You may wonder which Ricky is being addressed here: Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, or manager Ricky Renteria.
Does it matter?
With a second straight field manager, the White Sox seem indelibly linked. As flawed as their interview procedure is to fill their manager’s position, the White Sox’s requirements to retain or extend their manager are even worse.
Neither the hiring process nor the retention decisions seem to follow any logic.
Now, when you’re the New York Yankees, you have the money to pave over any potholes created by rash hires and thus may not owe anyone explanations. If you’re the Tampa Bay Rays, with a track record of somewhat successful against-the-grain thinking, your inscrutable nature may be charming.
The White Sox don’t enjoy any such luxuries. It now has been 10 season since they saw the postseason, by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins. Since opening the century with six straight .500 or better seasons, they’ve had three in the last 12. The same personnel and largely the same personnel structure has overseen both those great six years (including the 2005 World Series champs and two other 90-win clubs) and the dirty dozen that followed.
Thus from a success standpoint, the White Sox owe us information, answers, rationales.
The team is also, as we are perpetually reminded by local Chicago media, nationwide baseball coverage, and the standings themselves, running a distant second in a two-team town.
And from a PR standpoint, the White Sox should practice some transparency, and be confident enough in their processes to freely discuss them.
Instead, the secret handshakes and as-you-go performance reviews make the team a further laughingstock.
Even when Renteria was hired, without a (publicly declared, at least) interview process, an apologist might point to his role for a full season as White Sox bench coach, and his experience managing the crosstown Chicago Cubs just two years before that, as reasons why a full interviewing and vetting process was unnecessary.
Before then, the lack of interview process (beyond, apparently, asking Paul Konerko if he wanted to be player-manager) in hiring Robin Ventura to manage the White Sox in 2011 was a bit curious, but still able to be explained. Ventura was a White Sox legend, with great plaudits from teammates and peers (including GM Ken Williams) regarding his future ability to manage. Ventura was a roving instructor for the White Sox, so the club had a sense of his analytical mind and ability to connect to players. And, after the tumult of Ozzie Guillen, picking the most vanilla candidate possible made some sense from both a PR and blood-pressure-in-the-executive-suite standpoint.
But extending Ventura, giving a manager who peaked about a half-season into his managerial career the chance to pilot the club for a full five seasons and intimating he fired himself defies explanation. And even Ventura’s extension was public, debated, defended.
Now, we’ve digressed to the point where Hahn doesn’t even feel a need to update fans and media on Renteria’s future, much less present the news of a concrete decision (like an extension) in a public forum.
Oh yeah, burying the lede: You may have heard, at some point between his hire in 2016 and yesterday, the White Sox extended Renteria’s contract to ... some point in the future. You can imagine the exchanges via voice, text, email, among Hahn and the beats:
Q: When did you extend? Hahn: Don’t remember, doesn’t matter.
Q: Why did you extend? Hahn: Don’t remember, doesn’t matter.
Q: How long did you extend? Hahn: Don’t remember, doesn’t matter.
Q: What’d you have for lunch? Hahn: Don’t remember, doesn’t matter.
It’s like the GM is embodying Father Guido Sarducci doing the SNL forecast (“it’ll be hot or cold, depending on the weather”): “Hey, Ricky’s our guy, till he’s not. I think we’re done here.”
Hahn — who I’ll make clear here I like a lot, and personally is a fabulous guy — went to such lengths as to ask, regarding the decision to stealth-extend Renteria: “Is it really that relevant?”
(Q: Brooks, why are season ticket numbers down? Boyer: Is it really that relevant?
Q: Yoán, what’s you plan in cutting down those 217 Ks? Moncada: Is it really that relevant?)
Tone deafness is part and parcel when it comes to owning or running a sports team. A club shouldn’t, couldn’t respond to every whim and demand of its media or fan base. But the lengths to which the White Sox ask us to stretch our faith has passed any plausible limit.
It’s not shocking that two decades of the current White Sox power structure has bred a sense of unaccountability. That the club is actively stretching the bounds of unaccountability is.
Here’s hoping that once the wins start to pile up — presuming they do — that practice reverses.