnett is playing in the bullpen. When we do become a viable candidate for the championship—he will be a viable candidate in the bullpen. So we are excited about the second half of this season. We are going to get into it starting this Wednesday—on a positive. And like I said, I am going to meet with Jim Riggleman later on this afternoon. On Wednesday, we are going to meet with the club before our mandatory workout on Wednesday evening.”
Question: Mike, what are the differences between Jim Riggleman and Manny Acta that causes you to believe he will do a better job?
Mike Rizzo: “I just believe the team is better than what they have shown. I think something in a different voice; a different way of presenting possibly the same material could have an effect. Jim is known as a player’s manager. He’s also a tough disciplinarian. He’s got intensity to him. And I believe going to show the young players that this is a difficult game to play—but it’s a great way to make a living—and to embrace the opportunity you have here in Washington.”
Question: You included this letter to the fans. Can you talk about what came into that decision?
Stan Kasten: “I will speak to that. We did think about it long and hard, and thought it expressed the sentiments that fans were wondering about. Our season, this season, has been a great disappointment to us—even though those of us on the inside remain very, very optimistic about our ultimate future with all the pieces that are falling in place—starting with the young rotation. We want the fans to know how much we value them. How much we take seriously putting the best product out there. And we thought speaking directly to them would be the best way to communicate that.”
Question: At what point did management begin to review the manager’s position, specifically referring to the Fox Sports Report from nearly a month ago that said that Manny Acta was on his way out?
Mike Rizzo: “The Fox report a month ago was inaccurate. I was asked about this before the announcement (today) was made. And I said it was an inaccurate assessment at that time. We are always being evaluated in this business. Specifically, the manager of a Major League Franchise is being evaluated. Getting off to such a slow start obviously started the rumor mill going. But like I said, we always felt we were going to turn this thing around and get on a roll and start playing baseball the way we thought we were capable of playing. When we found out we just couldn’t put anything together and be consistent, we felt the All-Star Break was a prudent time to make a change.”
Question: Thursday night on MASN, two of your analysts—Rob Dibble and Ray Knight made some very critical comments, unusually critical for team broadcasters about—their words—cleaning house—and about how much effort was, or wasn’t being given. That some players needed to get up in others faces. Manny was notoriously a patient and kind, at least outwardly, person. Was there any credence to the criticisms leveled by Dibble and Knight the other day and was Manny personality either a good match or bad match for what you believe this team needed?
Mike Rizzo: “Well, Manny's personality was one of the strengths as a manager. He’s a very even keel person. And on the majority of ballclubs in The Major Leagues, not getting too high with success and not getting too low with defeat is kind of a good match for the ballclub. To answer your question about the announcing team—that had no credence in my mind about the decision we made with Manny. We don’t take into account what the announcers say what is going on in the clubhouse or in the manager’s office. I am there every day. I see the way Manny directs his troops and the way in which he handles his ballclub—and his evenkeelness and his kindness. Often, behind closed doors, he was able to get into some players faces and to be very stern with them. So, as far as the announcers’ statements having anything to do with this--I would say it had nothing to do with this.”
Question: Stan, you now have an interim GM and an interim Manager--from a stability standpoint that doesn’t speak too highly of the franchise. Would you please address that?
Stan Kasten: “I am very uncomfortable with that—that is a good observation. I have strived my whole career valuing stability and consistency. I want to get to that (point) here. We are not there yet. I think we are working toward that. Sometimes you encounter these unfortunate, unforeseen, bumps in the road. But you are right; we need to bring stability here. And I can assure you that I am doing all I can to get us there.”
Question: Did you ask Manny to be more vocal?
Mike Rizzo: “Manny and I have discussed the handling of the ballclub and the way we do business on a daily basis. We had a great line of communication. Manny is Manny. He has his personality and his way of doing things. It got him from The Dominican Republic to here and being a manager of a Major League Ballclub. He felt that that was him and that was his personality. And it’s very difficult to ask some to change their way of thinking and their personality.”
Question: Whether or not the announcers had anything to do with this decision, do you agree with their assessment as the acting GM that another player needs to take control of the clubhouse, get in players faces and confront them when that player feels not enough effort is being made?
Mike Rizzo: “On a veteran laden ballclub, that’s often the case. It was the case with me in 2001 when we won The World Series at Arizona. We had Matt Williams and Jay Bell and Mark Grace to do most of the disciplining of the younger players. With a younger ballclub, it’s much more difficult for a young player to get in the face of another young player. Although, I think it is needed at times, but it’s often a difficult dynamic in the clubhouse when you have a young core group of players.”
Question: Stan, in the past, Major League Baseball has frowned on major announcements occurring during the All-Star Break, did you have to get any special dispensation from MLB?
Stan Kasten: “I don’t know. I know I didn’t get one. So, I didn’t seek one. I didn’t ask anyone.”
Question: Stan, it’s been almost three years since you and The Lerner Family took over operation of the team. With an interim GM, now with an interim Manager, are you starting over again?
