Before Chris Sale set the White Sox franchise record for most strikeouts in a single season, Robin Ventura made some history of his own.
It's just not the kind anybody would brag about.
Ventura became the first manager to survive three straight losing seasons on the South Side. While the White Sox did fire bench coach Mark Parent -- which ain't nothing, and I'll get to it in bit -- history said they had all the license to clean house and start anew.
Under such circumstances, keeping Ventura is the path of most resistance. There's no way Rick Hahn can defend the decision in a satisfactory fashion, not after a 211-273 record over the last three seasons.
Ventura was hired under the premise of "we know something you don't know." Then he was extended after a 99-loss season because the team was allegedly in good hands despite the worst record since 1970.
Two more losing seasons later, none of the tweets coming through over the afternoon were crowd-pleasers ...
Rick says Robin is a tremendous communicator and creates the right environment for the players. Says there's room for improvement.— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) October 2, 2015
Sure, but that second sentence might be on my scouting report if I participated in the NFL combine. Ceiling and time required are the bigger issues.
Hahn says one of the strengths of the coaching staff is to help develop younger guys into big league players — especially on the fly.— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) October 2, 2015
If the White Sox could develop young position players, then Tyler Saladino wouldn't have been necessary as a midseason miracle, nor would he have given way to Mike Olt during the last month. And Avisail Garcia wouldn't have to worry about Trayce Thompson taking his playing time (while Thompson's trying to not fall off too fast after his own blazing start).
The White Sox entered the last offseason trying to address soft spots at a corner outfield position, DH, third base, second base and catcher.
Now they're entering this offseason trying to address soft spots at ... a corner outfield position, DH, third base, second base, and catcher. Oh, and shortstop!
If the Sox had been particularly adept at shaping MLB players, the list might have a couple of overlaps, but it wouldn't be so redundant. The Sox made sweeping changes last year and ended up at the same place success-wise. That suggests the constants need some replacing, and to see only Parent and Harold Baines -- both of whom are seldom referred to -- dismissed doesn't alter the equation much.
Ventura isn't without attributes. He has a somewhat progressive view of bullpen roles, even if his tendency to ride starters into TTOP territory obscures that.
White Sox are the only team whose SP still average >100 pitches per start: http://t.co/nYmd6xc62o. Blowing away everyone in GS with P>101.— Ben Lindbergh (@BenLindbergh) September 29, 2015
The White Sox had a very good year of health, and while that makes the lack of progress even harder to comprehend, it's ultimately a plus. You might attribute it more to Herm Schneider or Don Cooper and be correct for doing so, but the worst managers contribute to the missed games total because their lines of communication are frayed. There's no evidence of that, and there doesn't seem to be a lack of effort, either. There may be scads of inexplicable decisions on both sides of the line score, but they don't stem from quitting. He's also low-maintenance when it comes to in-game managing, although that's not necessarily a compliment. He confused me more frequently this year with the moves he did make, for whatever that's worth.
Ventura isn't incompetent, a monster, or some combination of the two. He does have some selling points, almost enough to where I could almost compliment the White Sox for choosing the difficult path of trusting their conviction, rather than capitulating to the barbarians massing at the gate.
Problem is ... I get the sense that keeping Ventura is the easy way out. Jerry Reinsdorf's reputation for loyalty to his White Sox favorites looms over the proceedings, as does the front office's overselling of Ventura's leadership after his hiring ("If he could have been a four-star general, I think he's probably equipped to run a baseball team"). Even though the team is stuck in its worst stretch in decades and made nothing of what was supposed to be a moving year, one had to work harder to imagine Ventura being fired than being retained.
If I weren't familiar with track records, my initial reaction might be, "Wow, this team isn't vulnerable to overreaction." But under these circumstances, my thinking is more along the lines of, "This team is bad at goodbyes," or "This team doesn't want to admit it made a mistake."
I really hope it's not the latter, because that shouldn't be that hard. Poor hires happen. Ventura gave the Sox some sorely needed peace and quiet for five months, and then September of 2012 happened and things haven't been the same since. I couldn't support the hiring, but I won't say it was devoid of reason. He and/or the organization didn't develop enough in order to make it work. Take some lessons from it and move along.
That's not happening, and so I can't shake the sense that Ventura is the White Sox version of Alan Trammell, and this is the time they should be calling for a Jim Leyland. Instead, the Sox are loath to pull the plug when all parties would ultimately benefit from letting go.
Keep an eye on the bench coach situation, though. That's the one way they can salvage some sense from this. Or it could complicate things further.
At the moment, Parent is the sacrificial lamb, and it's not yet edifying. We knew a little bit about him -- he was the bad cop to Ventura's good cop, gave the Sox a bit of the backbone they needed when it came to HBP imbalances, and was more blunt about his evaluations. Tyler Flowers said he liked it. Others (like Adam Eaton?) might have bristled at it. Opinions of instruction differ, film at 11.
That said, in interviews with Chris Rongey, he was a self-professed old-school sort who didn't have a thirst for innovation, so it's not surprising to hear that Hahn say that the position could be updated with somebody more receptive:
While Hahn declined to get specific on why Parent was no longer a good fit, he did say the White Sox are looking to get better with in-game tactical decisions and to incorporate analytical data to a greater extent.
Hahn also said a Spanish-speaking coach would be a "positive," and this all makes sense, but specific attributes seem less important than the greater idea that whoever the White Sox hire to replace Parent should be good enough to replace Ventura in May if another slow start risks burying the Sox before summer arrives yet again.
(Doubly so if perpetual managerial candidate Joe McEwing ends up somewhere else, and Seattle is first up on the rumor mill.)
That could get tangled in a hurry. For instance, if the Sox hire a qualified candidate known to fans -- on Twitter, Larry came up with the idea of Jose Valentin -- the loud voices, be they fans or writers or talkers, are going to wield that name on Ventura like a mace if 2016 resembles 2015 (which resembled 2014, which was only marginally better than 2013, hence this problem).
Replacing the bench coach under a manager in the last year of his contract stands to exacerbate the lame-duck status. That's something you might see with a new GM who inherited a manager with whom he's not particularly enamored. The Sox like Ventura, which makes this a strange way of showing it.