CLEVELAND — For the past two months, the Indians have been headed in the wrong direction. They’re hoping a different approach changes that course going forward.
With six games remaining in the regular season and the team tied for last place in the Central Division, Cleveland fired manager Manny Acta and replaced him with bench coach Sandy Alomar on an interim basis.
The club, which was idle Thursday, held a news conference at Progressive Field to announce the decision.
“It’s a very difficult day for the organization and for me personally,” general manager Chris Antonetti said. “Manny is a tremendous person with an unparalleled work ethic. Unfortunately, our results on the field fell short of our expectations. We’re disappointed that we were not able to win more consistently under Manny’s leadership, but we believe a new approach at this point, will give us the best chance to have success moving forward.”
Antonetti said the decision to dismiss Acta was made during a meeting with team president Mark Shapiro and CEO Paul Dolan on Wednesday night. He said the club fired Acta before the season was complete out of respect for the former manager since organizational meetings concerning a future Acta wouldn’t be a part of were scheduled over the final week of the season.
The 43-year-old Acta, who went 214-266 and finished as high as second place (2011) during his three years as manager, had kind words for the Indians.
“It’s an unbelievable organization from top to bottom,” he said via conference call with beat writers. “I have no regrets or bitterness. It’s part of the business. I understand. I was hired to win as many games as possible. I gave it my best.
“I knew what the package was when I bought it in 2010. My job was to get better, and we didn’t get better.”
Still, it’s tough to put it all on Acta. Asked to compete with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, his tenure as manager was earmarked by injuries to key players (Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner), unsuccessful trades (Ubaldo Jimenez) and unforeseen misfortunes (Roberto Hernandez).
“Manny’s not the only one to blame,” Antonetti said. “I think we all share in the responsibility of how things have turned out this year, myself, the players, the coaches and Manny.
“Certainly, many of the decisions we’ve made haven’t worked out as well as we hoped. At the same time, I continue to believe in the talent that we have on this roster and I’m hopeful moving forward that the group of guys that we have here will perform better. Unfortunately, that did not happen this year.”
The 2012 season began with division title aspirations for the Indians, who were in contention, just 3 1/2 games out of first place, after beating the Tigers and Justin Verlander on July 26 at Progressive Field. But the bottom dropped out from there, with Cleveland losing 11 straight en route to posting one of the worst records in the majors (21-50) since the All-Star break.
“(August) just crushed our hopes,” Acta said. “I felt like (the last two months) was six months of bad baseball. It was only two months. It was a little draining.”
It was the past two months of bad baseball that ultimately cost Acta his job.
“We all had higher expectations for this team coming into the season,” said Antonetti, who offered Acta what wound up being a meaningless vote of confidence when the club returned from a road trip in August in the midst of the lengthy losing streak. “We were contending with this roster for four months. Unfortunately, the last two months went far worse than any of us could have expected.
“Unfortunately with the way things unfolded in the second half and how we played, we felt we needed to make a change.”
There have been rumors that Acta fell out of favor with his players and that the team quit on him in the second half. Both Antonetti, who said he spoke with players that offered support of their former manager, and Acta, disputed the notion.
“Effort doesn’t always translate into winning,” Acta said. “At the end of the day, people are going to have their opinions, but I didn’t have any issues with my kids getting out there and playing for me.”
The 46-year-old Alomar, a popular player in Cleveland from (1990-2000) and an assistant to Acta the past three years, would appear to be the frontrunner to replace the man that hired him. Former Cleveland front office member and Red Sox manager Terry Francona has also been mentioned.
“Sandy brings a lot to the table,” Antonetti said. “I’m confident that he will be a primary candidate.”
Antonetti said the search would begin today, with his preference to name Acta’s successor as quickly as possible.
Cleveland’s coaching staff will remain intact for the remainder of the season, with Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Saurbaugh replacing Alomar as the bench coach.