All it takes is one popular former player going from couch to part-time special assistant/advisor to manager over four months for all future celebrity front office additions to be eyed with suspicion.
Before Robin Ventura completed an ascendency that was as unlikely as it was rapid, there would be nothing to Tuesday afternoon's news. It'd be safe to assume that Jim Thome was named special assistant to Rick Hahn for the usual reasons -- he's a jolly good fellow, he's in the area, and as a member of four organizations over his last two seasons, he probably knows the league pretty well. It's similar to the way broadcast networks hire charismatic ex-players as analysts, even if they already have a full roster -- they might not know how they're going to use them, but they have potential, and the other networks won't be able to get them.
But because there's a precedent -- and more importantly, because there could be relevant job openings -- the addition of Thome inspires a certain level of palace intrigue.
"The No. 1 thing in this whole thing is I get to kind of be at home," Thome said. "Being at home, and getting that opportunity to be around my kid, I coach my son in T-ball, and my daughter, she's 10 years old, going to be 11, it's going very quick. So getting this opportunity to stay at home was really, really good, no doubt."
... which is kinda familiar to what Robin Ventura said when he rejoined the Sox in June of 2011 ...
There is a need to have the flexibility to still spend time at home with my family and still be able to coach and do different things with the White Sox. I'm not committed yet to a full-time position.
... and then you combine it with Jerry Reinsdorf's praise ...
"I think Jim Thome someday will manage a Major League team," Reinsdorf said. "I think he has that ability. He can be a batting coach, he'd be a great batting coach, but someday he'll be a manager. That's what he'll be. Right now, he's going to be helping us out, evaluating the farm system, evaluating the younger players, he'll be here and be a presence in our clubhouse, come to Spring Training and be a presence. I think it'll be a real plus. And someday he'll manage a Major League team."
... amid ominous vibes regarding the on-field product, like ...
- The media's lingering doubts about Ventura's willingness to manage this kind of team when he refused a one-year extension during the offseason
- Frank Thomas saying that firings happen when an offense is this bad for this long
- Previous suggestions that Thome was a potential hitting coach candidate way back after the 2011 season
- The Royals going from 8-20 in May to 16-11 in June after pulling George Brett out of the front office and putting him into a uniform
... and it's not exactly nuts to think there's more than meets the eye when it comes to this move. It's likely that any ramifications are years down the line if they exist at all, but when an overhaul is in the air, you can't count anything out.
If the Sox had designs on making a Valerian out of Thome, it's hard to imagine him as a willing participant, since he's the closest thing we have to The Honest Man. But if I'm Jeff Manto, I'm probably a little less comfortable on Wednesday than I was Tuesday.
Or you could say the same thing about Harold Baines, but if he were fired Thursday, he'd probably be hired as a special assistant on Friday.