Manny Being Manny

It’s the middle of May and the Cleveland Indians are the best team in the American League.

That’s not a typo. While many pundits and fans may be surprised to find the Indians not battling the Royals to stay out of the cellar in the AL Central, I had the opportunity to gain a little clairvoyance from the man pulling the strings in Cleveland. One of my old Expos season ticket buddies, Max Harris, has stayed friendly through the years with Manny Acta, the former 3rd base coach for Nos Amours (2002-04) and current manager of the Tribe.

Max and I drove down to Toronto to see the Indians play the Jays last summer, and prior to the Sunday game, Acta spent some time with us talking about how happy he was to be a part of the Indians family and how excited he was about the future of the ballclub.

I was immediately impressed by his positivity. After all, the team was struggling, many of their vets were on the verge of being dealt at the deadline, and from an outsider’s perspective, it seemed like he was being put in yet another difficult situation. In retrospect, it was almost as though he already knew that this team was good. It was simply a matter of when it would all come together.

I caught up with Acta via email this past weekend to give the “Getting Blanked” readers a little insight into the early frontrunner for Manager of the Year.

Dave Kaufman: When we talked last summer in Toronto just before the trade deadline, you expressed a lot of optimism for the future of the Indians. Has the team grown together even faster than you anticipated? Why?

Manny Acta: The team has grown as expected. We felt that the addition of [Grady] Sizemore and [Carlos] Santana, plus having A-Cab [Asdrubal Cabrera] and [Travis] Hafner healthier were going to make us a better team. Our young pitching continues to step up and that coupled with the revamped defense has been the key.

Kaufman: Can the team sustain this level of success? As the manager, how do you keep such a young core grounded and focused on the next game during such a great run?

Acta: In order to continue to play this way, we need to stay healthy and have everyone contribute. Not yet at the level to survive long- term injuries to any of our key guys. We have a good group of guys, mixed very well (veterans and young players). We keep it simple and don’t lose perspective of what we need to do to keep them on their toes and motivated.

Kaufman: What has the addition of Orlando Cabrera brought to the team and the clubhouse? He’s made the playoffs four years in a row with four different teams. Did you promise him a fifth playoff appearance before he signed?

Acta: Orlando has meant a lot to this club. He is a solid all around smart player, who has been there and done that. He commands respect while helping our younger guys on how to win and never expect anything less than winning. He was attracted to us because we told him that we thought we could win.

Kaufman: I’ve heard you mention that one of your role models is John Wooden. He experienced several losing seasons as a coach before becoming the most successful and celebrated coach in NCAA basketball history. What has looking up to him taught you about yourself as a person and as a manager?

Acta: Following Wooden has shown me that Patience + Self-Control + Faith = Success. That even the great coaches like himself started with struggles and overcame them. I also learned to stay true to myself and treat my players the way that I wanted to be treated. Not yelling and screaming but motivating and communicating the best way possible.

Dave Kaufman is the host of the summertime radio show “BALLS! The Baseball Show With Dave Kaufman and Max Harris” on The Team 990 in Montreal. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter.