Last season, at the All-Star break, I published a list of best and worst managers in Chicago White Sox history. At that point, Ricky Renteria had managed just more than one-and-a-half seasons with the White Sox — and the numbers placed him as the team’s second-worst manager of all time.
But the three months remaining in the 2018 season represented a quarter of Renteria’s two-year managerial career on the South Side, so there was ample opportunity for him to improve his standing.
And, as you’ll see, that’s just what Renteria did. He’s still not great by any stretch, but he’s reached, in two seasons, roughly “Robin Ventura level.” Yeah, gulp.
But perhaps that means there are even brighter days ahead, and despite the fact that mWAR attempts to divest manager performance from whether a team roster is “good” or “bad,” maybe as he has more talent to work with, Renteria will rise to the challenge.
Below is an update of the all-time worst White Sox managers, reflecting Renteria’s new standing. I was due to publish an update this offseason anyhow, but on the heels of the stealth contract extension from way back in 201x, today’s as good a day as any.
In a baseball world increasingly defined by advanced stats, with WAR as an end-all, one major figure on the field gets somewhat overlooked: the manager.
The task here is to dig deep into 118 Chicago White Sox seasons, assign a managerial WAR (call it mWAR, say) for every season, in order to determine the best and worst managers in team history.
How do you do that? Well, one method is to use pythagorean records (the number of wins a team should have, based on run differential), and pythagorean records are incorporated in the research here, along with some other, secret-sauce stuff. Once the batter is baked, each season’s manager is assigned an mWAR figure based on how his team varied in performance from statistical expectations.
Now, mWAR could be called Luck WAR, I suppose. Or, perhaps General Manager WAR, Owner WAR, Chemistry WAR, or even Pregame Meal/Postgame Spread WAR. But for essay-writing purposes, the “intangible” WAR is tucked into the pocket of the manager.
As you may have already seen in the Best Managers in White Sox History piece, the results for the White Sox are not too hot. Only nine managers in team history with a positive career WAR, which leaves 23 under water.
Ugh, this is gonna be painful.
Worst managers in White Sox history, mWAR per season
(per-game WAR adjusted for a 162-game season)
- Hugh Duffy (1910-11) -8.0 mWAR. The best manager in White Sox history, Jimmy Dykes, rated at 3.0 mWAR per season. Duffy is more than twice as bad in the other direction, costing the White Sox eight wins per season.
- Johnny Evers (1924) -5.3 mWAR. A pretty unfair ranking here for Evers, who didn’t even manage the full 1924 season. Frank Chance was named the White Sox manager for 1924, but fell ill with appendicitis and was sent home to recover. Chance died after the regular season, and the White Sox opted to replace Evers with Eddie Collins.
- Lena Blackburne (1929) -5.1 mWAR. It wasn’t just the stock market that would crash after the 1929 season, but Blackburne’s managerial career. Blackburne did have a lasting impact in the game, by applying Delaware River mud to baseballs to take the shine off; Lena Blackburne’s Rubbing Mud became the standard for MLB play in the 1930s and continues to this day. Somewhat hilariously, Blackburne’s allegiance to the American League meant he would not sell his mud to the NL until the 1950s.
- Terry Bevington (1995-97) -4.7 mWAR. As a measure of how staggeringly bad Renteria has been so far with the White Sox, consider the fact that the common choice nowadays for far-and-away worst White Sox manager of all time, Bevington, ranks ahead of him. It wasn’t odd that Bevington was selected to take over the White Sox when Gene Lamont was cannned early in the 1995 season. It’s plausible that, after going 57-56 in ’95 as an interim, the White Sox would eschew a true managerial search and give Bev a full season. But after a horrible 1996, it is positively stunning that the chronically-insecure Bevington got one more year to embarrass the South Siders.
- Lew Fonseca (1932-34) -4.6 mWAR. Fonseca provides a great illustration that mWAR, in some form, really does (should, can) exist. With similar personnel, including future Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling, Fonseca failed miserably where Dykes and Ted Lyons “succeeded,” during the South Side death-march 1930s and 1940s. He presided over the all-time worst White Sox team, 1932, in his managerial debut — contributing a putrid -8.8 mWAR to the cause.
- Eddie Collins (1924-26) -4.3 mWAR. As a manager, Colllins was a Hall of Fame second baseman. Perhaps the “squeaky-clean college boy” reputation that trailed Collins at a time in American sports when stringing a full sentence together was looked down upon (wait ... are we still in that time?) hampered him when it came to running the team. Or, being a player-manager just didn’t suit him. Collins’ two full seasons piloting the White Sox ended in winning records, but the damning mWAR here indicates he should have done better.
