Manto in the middle

Jeff Manto isn't even out of the packaging yet.

Jeff Manto was named the White Sox hitting coach five days ago. He hasn't done anything for the team yet. He can't do anything for the team yet. After all, spring training is more than three months away.

Still, he's feeling the heat -- at least on 670 The Score, anyway.

It stemmed from the quotes about Manto from his Pittsburgh days that I dropped in a post on Nov. 1, because later in the day, Dan Bernstein read a portion of the post on Boers and Bernstein, with some derisive commentary to follow.

Early on Friday, The Mully and Hanley Show followed up with an interview of Manto, specifically referencing the quote about Jason Bay. Manto did not back down from his assertion:

"Do we want Adam Dunn taking a ball (when it is) off the plate with a man on third and the infield back and you got (Justin) Verlander throwing and he walks him? I don’t know," Manto said.

"What happens is that you set up the double play. If you (hit) into a double play, you get out of the inning. We give high five for taking the walk, but we have arguably the most prolific left-handed hitter in the game at the plate. He can drive that run in."

The McNeil and Spiegel Show followed Mully and Hanley by replaying parts of the interview, and wondering if this was Dusty Baker and "walks clog the bases" all over again.

And somewhere over this cumulative hour of Manto-related broadcasting, I started to feel bad for Manto. He didn't help himself by dismissing the value of the walk, but I don't think he's terribly different from a majority of hitting coaches. The environment just isn't doing him any favors.

 

Manto can't talk the White Sox into walking more. He might be able to get through to one player if he's lucky, and made a credible impact on their lives. But a hitting coach isn't going to make a team draw 200 more walks because he said, "Hey, maybe don't swing so much."

When impatient hitters take pitches, it's for the sake of taking pitches. It brings to mind 2008 Brian Anderson, who wanted to be patient, but didn't quite understand the process behind it. When he lucked into fastball counts, he was fine, but if he took his way into an unfavorable count, he was doomed, because he just couldn't read the slider regardless of the situation.

Preaching patience to this group of hitters might just mean an automatic surrender of the 2-0 catbird seat. We know they don't even think about swinging on 3-0. One guy isn't going to change a group of mostly established hitters.

So really, there's no problem with Manto wanting his team to take control at the plate, and looking to force the action.

But I groaned specifically at this part...

"What happens is that you set up the double play."

...because it expresses zero confidence, and zero confidence has been a major problem with the White Sox's ultra-timid decision-making of late. This is playing for one run without the bunting.

There are a lot of other ways to say what Manto ultimately means. He could have just as easily said, "There's nothing wrong with a walk in that situation, but at some point, somebody is going to have to put the bat on the ball. I don't want my hitters up there looking to pass the buck." It's the same principle, but it sounds assertive, confident.

Worrying about double plays smacks of the same defeatist attitude that has clouded thinking on the South Side. Walks might lead to double plays. Benching veterans might lead to significant discontent. Promoting prospects might not solve problems. Investing in the draft might lead to attendance shortfalls. The Sox really haven't tested any of these hypotheses, but they don't seem too flustered by the team's worsening outlook. Rather, they keep reaching more and more inside themselves for solutions, which leads to Manto as a hitting coach and Robin Ventura as your random-assed manager.

And while Kenny Williams will flash that bemused smile when somebody questions his authority, his track record since 2008 says he's flailing, and Jim Hendry isn't around to make him look better. The Chicago media has already given the "Smartest GM in Town" belt to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, so much so that Dave van Dyck is teaching people about WAR. Objective measuring devices are in, "Chicago tough" is out, and when Williams projects that he's smarter than everybody, it's suddenly a lot harder to find anybody buying it.

This could be a good thing for us, because if this response to Manto is any indication, Williams and his crew might be expected to start showing their work. At the very least, it seems it will be more difficult for the White Sox to challenge conventional wisdom. Poor Manto wandered into the crosshairs unwittingly with his odd defense. Now the "toughest job in sports" just got a little tougher, and it hasn't even started yet.

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