Since the MLB Entry Draft, there hasn’t really been all that much to talk about with the Nationals. While it was notable that Manny Acta was dismissed on Sunday night, it wasn’t really a surprise. I had wondered aloud back in April whether Manny was the right person for the job – not because I thought he wasn’t a good manager, but more because I thought that he wasn’t the right man for the job at the time. I am not sure I was entirely correct in my assessment, but a number of people, including Tom Boswell have pointed out that Manny’s strengths as a person and as a manager became liabilities as the team spun its wheels in the mud.
So since not much has happened, I hadn’t been compelled to write. Until I got The Letter.
The Letter was published as an open letter to all Nationals fans.Â I received it in my email, and it has been widely cited and re-posted in a number of places. When I read it, my heart sunk.
Organizational consultants are rarely concerned about the superficial meaning of such things. What organizations do is much more important and meaningful. And when it comes to the organizational language of a Major League Baseball team, firing the manager is a rather unambiguous statement of intent: things ain’t right, and this is how we plan to fix them. Boswell points out in the article linked above that the Nationals, for once, acted like a baseball team.
Until they sent The Letter.
At least, that’s what I think.
Firing a manager is usually an unambiguous statement. Sending the letter added a lot of ambiguity.
The letter talks about how the ownership is even more distraught about the season as the fans are. It talks about Nationals have developed and/or acquired all this talent – young starting pitchers, a new center fielder, a homer-swatting cleanup hitter. It talks about how the future is bright for the Nationals…
The Nationals make a clear, unequivocal statement about the on-the-field operation of the team by firing the manager. But they feel compelled to clarify the move with a statement. Perhaps they thought that the move might be misunderstood. But I am left suspicious. To paraphrase Queen Gertrude, in Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much – methinks.”
The fans have cut the Nationals a lot of slack since they arrived in Washington in 2005. While the team was owned by MLB, the farm system was pillaged, with no regard to the future of the franchise. But this is hardly surprising, since a successful Expos/Nationals would be contrary to the interests of the other 29 owners. But the Lerners will have owned the team for three years on July 25th. While three years doesn’t right all the wrongs, we should see at least some impact of the new organization.
And we do. The Nationals in Washington, under MLB ownership, were 125-137 (.477). Since then, the Nationals are 185-287 (.391), and this season, they’re 26-61 (.299). The Nationals are getting worse under the stewardship of the Lerners.
If the Nationals problems were just on the field, we could look to the future and have a reasonable expectation that things are going to change. But the problems are in all aspects of the operation. The organization is sloppy and careless. Regardless of who is to blame for SmileyGate, the situation was allowed to exist within the organization. The related scandal regarding bonus skimming also happened under the Lerner’s watch.
I think the organization either doesn’t know how to win, or more likely, is focused on other things. The Nationals long and notorious string of bad luck – on the field and off – is no coincidence. The organization fosters failure and ineptitude. Organizations are a reflection of their leaders, and they do well what their leaders demand that they do. For some, that is to win the World Series. For others, it is to stumble over your own shoelaces.
When I read the letter, all I could think of was, “excuses.” It was an attempt to place blame elsewhere.
To be clear, I don’t blame Stan Kasten – the problem is above him. Stan has a proven track record in professional sports – not just in baseball. But he answers to the Lerner family, and executes the operation of the organization as he is charged to do. My question is, why would the Lerners want the product they’re giving us?
I don’t think that Manny Acta was the right manager for the Nationals. But I also don’t think that there’s anyone that really could be successful in this organization. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Manny is thanking his lucky stars that the Nats fired him.
As for The Letter, if the Nationals had to send one, I think the one they sent was the wrong one. Here’s the one they should have sent:
Dear Nationals Fans:
As the owners of the Washington Nationals, we want you to know that we are sorry and embarrassed about the play of our team. Our family has been in Washington for generations, and we are committed to excellence on the field, responsible and giving partners in the community, and stewards of what we hope will become an enduring institution in Washington, our Washington Nationals.
We believe that we have addressed the major organizational issues, and expect that our operations, led by Stan Kasten, will soon be transformed into the envy of every city in America.
We realize that when you come to the game, you hope and expect the Nationals to win. So do we. So while we struggle to find our rhythm, to reward the loyalty and patience of our fans, we have decided that whenever the Nationals lose a game at home in 2009, your ticket for that game will be honored for a $3 discount for a future 2009 home game.
Even if the motivation isn’t quite right, the Nationals would then have a stake in winning… instead of whatever it is they’re invested in now.
I don’t want to hear excuses. I want to hear accountability. It starts with Ted, with his thumb to his chest.