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Robin Ventura faces biggest crisis of managerial career

White Sox' winless road trip altered by circumstances beyond his control, but expectations have excuses ringing hollow

On the flight back from Chicago on Sunday afternoon, I finished David McCullough's "1776." It's a fascinating look at the Revolutionary War through the narrow prism of the military maneuvers over that year (the Declaration of Independence is treated as a mere accessory to other events).

George Washington had himself a tumultuous 12 months. It started with a rousing success, as the Americans seized Dorchester Heights and drove the British out of Boston in March. The Redcoats responded by bringing the navy to New York City, and they exposed Washington's army -- and Washington's indecisiveness, and his lack of military intelligence about positioning -- with four decisive victories around Long Island and Manhattan that had the Americans backpedaling to Philadelphia, and the rebels doubting the leadership.

Washington and his army faced significant disadvantages, even before their lack of a navy came into play. The British forces were far more disciplined, not just with their fighting, but with their hygiene. A good chunk of the enlisted citizens weren't accustomed to washing their own clothes or relieving themselves among hundreds of others, so the combination of unwashed uniforms and non-uniform latrine-digging led to the spread of disease throughout encampments that reduced their ranks.

Washington had lost one of his best men, Nathanael Greene, to illness for the Long Island portion of the New York debacle. He lost another key general, John Sullivan, to capture in that same battle. They all weren't on the same page -- or in the same place -- until they had retreated across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. With his numbers as good as they were going to be, and in need of a decisive victory to rouse support for the flagging independence movement, Washington sprung a surprise attack, crossing the Delaware through a winter storm and routing the Hessians to regain Trenton.

Washington's army then followed up by winning the Battle of Princeton to solidify that momentum domestically (enlistments rose) and internationally (the French stepped up their support). That's where the book ends, and when I turned off airplane mode on my phone and checked the score of the White Sox game, they were losing 9-2 and about to be swept by the Minnesota Twins.


With his troops retreating to Chicago, Robin Ventura is in the New York stage of his managerial career, and illness has a hand in it.

It's not dysentery this time, but it may as well be. Adam Eaton missed the last three games with the flu, heading back home before the rest of the team. Die Grippe also knocked Tyler Flowers out of the lineup, and Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche had a touch of the it themselves.

It couldn't happen at a worse time for Ventura, and not just because it capped a bizarre 0-5 road trip that started with two games in Baltimore postponed by riots. He already had one of the league's worst offenses when healthy, so it's hard to detect a difference when a virus is involved. Factor that in with the Orioles winning three of four since their own city was rocked by unrest, and all excuses seem so flimsy right now.

Not to mention the Milwaukee Brewers up and fired Ron Roenicke on Sunday -- after giving him a vote of confidence more than a week ago, and after picking up his 2016 extension in March. That removed a talking point for Rick Hahn's side -- it's no longer too early for an MLB team to change leaders. Of course, that presupposes the White Sox are an MLB team right now, and with plays like this ...

So it's all converging on Ventura, and his players are trying to rally to his defense with words, if not actions:

"We cannot blame Robin for the situation of the team," Abreu said through a team interpreter Sunday morning. "It's our fault because we are the ones who are playing. We are the people who are in the field.

"If the people want someone to blame, it's the players, not Robin. He's doing what he can do, but the results aren't there." [...]

"It's not Robin's fault I didn't catch a ball or make a good throw," John Danks said. "Robin is doing everything he can. I feel bad for him. He's working just as hard as the rest of us. … It all falls on us in here. … We've got to be better."

Somehow, this is both true and not reality. Danks did botch covering first base and throwing to second this series, not Ventura. Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale failed to back up the catcher on throws home, not Ventura. Zach Putnam tried catching a comebacker with his buttcheeks, not Ventura.

But when all of these "P's" fail to put the "FP" in "PFP," and frequently enough to develop a theme, it's going to both reflect poorly on the training and magnify mistakes in executive decision-making. Washington couldn't hold the hands of every soldier during sanitation time, but he was the one holding the bag when the defense of their key New York fortification was botched.


I'm probably torturing this analogy a little, because it's not perfect (for instance, Washington's successes at Dorchester Heights and Trenton proved his offenses functioned better in the cold). However, I'm not the first to draw this kind of connection:

"This psychologist was asked, 'Of all the people you've tested, who impressed you the most in terms of their capabilities to lead?'" [Kenny] Williams said. "And his reply was, 'There's one guy who's capable of being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And if he were in the military, he would achieve four-star general status.' I'll give you one guess who the person was."

Hint: His initials are RV.

"The point is, [Ventura] is a cut above," Williams said. "If he could have been a four-star general, I think he's probably equipped to run a baseball team. And he's probably equipped to lead this group of guys."

If Ventura has such qualities, this week would be a great time to pull off a Trenton. He can't win a war this week -- Washington had to fight six more years after the New Jersey victories -- but Ventura needs something to go his way.

The good news? The elements are starting to turn in his favor, like an off day to get healthier, a run of warm weather, and the best possible pitching matchups against Detroit:

  • Tuesday: Jeff Samardzija vs. Shane Greene
  • Wednesday: Chris Sale vs. Alfredo Simon
  • Thursday: Jose Quintana vs. Kyle Lobstein

The rub? Better conditions mean fewer excuses, and if this six-game homestand resembles the five-game road trip, the calls for change are going be so easy to justify -- especially since they head to Milwaukee to face those new-managered Brewers immediately after. The stories write themselves.

Of course, the White Sox players have the biggest role in it. If they don't want to see Ventura canned, they better start paying attention to how they dig their holes. The one they're working on now is awfully deep.