Robin Ventura is entering his second year as White Sox manager, and if the past 20 years are any indication, a better season is in store for him. Let's take a look at the last five White Sox managers, and see how they did their second time around.
The Sox won 69 games in 1989. It was the worst White Sox record since 1976, and the second-worst in the past 40 years. A sophomore slump would have been one hell of an accomplishment. Torborg was in the dugout when the bill came for all of the bad decisions made by the White Sox in the late 1980s.
1989 was a tale of two seasons. The first half was downright putrid, with a .364 winning percentage. The team showed signs of life in the second half, going 37-36 the rest of the way.
The Sox improved in a big way in 1990, thanks to a much-improved pitching staff. Even though the Sox were terrible in the late '80s, the bad baseball resulted in high draft picks that made an immediate impact in 1990. The Sox won 94 games in Torborg's second year as manager thanks to the young arms of Greg Hibbard, Jack McDowell, and Alex Fernandez.
Gene Lamont was part of Jim Leyland's Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff when he was tapped to replace Jeff Torborg. His rookie year gave him something to build on, as the Sox finished in third place in the AL West with an 86-76 record.
The next year, he went to the playoffs. If your team has the AL MVP (Frank Thomas) and the AL Cy Young winner (Jack McDowell) ... you better go to the playoffs.
The Sox were in first place when the players went on strike in August 1994. The season was canceled, and fans are still wondering what might have happened if the season continued. There were high hopes for the Sox entering 1995, but an 11-20 start put an end to playoff dreams and Gene Lamont's career in Chicago. He was fired in June, which brings us to ...
The Sox third base coach replaced Lamont. At the time, the move made sense. Bevington had been under consideration for managing jobs in Baltimore and Boston. He posted a .500 record after he took over the ballclub.
The Sox went 85-77 in '96, finishing in second place behind the Cleveland Indians (it was a distant second place; the Sox were 14 games out). But the real story that year was the chase for the wild card. The Sox were in the lead until late August, but a lackluster September knocked ‘em out of postseason contention for good.
"The Kids Could Play," read the marketing campaign for 1999. It turns out they could!
Most of ‘em, anyway.
Jerry Manuel is the only manager on my list whose record took a hit from the first year to the second. The Sox went 80-82 his first year. The following year he won 75 games. There's a good reason for that.
1999 was a year of transition. Ozzie Guillen left in 1997. Robin Ventura left in 1998. Frank Thomas was still there, of course, but he was coming off of his worst season ever. After hitting 49 home runs in '98, Albert Belle exercised an out clause in his contract and signed a big-money deal with the Baltimore Orioles. It was up to young players like Mike Caruso, Brook Fordyce, Greg Norton, Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Lee to replace fan favorites.
The talent was there, but it was raw. The Sox had the youngest lineup in the majors. They were below-average in hitting, pitching, and defensive efficiency. To top things off, 1999 was another down year for Thomas. His season ended right after Labor Day, after an MRI revealed that a massive bone spur was the reason for the ankle pain that had been dogging him most of the year.
All would be forgiven in 2000, when the Sox won the AL Central title.
I think you know what happened that year.
The Tigers are still the class of the AL Central. But if past is prologue, Robin Ventura should be feeling pretty good about his chances in 2013.