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Underneath the hood of the White Sox manager search

The Chicago White Sox's search for a new manager won't really take off until certain teams have been eliminated from the postseason, but a couple candidates have been defined for us, for better or for worse.

Dave Martinez's candidacy appears to be quite legitimate, as Dave Van Dyck made the trip to the Florida to ask Joe Maddon about Martinez's potential, and even asked some questions to Martinez himself. It's actual reporting based off non-anonymous sources during rumor season! Celebrate!

Going in the other direction is Terry Francona, whose dismissal from the Boston Red Sox triggered the notion that the White Sox might and/or should snap him up. While it makes some sense, Ken Rosenthal said Francona wasn't on the list, and it makes sense when considering past managerial searches.

In fact, Martinez and Francona are archetypes for the winners and their runner up during the last two White Sox skipper searches. Ozzie Guillen (third-base coach) and Jerry Manuel (bench coach) both served on a Florida Marlins championship team, and they both beat out a quiet, title-tested manager with two rings to his name -- not Francona, but Cito Gaston.

A lot of us aren't used to the White Sox searching for a manager. The Sox have employed just two of them over the last 14 years, and you'd have to look before World War II to find the only other time the Sox had such stability at the helm. Jimmy Dykes managed 11 1/2 seasons, and you can combine him with one of two 2 1/2-year managers -- Lew Fonseca before him, or Ted Lyons afterward.


When looking back at the last two searches, one thing becomes clear -- there aren't many standout managers. I went through newspaper archives to see the candidates that Guillen and Manuel beat out, and it's a pretty uninspiring bunch.

There are some obvious disclaimers -- manager searches aren't nearly as transparent and widely reported as free agency, and Manuel's took place before the Internet was the first place to look. Ron Schueler's reign had a cloak-and-dagger element to it, which didn't help matters.

Caveats aside, here's what I found:

2003 managerial search

Winner: Ozzie Guillen

Other finalist: Cito Gaston

Other names: Buddy Bell, Terry Francona, Willie Randolph, Mike Hargrove, Wally Backman, Sam Perlozzo.

Some regrets? Francona led the Red Sox to their first title in 86 years in 2004. You might have heard something about it. But Guillen did well for himself when it came to drought-busting, too, and beat Francona's team in the ALDS the following season. While Francona won two titles to Guillen's one, they both managed their respective Sox for eight years, and both left under extremely disappointing circumstances. Francona just handled his departure with a little more grace.

Definitely no regrets: Backman was hired briefly by the Arizona Diamondbacks, until they did background check and discovered his two arrests. They then fired him four days later, and Backman hasn't proved to be a beacon of stability since.

Eventual managers: Gaston came back to manage the Blue Jays in the middle of the 2008 season, and then retired after the 2010 season with a winning record in his second stint (211-201). 

*Willie Randolph managed the Mets to an NL East title in 2006, but a collapse in 2007 jeopardized his standing. He was fired and replaced by Manuel midway through 2009.

*Mike Hargrove found a job with the Seattle Mariners in 2005, where he suffered through two losing seasons, then mysteriously quit when the Mariners were 45-33 in 2007.

*Sam Perlozzo was one of many victims of the Baltimore Orioles' organization-wide issues, with two partial seasons sandwiching one full year in 2006.

*Buddy Bell managed the Kansas City Royals through 2 1/2 hapless seasons, stepping down after 2007. While he had nothing to work with, closer observers like Joe Posnanski said he didn't help matters.

1997 managerial search

Winner: Jerry Manuel.

Other finalists: Randolph, Bucky Dent, Larry Parrish, Jerry Royster.

Other names: Gaston, Davey Johnson, Alan Trammell, Chris Chambliss, Carlton Fisk, Tim Johnson, Rene Lachemann, Mike Scioscia.

Some regrets? Scioscia turned out to be a fine hire for the Anaheim Angels, but he didn't get that job until two seasons later.

Definitely no regrets: The Blue Jays hired Tim Johnson before Schueler got a chance to interview him, but he only lasted one year on the job. It turns out he had lied about seeing combat action in Vietnam, which had been a big part of his identity as a leader. It came out at the start of spring training, and after an initial voicing of support from the club, he didn't survive the preseason, and he hasn't managed since.

Other eventual managers: Larry Parrish managed the Tigers for 1 1/2 losing seasons, then was replaced by Phil Garner after the 1999 season.

*Alan Trammell took the reins of the Tigers after 2002, and his first club lost 119 games. When Guillen was hired the following season, Trammell was a popular example of why hiring a popular former shortstop to manage the club might not work.

*Davey Johnson has a winning track record, but he also seems to wear out his welcome in short order. He was fired from Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000 after two Octoberless seasons, and didn't resurface until taking over the Nationals as a midseason replacement this year. They got hot for him down the stretch, for what it's worth.


There are a few things to take away from this.

No. 1: I think the Sox can be trusted. Jerry Reinsdorf's GMs won the day with their last two hires, so whether Martinez gets the job, or Sandy Alomar Jr., Joe McEwing or Manager to be Named Later beats him out, Kenny Williams deserves some benefit of the doubt.

No. 2: First-time managers? No big deal. The last four White Sox managers to lead the White Sox to the postseason hadn't managed a big-league team before taking over the Sox. So while some might frame Reinsdorf as "thrifty" in this regard, he's probably being smart.

No. 3: Don't fret the also-rans. If the barrel o' names above is any indication, it seems the Sox aren't likely to miss out on somebody who is a clear cut above who they end up hiring.

No. 4: Managers do matter .. with the proper backing. Scioscia and Francona have enjoyed massive successes, but they were also in charge of deploying the talent born from a deep farm system and a front office with a steady hand.

That's the rub with Martinez. It's one thing to learn from Joe Maddon as he bucks convention and nurtures young talent. But the Rays accumulated their bevy of prospects thanks to a boatload of early-round picks, for reasons savvy (letting Type A free agents go) and not so much (a ton of last-place finishes before Maddon arrived).

The Sox haven't placed a high priority on the draft -- Williams prefers to let other teams fail with their key picks, and then try to salvage the busts. It's not an awful strategy, but it's not great for continuity.

With Scioscia, Francona and Maddon, they're extensions of the development plan. Those organizations essentially tell their draft picks, "This is the farm system you'll grow up in, and this is the manager you'll play for." The White Sox seem to struggle for the same homogeneity, because instead of instilling "Chicago tough" on their own terms, they're left to determine from afar players who might fit the mold.

So on one end of the spectrum, you'll get your Orlando Cabreras, whose ass was apparently the wrong shade of red. On the other, you'll get your Mark Kotsays, who are outstanding fits except for, you know, results. And either way, it ends up with Paul Konerko having to play assistant GM based on who is and isn't working in the clubhouse.

We can study the managerial candidates all we want, but that's the part of the job the new guy can't really help. In all likelihood, Williams will make a good hire, but he has to shore up the pipeline if he wants to make it a great one.