In the comments of the "Converting to Konerkoism" post on Tuesday, there was a sidebar led by TasteeFreeze regarding the odd and unintentionally antagonistic decisions made by the White Sox front office as the 1990s went on.
The rough handling of the fan favorites stood out. Carlton Fisk was given a motorcycle, not knowing he was supposed to ride off into the sunset with it the next day. Ozzie Guillen had harsh words for the White Sox when they let him go. Robin Ventura was only given a token offer when he left, and the guy who stayed, Frank Thomas, somehow allowed the Sox to give him the infamous diminishing skills clause.
Making matters more confusing, it was hard to pin down the motives behind the moves. It's one thing to make unpopular decisions when money is tight, but when Jerry Reinsdorf OK'd the Albert Belle signing and the White Flag Trade within a year of each other, it left everybody baffled at best, and angry at worst.
This was on my mind when I got the opportunity to talk to Ventura on Thursday morning, as he was making the media rounds as a member of the board of the Capital One Cup, the award for the top collegiate athletic program. The College World Series is the last championship that factors into it, and Ventura is in Omaha for the proceedings.
He was one of the players caught completely off-guard by the White Flag Trade, since he had just returned to the lineup from his horrific ankle injury a week before Reinsdorf pulled the plug. But here he is, back with the White Sox, and he'll serve as a special adviser to Buddy Bell after he fulfills his obligations with the College World Series, among other things. Ventura's return means that the four biggest figures from the 1990 White Sox are back in the fold.
I try to use these opportunities to talk to these guys about what we're talking about (see my conversation with Carlton Fisk about hitting coaches). In this case, I asked Ventura (in a few different ways) about if and how the White Sox have changed the way they do business. Each time, he came to the same conclusion - no hard feelings, and it's a business.
On his return
"It was a few months ago, Buddy Bell called me into his office to just talk things over. In the past, we talked about different things, getting me to coach -- and it's kinda like I always wanted to coach, but never could find that time to commit six months to it. ... We came up with something that they'd allow me to do, and it's fun to be able to have the opportunity to be in the organization, pop in and see those minor-league affiliates. I'm excited about it."
"Everybody within that organization I've been around and comfortable with, and that definitely played a big part of it."
On the White Sox front office, then and now
"I don't know if it was turbulent (note: the word I used) as a player. I always look at it like they were trying to do what they thought was best. I just know that for me personally, I was treated great, and that's one of the things that leads to coming back within the organization is that Jerry and everybody in the front office treated me great."
"I never had [hard feelings]. It was just that time that they had guys in the minor leagues that they felt could play, and that's part of the baseball business. I totally respected those guys, and what they were trying to do and what I wanted to do were two different things."
"For Kenny and Jerry, I don't think they're going to sign guys that they don't think can play. I think they have a lot of respect for Paul [Konerko] and Mark [Buehrle], as people but also their playing abilities, because first and foremost, they want guys who can play."
On Buddy Bell
"I've known Buddy for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for Buddy."
"He's just a comforting figure. He's done a lot of different things in baseball -- he's been player development, he's been a manager in the major leagues -- he's just somebody that I think has seen all sides of it. To me, that's a comfort to be around somebody with that much knowledge, and as well-respected as he is. We're lucky to have him in the organization."
On making the leap defensively
Ventura committed 25 errors in his rookie season, which would stand as a career high. He won the Gold Glove the next year.
"Players are faster, stronger ... there are a lot of things that go into it. But in the minor leagues, [errors] are not as noticeable. At the major-league level, that's what everybody looks at, and that's the team they want to do well, and when it doesn't go well, people notice. That's part of the deal. And sometimes it takes a little longer to get better at it, to get comfortable."
In his final year with the Sox, Ventura was the veteran playing alongside a rookie, shortstop Mike Caruso.
"When you have younger players, that's part of the deal. At different points, we had younger guys come in - Mike was one of those guys. We'd just lost Ozzie, and for me, it was a different year. I never had to [position players] with Ozzie - he was kinda doing that to me. It's an adjustment for a guy to be able to learn hitters, and it took a while for him to get that."
On rookie year struggles
During his first full season with the White Sox, Ventura went hitless in 49 consecutive plate appearances across April and May.
"It's not easy. I think you go through a lot of things. There's a lot of soul-searching for guys that slump. It taught me that you can battle back from any situation, and even though you go through a little slump here and there, I always knew I had the ability to get out of it because of that."
"There was a little bit of everything [bad luck, mechanics, hole in approach]. You lose your confidence and things like that, and that has a lot more to do with it than anything else. Having the ability to bounce back and have the confidence to go to the plate, that you belong and you're going to be able to hit."
Note: If you're looking for more from Ventura, James from White Sox Observer also chatted with him.