By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Who will be the next manager to run the Indians’ gauntlet of flawed decisions? Who will be the next dreamer to have the fortitude to leap into the snake pit of underfunded budgets?
In the wake of manager Manny Acta’s dismissal Thursday, General Manager Chris Antonetti announced that not only will bench coach Sandy Alomar manage the final six games of the season, but that Alomar also has emerged as a “legitimate” candidate for the permanent position.
“We expect him to be the primary candidate,” Antonetti said. “And we will start our search tomorrow.”
Alomar, 46, was the Tribe’s No. 1 catcher for 11 years, appeared in six All-Star Games, 49 postseason games and prepped to be a future manager as the New York Mets’ bullpen coach for two years before coming back to Cleveland, initially as Acta’s first-base coach and this year as bench coach.
How badly does Antonetti (plus club president Mark Shapiro and owner Paul Dolan) want Alomar? Hard to tell. As enthusiastic as Antonetti was about him Thursday, the Indians could have hired Alomar instead of Acta, though he had limited coaching experience and none as a minor-league skipper.
But it is interesting to note that it was Acta, and not the Tribe, who insisted on bringing in Alomar as part of his coaching staff.
Speculation also has centered on former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona as Acta’s replacement. In addition to winning two World Series for the Red Sox, who went almost 100 years without one, Francona has ties to the Tribe.
His father Tito was a popular player in Northeast Ohio in his brief stint with the Indians in the 1960s. Terry also played for the Tribe for a season and worked in the front office after getting fired as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000.
“We have not gotten that far into the process,” Antonetti said about gauging the interest of Francona, who works for ESPN. But he said that he has casual conversations with Francona periodically as a friend, so he has spoken to him recently.
Antonetti explained the timing of Acta’s firing as being a consequence of upcoming meetings with the staff about the club’s future, meetings that would have been awkward had Acta been forced to be a part of them.
“We wanted to be respectful of Manny,” Antonetti said.
Antonetti gave the usual reasons why a manager is let go without getting specific.
“We felt that a new approach at this time will help us move forward,” he said, adding that everyone carries accountability, including the players, coaches, Acta and himself.
“Manny is a tremendous person with great baseball experience and an unparalleled work ethic,” Antonetti said. “Every day he was here, he worked tirelessly to make the organization better. Unfortunately, our results on the field fell short of expectations.”
The Indians were marginally in contention for the Central Division title until July 27, when they went into a 5-28 tailspin, including losing streaks of 11 and nine games.
“Many decisions have not worked out the way we wanted,” Antonetti said, speaking of his role.
Acta leaves with a 214-266 record and will be paid about $1 million as compensation for next year. During a conference call with the media, Acta expressed his appreciation for having the job for nearly three years and praised the organization.
“I have no regrets and no bitterness,” he said. “This is part of the business. You have to win as many games as you can. Unfortunately, we didn’t win enough in the second half. I gave it all I could. I can sleep at night and go home and play with my kids.”
Acta was asked if he was given sufficient talent to compete with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.
“You’re always supposed to take your team and make it better,” he said. “I knew the package [we had]. My job was to make it better, and we didn’t get better.”
Both Antonetti and Acta denied that the team quit at any point during the collapse or since.
“I thought we played hard,” Antonetti said. “I’ve never seen a lack of effort.”
Added Acta: “Was there effort? Absolutely. But effort doesn’t always translate into results.”
At some point, Acta wants to manage again, but he’s in no hurry.
“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. I had a great three years of relationships here.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.