- Don Gutteridge (1969-70) -3.6 mWAR. Gutteridge presided over the bulk of the worst three-season stretch (1968-70) in White Sox history, but this relatively generous mWAR indicates he mostly did what he could with subterranean talent.
- Ray Schalk (1927-28) -3.10 mWAR. See: Eddie Collins. Apparently, player-managers were all the rage in the 1920s, as Schalk succeeded Collins for a short stretch running the South Siders. Schalk’s two White Sox teams both finished worse than .500, but to repeat, the function of mWAR is not to simply reflect the won-loss column. Schalk’s better mWAR indicates he got more out of likely less talented players than Collins.
- Billy Sullivan (1909) -3.08 mWAR. Sullivan is a colorful character, and will forever be honored as the backstop on the Hitless Wonders of 1906, when he took the monicker literally by going 0-for-21 in the White Sox’s upset World Series victory. Later, he would tutor his successor, Schalk, and even participated in crazy-ass stunts, like catching balls thrown by Ed Walsh down from the top of the Washington Monument. But his one year as an MLB skipper was not so memorable.
- Pants Rowland (1915-18) -3.02 mWAR. Crazy, right? One of three managers to win a World Series for the White Sox is the 11th-worst? Yeah, mWAR is illustrative here; for the 1917 champs, Rowland clocked in with 1.7 mWAR, but in his other four seasons, he was a drag on the team.
- Ricky Renteria (2017-18) -3.01 mWAR. Check it out: Renteria has improved nine spots in the survey, on the basis of a strong second half. As of last July, the second-year skipper sat a -5.4 mWAR, meaning his performance cost the White Sox more than five wins per season. That’s horrible. As you might imagine, this means Renteria’s work in season two with the White Sox (around -1.5 mWAR) was considerably better than his first (-4.6 mWAR). It’s still far worse than the job he did in his one season on the north side, where Renteria clocked in with a phenomenal 7.5 mWAR performance. Let’s hope he’s still got that in him. (Unfortunately, it’s not all brighter news for Renteria, either, as he’s not cracked the all-time Top 10 list of worst mWAR in White Sox history.)
- Donie Bush (1930-31) -2.9 mWAR. Bush was a sort of managerial segue from the merely underachieving (Schalk) to painfully bad (Fonseca).
- Jack Onslow (1949-50) -2.6 mWAR. In Onslow’s only full season with the White Sox, 1949, he put up a -3.2 mWAR season, in the aftermath of the great stretch piloted by Dykes and Lyons. It was the worst mWAR season on the South Side since 1938.
- Marty Marion (1954-56) -2.4 mWAR. Again, mWAR is instructive here. Was Chicago a strong club under Marion? For sure, as it averaged 88 wins (in a 154-game schedule) in his two full seasons in charge. But what Marion’s purely-negative mWAR career might indicate is that a quicker or greater ascendance — as seen when Al Lopez came to the South Side — might have occurred with a better skipper.
- Robin Ventura (2012-16) -2.0 mWAR. For whatever General status Ken Williams affixed Robin, or the “manager on the field” gold seal he got from New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers teammates at the end of his career, and despite being a player I truly believe is Hall of Fame caliber, Ventura was an awful manager. His first two seasons cost the White Sox almost 12 wins. His last three seasons were better, including a stellar job in 2015, but really, the plug should have been pulled after the bed was soiled in 2013.
- Gene Lamont (1992-95) -1.7 mWAR. Lamont never had a positive-mWAR season, indicating his strong early-1990s teams contended in spite of him, not because of him. The 1994 season was actually his worst, a -3.6 mWAR being a clear sign that more distance should have existed between the White Sox and second-place Cleveland when the season was called off.
- Eddie Stanky (1966-68) -1.5 mWAR. Stanky cost the White Sox about a half-win more in 1966 (-4.1 mWAR) than he provided in the miracle 1967 season (3.5 mWAR). And his 1968 effort was so disastrous he was canned despite having just secured a new contract extension.
- Chuck Tanner (1970-75) -1.1 mWAR. White Sox talent was essentially equal in 1971 and 1972; Tanner’s poor managing job (-6.0 mWAR) in 1971 and terrific work in 1972 (6.0 mWAR) provides the bulk of the difference between 79 wins in ’71 and 89 in ’72. After that in Chicago, Tanner decreasing talent to work with and generally managed down to his team’s skill level.