Stan Kasten: “I really don’t think that. I do think we are really close to realizing the fruits of three hard years of effort. When I see people write about our team recently, it’s well they have now amassed a core of young future starters, but then they have all these other problems. Well—Wow!! Wow!! Wow!!—Let’s slow down. Let’s not gloss over it. It’s HARD TO AMASS a core of young future starters—that took us time. I have always believed that was the most important thing that was job one. Once we have a consistent rotation, everything else gets easier. Once we have pitchers giving us seven innings every night, even the bullpen looks better. So, the last three years have not been a waste because it took us that time to assemble the pieces I think now are starting to materialize as big parts of our future. It’s why it has been for me the highlights of our first half of the season. It’s hasn’t been any particular wins or home runs, it has been the maturation of a young starting rotation in addition to the realization that there are more on the way and not yet here in Washington. That’s what will make us ultimately successful. As to that extent, it’s been a very fruitful and productive three years.”
Question: Mike, on the underachieving angle, given what this bullpen was at the start of the year; given the defensive liabilities that are obviously out there; given that you went for a long time with four rookies and a second year pitcher in your starting rotation; when you look at that objectively, there is only so much that a manager can achieve—right?
Mike Rizzo: “There is a certain level of achievement that we felt the roster could get to and we haven’t reached it in my opinion.”
Question: Are you satisfied with the effort given by all the players?
Mike Rizzo: “I am satisfied for the most part with the effort we have given. I am not satisfied with the way we play the game at times. We don’t execute nearly as often as I expect them too. But the effort in respects to the hustle and the preparation I think is there. The consistency of the effort and the hustle needs work. And certainly the way we play the game, the fundamental way we play the game, needs a lot of work.”
Question: Stan, looking at this note you have written to the fans, are you saying losing at this level will not be tolerated and you will be doing everything in your powers to change it?
Stan Kasten: “It should be obvious that is the case. But in case it isn’t, we want to put our beliefs in writing so that everyone knows that no matter how bad our most staunchest fan feels, we feel much worse about it. This is not at all acceptable to us. We are going to keep trying to make moves, both in the front office and on the field to get it right. Having said that, I meant as seriously as I possibly could a moment ago—the pieces are coming together. They are here and that is why I am so disappointed to have to be here today. We kept thinking it was about to turn with the young pitching starting to come. And it really has been great watching—particularly the last month. We thought we should start winning more. It is a very sad day for me personally.”
“And if I can go on a little bit about a question earlier about Manny. People didn’t see those times behind closed doors when he was a very different guy one-on-one or with the team privately, outside the media, when he could be very forceful and direct. I valued Manny’s essential qualities-as a veteran player said to me—the same guy every day. You always know where Manny is. He is the same guy every day. That is an important quality. I value that. I think that is a characteristic of managers that are successful on the long-term. It hasn’t been working here yet and I am very disappointed in that—because I do think—and history is replete with examples of guys who didn’t have success with their first manager job and went on to have great manager careers. I believe that Manny is going to be one of those type of managers.”
Question: When do figure that that you can say you have turned this thing around?
Stan Kasten: “The disappointment for me has been, and we have been criticized because these reports came out months ago—you should have made a change. The reason it took so long is because we didn’t want to do it. We thought it was going to turn. We felt that way every week since April, I guess. And I still believe it now. So I don’t know about leash or length or time. I want to see, as Mike has described, a better brand of play. And the pieces, from any media report I have seen, has said ‘gee, the talent here should have produced a better record here than 26-61.’ I think everyone, all of you here, believe that. So, I don’t know exactly how to answer your question you are asking with numbers, but I do think we should start producing wins very, very soon. Especially now that we seem to be getting consistent starting pitching; as I have said many times, it’s where everything begins.”
Question: Why do you think that the team didn’t respond to Manny’s direction? We know the work went in, so why didn’t they respond to him?
Mike Rizzo: “Each team responds to their manager in a different way. I think the response was from a slow start out of the gates during the regular season. And then getting into a hole that everyone felt they couldn’t get out of. I think that was a big part of it. Sometimes the evenkeelness of the manager plays into that by not being a little bit more vocal, a little bit more hard edged.”
Question: Why is Jim Riggleman not here with you today?
Stan Kasten: “We wanted today to be about change and talk about Manny, and talk about the feeling of the first half. Mike & Jim have meetings this afternoon and we are going to start The Riggleman Era Wednesday. We will provide him to all of you then. We have a lot of mechanics, a lot of things to accomplish overnight since midnight last night—when we had our meeting with Manny. We have been working on that this morning and we will work on it today and tomorrow. He (Riggleman) will be here on Wednesday.”
Question: Stan, I know you are the Team President and one of the owners. Why are not any of The Lerner Family Members here today?
Stan Kasten: “Because I am The Team President and this is my responsibility. And I am ultimately responsible for everything that goes on here. And I accept all the blame.”
Question: How willing and eager is Riggleman to take this position? And how long has he known the job is his?
Mike Rizzo: “Jim is very eager to become a Major League Manager again. That is something he aspires to do. The timing of this thing—we met with Manny after they returned from their road trip. I met with him up in my office late last night. Jim was apprised of Manny being replaced and I, at that time, late last night, asked him to be the interim manager of The Washington Nationals. He was saddened by Manny being let go. He is a very loyal and dedicated coach under Manny. But was excited in his own right, to be given another opportunity to become a Major League Manager once again.”
Question: Mike, you just said you met with Manny, you made the announcement. Was this your call in consultation with Stan?
Stan Kasten: “I was at that meeting. This was an organizational decision. The organization made the decision in just the past few days. And Mike and I both met with Manny last night as soon as he got back.”
With those final words, the official portion of today's press conference ended. Mr. Kasten & Mr. Rizzo were then made available for one-on-one interviews. Transcripts from those two separate five minute chats--to follow soon.
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