America’s Hometown Team, the Washington Nationals, today fired their manager.
It’s funny to watch sports teams which adopt the culture of the city in which they play. The New York Yankees demand championship-level success each year the same ways the leaders of the business community would push for market share (or at least the way they used to). The Pittsburgh Steelers play physical, hard-nosed football much the blue-collar work of their namesakes, the steelworkers who literally built that city. Detroit Pistons games sometimes end up in violence and the Detroit Lions are the Edsel of professional sports. The 2007 New England Patriots were cocky and overconfident in their quest for a 19-win season like some dude named Sully from Southie who thinks Smithwick is to him what spinach is to Popeye.
(Before anyone complains, spend a couple years in the dorms at UMass, then let’s talk.)
Similarly, the Nationals resemble the inside-the-beltway mentality. After drifting along without a discernible plan for five years, the team found a scapegoat and fired the man in charge. (That’s nothing special – baseball managers get axed all the time, even during the season, and going 26-61 is no way to keep a job.) But Acta’s firing comes after years of personnel decisions coming from a front office which mirrored the bureaucracy in the buildings surrounding it. At its best, Nationals leaders have been incompetent; at their worst, they have been crooked and corrupt. Not only were the players on the field bad, but there was never a clear plan for developing a winning team.
Washington DC is not a sports town, but it is a frontrunning town, so a winning Nats team here and there would cause some local buzz – and fill some of those empty seats I keep seeing when I make it out to what is a nice and conveniently located ballpark. But like their bureacratic neighbors, the Nats are content with showing up for 81 home games with a roster of warm bodies – in other words, doing the absolute minimum. And except for a handful of scapegoats who had to pay the piper after four years, there has been little chance of getting fired. If only we all had such job security.
I’m not saying Acta is a genius, but he is certainly deserving of another chance – hopefully for him, with a team which is serious about winning.