- Jimmy Callahan (1912-14) -0.8 mWAR. A very average manager piloting very average White Sox teams.
- Paul Richards (1951-54, 1976) -0.7 mWAR. If you toss out Richards’ 1976 comeback under Bill Veeck (-2.3 mWAR), in which his most memorable moments include the drum-and-fife act on Opening Day and shorts in the summer, Richards would still be a negative-mWAR manager overall. But he was a more responsible caretaker of those budding Go-Go Sox in the early 1950s than Marion was in taking over for him in the middle of the decade.
- Jerry Manuel (1998-03) -0.5 mWAR. Buddha Jerry had a strong 4.1 mWAR debut in 1998, but aside from a slight plus (1.5 mWAR) in the division-winning 2000 season, Manuel disintegrated over time. He essentially cost the White Sox four wins in both 2002 and 2003, those four wins in the latter season holding the White Sox back from 90 victories.
- Jim Fregosi (1986-88) -0.13 mWAR. Fregosi was as bad in 1987 (-3.9 mWAR) as he was good in 1988 (4.2 mWAR), indicating that had the White Sox not made the switch to Jeff Torborg, the team might have been just fine and equally ascendant. Fregosi did all right for himself, anyway, taking the helm of the Philadelphia Phillies after being fired and leading them to the 1993 World Series.
- Jeff Torborg (1989-91) -0.12 mWAR. The mWAR similarities between Fregosi and his successor are pretty crazy. Torborg’s poor 1989 (-5.4 mWAR) was a significant step back for a budding team, but in 1990 Torborg rebounded with the fourth-best managing job in White Sox history (7.7 mWAR).
Worst single-season mWAR
- Lew Fonseca (1932) -8.8. It’s only fitting, the all-time worst White Sox team was guided by an all-time worst managing job.
- Hugh Duffy (1911) -7.8. That the second-worst managing job in White Sox history is a full win better than Fonseca’s 1932 is a compliment to Duffy in the most backhanded manner.
- Kid Gleason (1923) -7.3. The ninth-best White Sox manager of all time defined “mailing it in” with this swan song season.
- Hugh Duffy (1910) -7.1 Kids, having two of the worst four managing seasons in team history is how you become the clear-worst White Sox pilot ever.
- Terry Bevington (1996) -6.9. The White Sox front office must have slept through the 1996 season. How else to explain the fact that after Bevington authored the worst “modern era” managing job in White Sox history, he got to manage the team in 1997?
- Don Kessinger/Tony La Russa (1979) -6.4. It’s more on Kessinger than La Russa, for several reasons. One, Kessinger player-managed the White Sox for the first two-thirds of the season, leaving La Russa just August and September. Two, La Russa was just a young lawyer in love, learning the game and perfecting The Dry Look. Third, while team records aren’t a significant factor in mWAR, La Russa had a .500 mark as the interim manager. But no matter how you slice it, the manager’s office at Comiskey had some stank in it in the summer of ’79.
- Gene Lamont/Terry Bevington (1995) -6.22. Shades of Duffy here, as Bevington had a part in two of the seven worst managed seasons in White Sox history, consecutive seasons no less, but still was handed the keys to the batting cages for 1997. One saving grace for the mustachioed one: Bevington went 57-56 after taking over early from Lamont, but mWAR insists that record should have been better.
- Pants Rowland (1918) -6.18. The 1918 season was a comedown for the White Sox, in-between World Series appearances. Plus, World War I cost the club superstars like Joe Jackson and Red Faber. But Rowland, guilty of the same mail-it-in swan song that his successor, Gleason, would commit five years later, prevented the White Sox from at least cracking .500.
- Pants Rowland (1915) -6.0. Of course, the White Sox could have seen Rowland’s underachieving career coming, given that his first season cost the club six wins. Guess what? The White Sox finished in second place, two games back, so not only was Rowland’s performance the reason the club stopped short of 100 wins, it cost them the A.L. pennant.
- Ray Schalk (1927) -5.8. Perhaps he was reeling from his playing career slowing down, but Schalk’s debut as White Sox player-manager was howlingly awful.
Worst White Sox career mWAR
- Hugh Duffy, -15.0
- Terry Bevington, -12.7
- Pants Rowland, -10.9
- Robin Ventura, -9.9
- Lew Fonseca, -8.9
- Eddie Collins, -8.8
- Ricky Renteria, -8.6
- Don Gutteridge, -6.1
- Ricky Renteria, -6.0
- Ray Schalk, -5.9