The origin story of Robin Ventura: Manager -- that the White Sox persuaded him to take the job when he hadn't considered himself managerial material himself -- left a lot of doubt regarding his natural desire for the job. Declining a contract extension after his debut season certainly suggested that you could pry the duties out of his warm, live hands.
But now that he's agreed to a multiyear extension -- after a 63-99 season, and when he's tasked with turning baseballing boys into baseballing men -- it's difficult to question his desire. You can still question his ability to extract performance from talent, because after seasons that would register as "manic" and "depressive," it's hard to tell how a team actually responds to him. But we can at least lay the three-and-out theory to rest.
Likewise, the extension certainly underscores the confidence Rick Hahn has in Ventura. Although Ventura was hired in the last year of the Kenny Williams administration, Hahn wanted to give the manager his own seal of approval by discussing an extension after he took over as general manager.
So why did Ventura decline that overture?
"I just felt it was important for Rick to have a full year of doing the job and us working together, that he would have the freedom and ability to decide if I'm the right guy for the job," Ventura said. "Nothing really changed in my mind -- where I want to be, what I want to do."
Likewise, 99 losses didn't change the front office's opinion of Ventura. When talking about the disparate results from Ventura's two seasons, Hahn said, "Throughout each of those extremes, Robin's leadership was unwavering. his communication, his ability to teach at the big-league level, his enthusiasm, his baseball intellect -- all the things we were looking for in a manager were the same at the highest highs and the lowest lows. That level of stability is what you want in the leader of the dugout."
That Ventura passed on the first extension didn't concern Hahn, either.
"The decision he made is a selfless one, to allow me the latitude to get comfortable," Hahn said. "I thought that was awfully special, and it speaks to what kind of man he is, and it makes a decision like this all the easier because of it."
The Sox did not disclose the length of the contract, either to reporters at the press conference, or to fans at the town hall event in the Red Lacquer Room. He pointed out a recent example of the Sox firing someone with time left on his deal (indirectly referring to Jeff Manto), and said that contracts for team employees only ensure "how often we get paid if something goes wrong."
Hahn used some variant of the word "enthusiasm" multiple times with regards to Ventura, and Ventura used "excited" a couple times itself. Those two words seem somewhat forced on Ventura as far as we see him, and they're not a perfect fit for this deal, either -- even if it does make sense.
Given the state of the team and the idea of building towards a sustainable model, it'd be counterproductive to have a lame duck steering it at the onset. Ventura probably wouldn't stoop to desperation maneuvers to save his job given "what kind of man he is," but he won't have other final-year concerns that are out of his control (players thinking they can outlast him, for example).
At the same time, the expressed faith in Ventura rings somewhat hollow when considering just how poorly the team played. Hahn used the phrase "dumpster fire" to describe the season in a seminar, and the way the Sox failed would seem to be at least partially reflective of the quality of the leadership. The lack of squabbling isn't worth a medal by itself.
I'd been looking at 2014 as a judgment year for Ventura, but this shoves it back a little, since 2015 and beyond is more the point of the extension. I think we can rule out the extremes -- he's not a liability, nor is he a standard-bearer -- but the two seasons don't relate each other well enough to build a comprehensive picture.
The good news is there's enough that's different without a manager swap, from the influx of young talent to a new hitting coach who intends to set up an organization-wide philosophy. That alone removes the need to make a change for change's sake, and it's not out of the question that the roster shift will make Ventura's third year unlike the first two.