Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura (23) watches from the bench during the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
While he's not the media magnet that Ozzie Guillen was during his eight years managing the White Sox, Robin Ventura has lived under the microscope of a few national outlets over the last week. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, and Tyler Kepner of the New York Times all spent some time around the White Sox to get some insight on the transition, and the saturation coverage helps us to get a better sense of the big picture, which has been lacking so far.
It's especially helpful that the three accounts approach the story from different angles. As a result, we can piece them together and solidify the circumstances that ended up with Ventura becoming the 39th manager in franchise history.
The "search" for a new manager
There wasn't one. From Kepner:
Late last season, when it was clear Guillen would leave, Reinsdorf said he gave Williams two suggestions for the new manager: he did not want a retread, and he wanted a manager with strong ties to the White Sox.
Eight years earlier, those same specifications led the White Sox to Guillen. This time, they prompted Williams to give Reinsdorf only two names: Paul Konerko and Ventura.
The Konerko idea was never taken seriously (although I want to know how that would have worked), so that means their list was one guy. No Davey Martinez. No Sandy Alomar Jr. No nuffin'. Instead, Williams took Reinsdorf's "no retreads" cue to shoot for a high-risk, high-upside pick:
"I wanted to have a guy — similar to a player, for instance, where the ceiling was high, and where, by the time you have a finished product, you have what could be one of the best in the game," Williams said. "That’s where my sights were. So with all due respect to the candidates out there, I didn’t know them as well. I know this man."
And everybody was fine with that, says Knobler:
Williams was determined to make sure Ventura said yes. So was Bell. Jerry Reinsdorf, probably the most loyal owner in sports, was fully on board with the plan to have one beloved ex-White Sox player (Ventura) take over for another (Ozzie Guillen).
Ventura was the one guy who wasn't sure.
Knobler spent a lot of time with Bell, and so he ends up with some gold on how the Sox "ambushed" Ventura with the idea.
Bell lured Ventura to Arizona without ever mentioning the real reason they were there. Bell, a three-time major-league manager who is now a White Sox vice president, avoided the subject even when he picked Ventura up at his hotel to drive him to the White Sox spring complex.
Williams had planned everything, to the point of including Bell in the meeting.
"[Ventura] needed to know we were serious," Williams said. "That's why I had Buddy there. I don't think he'd have believed me if it was just me."
Bell said Ventura's initial response was, "You guys are [bleeping] nuts." So he took some time to think it over with his family back in California, and Williams and Reinsdorf followed up. From Kepner:
"I wanted to be sure that we weren’t talking him into this," Reinsdorf said. "It had to be something he wanted to do." [...]
"Not that you feel you can’t turn him down or you’re obligated to do it, but I was honored that he would ask me," Ventura said. "That was part of the motivation to do it, and to do it here was special to me. The fun part of it’s there, too. But the responsibility I feel is enormous, so that’s a lot of what I have — more about that than the nerves of doing baseball stuff. That’s the weight I feel I’ve got to carry."
The rest of the staff
Crasnick's piece focuses on the slightly unorthodox construction of the Ventura cabinet:
Ventura has already shown he has the conviction to follow his instincts rather than the tried-and-true path. Some first-time managers might bring in a veteran dugout sage to help babysit them during the learning curve, but Ventura surrounded himself with peers rather than grizzled, bifocal-wearing relics. Parent, hitting coach Jeff Manto and third-base coach Joe McEwing, the newest members of the Chicago coaching staff, were playing contemporaries of Ventura. They've already jelled nicely with Cooper, Harold Baines, bullpen coach Juan Nieves and bullpen catcher Mark Salas, the four holdovers from Guillen's regime.
At the same time, Ventura has reached out to the organization's past. He has invited back franchise favorites such as Kusnyer, Joe Nossek and Jeff Torborg to share stories, lighten the mood and help rekindle the White Sox tradition.
Crasnick also tries to glean current examples of his leadership abilities being put to use, rather than applying his playing-days cred to the new environment (although Kepner shares some highlights of Ventura's "impish side" from his days in New York).
The players have already noticed a bigger emphasis on details and fundamentals than they saw when Guillen was manager.
"It's a little more intense now," first baseman Paul Konerko says. "If guys mess up, we'll stop and keep doing it until we get it right. There's a little more heat in the drills."
[...] Holding runners has been a major point of emphasis in camp.
"We have pickoff plays now and we never had them in the past," Cooper says. "I'm talking about a backdoor pickoff at first, or pickoffs with the infielders. There's a lot more encouragement, and in some cases a little more pushing to put them on. If it's not important to the staff, it's not going to be important to the players."
That's about the most we know about his game philosophy. The other implications are too vague to project forward. Knobler says Ventura's baseball philosophy is similar to Guillen, and Crasnick relays Paul Konerko saying that his past and present manager share the same values. Then again, as I've written before, Guillen's baseball values were bastardized in his autopilot years. As a result, Ventura could be the same manager as Guillen, but the on-field product might look nothing alike.
For now, there's only one aspect of Ventura's managing that we can count on heading into the new season, as two stories reached the same conclusion through different means.
[Ventura] subscribes to the Bobby Cox theory of media relations: Workplace squabbles should be kept in-house, and any disagreements should be addressed in a publicity vacuum. Even players who jog out ground balls or put their own interests above the good of the team will receive their verbal spankings in the solitude of his office. If they want to go out and vent to the cameras afterward, that's their business.
And Kepner, quoting Reinsdorf:
"I definitely remember the good times more than the stuff that went on the last year or so. But I think Robin can last a really long time because he’s even keel. He doesn’t have the ups and downs, and he knows how to treat people with respect. With Ozzie, it got to the point where he liked to throw people under the bus. Robin will never be like that."