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Rick Renteria’s dugout demeanor a departure

White Sox manager showing willingness to directly address players during games

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the Rick Renteria era enters its third month of regular-season play, we’re still gauging the effect his presence has on the circumstances. Hawk Harrelson will say “Ricky’s boys won’t quit!” and it may be true from the line score, but that kind of implies that Robin Ventura’s team folded under pressure. And that may be true for all I know, but I prefer not to question heart and effort when talent is the foremost issue.

Besides, there’s always a honeymoon period with a new manager, especially when the end of the last manager’s term is such a disaster that any sign of being proactive is a godsend. After all, when Ventura replaced Ozzie Guillen, he was praised for his attention to detail, running spring training like he cared, bold in and handing out punishment for poor play, whether in the form of in-game replacements or infield practice before games.

That said, I’ve been watching how Renteria goes about his business to see what a real manager looks like how somebody who had spent plenty of dugout time in a non-playing capacity before/between managerial gigs.

There are already a few departures in terms of strategy. Renteria looks like a National League manager in terms of bunting and running. The former looks like a bad idea, but Tim Anderson and Adam Engel (8-for-8 in stolen bases) show the merits of the latter (not so much the rest of the 15-for-32 roster). He’s also been quicker to pull pitchers and more willing to switch up the top of the order, although a rebuilding roster and thinner rotation makes such experimentation easier.

With such different rosters and organizational aims, comparing Renteria to Ventrua game-to-game isn’t especially fruitful at this point. It’s worth paying attention to in order to know what Renteria might do with a competitive club two or three years from this point, but he won’t be costing the White Sox a wild card spot for some time, and so he can be given time to identify and expunge bad habits.

That leaves the interpersonal skills, which we can’t often see from the outside. At least that’s what Rick Hahn would tell us in his defense of Robin Ventura. He defended Ventura’s stoicism as a selling point, saying appropriate conversations were had in an appropriate place. This irritated fans who questioned whether Ventura even had a pulse (literally; he was asked that at SoxFest), but it would’ve been a fair way to handle a dugout had the team thrived under his leadership.

Rick Renteria may have his own anti-fan club at the next convention, but this probably won’t be a reason. So far this season, he’s shown a far greater willingness to engage players directly in the dugout.

I’d noticed this back on May 6, in a game against the Orioles. Renteria had an in-depth conversation with Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia while Dylan Bundy was shutting them down:

This is a shot you wouldn’t see with Ventura, as he seldom left his perch on the top step. He’d delegate to his coaches, and the coaches would carry out the message. In this isolated case, though, one might say Renteria doesn’t have anybody who can carry out a dialogue as effectively. “Three Spanish-speakers speaking Spanish” isn’t a great story, so I kept in my back pocket and waited for instances without such specific requirements.

Saturday’s game against Detroit provided another one after Leury Garcia made one of his increasingly frequent ill-advised throws.

Three more Tigers came to the plate after this, but it still was at the front of Renteria’s mind when the position players returned to the dugout.

Here, language isn’t the primary factor, because Garcia doesn’t require the use of an interpreter with the media. This just looked like a manager who prefers to handle his communication himself in the moment.

And after watching him gather his team in the dugout before the fifth inning on Thursday, I’m pretty sure we can file this away as a distinct difference.

The Rays had just scored three more runs in the bottom of the fourth to extend their lead to 6-0, and in the middle of another game that could best be described as rebuildy, Renteria decided not to wait to get things off his chest.

Todd Frazier was asked about it after the game:

“That’s how we’ve been playing all year and Ricky kind of got in us a little bit in the dugout, saying ‘We’re professionals, let’s go. Pick it up a little bit,’ ” Frazier said. “Kind, that was right before I got the single so we kind of kick-started ourselves a little bit to play the game, keep playing. We fought our way back. We had a chance to tie it or win it. True grit, that’s how we’ve been playing. We’ve got to do that a little earlier and a little more often.”

As Brian Anderson noted on the Tampa Bay broadcast, you don’t see managers go to this well often — not just Ventura, but the best ones, too. As a fan, it’s refreshing to see our frustration channeled through somebody who can actually do something about it, but it can be seen as micromanaging if it’s not delivered well. Martinet managers usually don’t last, which is why Buck Showalter had to adapt and soften his approach in order to become a fixture in one organization. That might be one reason why Ventura might have abandoned putting his team through pre-game drills.

In Renteria’s case, these immediate performance reviews could wear thin after a few more months, or it could be something that players accept as a part of excellent all-around communication. All we can say for the time being is that it’s different, and as the White Sox climb out of the wreckage of the Ventura years, different is good enough for now.