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Why was Ricky Renteria fired?

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A Thanksgiving week White Sox thought exercise

Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox
Manager Ricky Renteria #17 of the Chicago White Sox argues with the umpires after being thrown out of the game while disputing the decision to eject Jimmy Cordero #50 after he hit Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs with a pitch on Sept. 25, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

I know, I know, it’s old business. We’re already on to the weaknesses of our new manager.

That said, GM Rick Hahn’s firing of Renteria still intrigues and mystifies me. Obviously, with what we know now about the Tony La Russa, it’s not a stretch to think that Hahn might have hesitated to fire Renteria had he known his managerial search would get hijacked by owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

As part of his “opening statement” back on October 12, announcing the firing, Hahn said “[Ricky and I have] had conversations for literally years about how the final stages of this will go, and over the last few months and weeks, we’ve had very candid conversations about how to get to the next level, and mutually decided to part ways ... This isn’t about any of the decision-making in Game 3, or after we clinched. This is about putting us in the position to take the next steps.”

Now, whether we believed that then, or now, is not really the purpose of this exercise. What I’m interested in is figuring out what these amorphous-yet-”candid conversations” were. They were conversations, per Hahn, that occurred over (possibly) the entirety of Renteria’s tenure. And something happened, or was going to happen, in 2020 that forced a move.

By process of elimination, let’s try to determine why Hahn and Renteria both arrived at the firing — with money still left on Ricky’s deal — after a surprise, 35-25 playoff season.


Another manager’s availability

Hahn could have told Renteria that if X guy became available who he’d always had his eye on (yes, A.J. Hinch would have fit that condition), Ricky had to go. Decidedly, that manager was not La Russa, and given how blindsided Hahn was by the courting/hiring of La Russa, Renteria was not fired for that reason. However, at the time, Hahn may have had his eye on Hinch or Alex Cora.

Bullpen usage

This is a favorite criticism by the anti-Renterians, as Ricky often seemed flummoxed by his own bullpen. But 2020’s three-batter rule forced Ricky into better bullpen deployment (with his strongest top-to-bottom bullpen yet, not coincidentally). Sure, Jimmy Cordero was on pace to pitch 180 games (OK, just 81). Yes, there was a hideous decision to “test” Carlos Rodón fresh from the DL, with a bases-loaded relief appearance in a must-win game vs. the Wahoos. But bullpen management — even moments of management as bad as Rodón’s relief work — seemingly was not something that would have forced a firing.

Coaches criticism

A long shot, to say the least. But could outgoing pitching coach Don Cooper (who, bless his soul, seemed to regard what shaped up early as his last year in Chicago with the same care he put into properly applying his mask on-field) or the decidedly frank hitting coach Frank Menechino offered some honest assessments of what they saw of Renteria under pressure in 2020?

Flouting protocols

By all accounts, the White Sox ran a tight ship in this pandemic season, with just two positive tests for coronavirus (Yoán Moncada and José Ruiz), and those on intake to Summer Camp (thus, the virus was contracted while away from the White Sox), at that. But Renteria made the interesting choice to vacate the team for a week during Summer Camp while attending a family funeral, at a key ramp-up time for the season, and during a tenuous period for baseball. Ricky made it clear there would be no question that he or any player would be excused for such an absence, but Renteria leaving could have created some stress with the front office.

Game 3, Oakland

The 2020 season came to a crashing end on the wings of a truncated Dane Dunning start — and even more frighteningly, rushing prize arm Garrett Crochet into a game to prompt a sudden and shocking loss of velocity — and much of that “all-in” (failed) effort was laid at the hands of Renteria. But Game 3 merely ended the season; there was much blame to go around and place on the shoulders of White Sox players in the playoff series loss. Plus, Hahn explicitly stated that Game 3 was not the reason Ricky lost his job.

Lineup construction

Again, this might be something easier to ding Ricky for in past years — including 2019, where A.J. Reed ... look him up, I’ll wait ... batted cleanup in a game and was released from the team by day’s end. Yeah, Renteria again trotted out a variety of lineups in 2020, and fans howled with derisive laughter more often than not, but Ricky took that feedback in stride. And it’s hard to argue with a 95-win pace, powered by a high-octane offense.

Lineup myopia

Ricky steadfastly stuck by Edwin Encarnación, believing that his “quick twitch” ability was still extant, even as we at home could detect his slo-mo bat through the zone. Luis Robert slumped horribly in the final month of the season, prompting demands to offer him some protection in the batting order or find his confidence crushed for good. James McCann saw surprisingly little time for a guy who, until those dreaded final days of the season, appeared to be the best DH on the club. This — at it was for former manager Ozzie Guillén in 2011 — is a legitimate though sensitive reason for dismissal.

Loss of composure

The White Sox melted down after clinching a playoff spot. They were in for a rough finish to the season no matter what, with a road trip at Cincy and Cleveland, then ending up with a Cubs team in a playoff fight of its own. But the incredibly bad offense, chronically short starts by the rotation, and ejection after ejection down the stretch came as a surprise. Renteria seemed sure-headed as a 90-or 100-loss manager, so was melting down while taking his first taste of the postseason spotlight a tell? The supposed post-bat flip headhunting order on Willson Contreras (via Cordero) was the headline, but Ricky did not captain the ship well into the playoffs.

The Moncada conundrum

By no means was it Renteria’s fault that Moncada arrived in camp with coronavirus and struggled all season with its effects. Could there have been something behind-the-scenes in how Renteria treated Moncada — pushing him too hard, or perhaps even being too easy on him — that caused friction? Renteria, while understanding of Moncada’s dilemma, did seem to tire of questions about Moncada’s fatigue (while always, always complimenting his third baseman’s effort), and may have revealed some impatience with the situation.

Papa Ricky

Renteria was lauded by players, and Hahn himself, for his ability to relate to his players. José Abreu calls him a father figure, and Tim Anderson shows great affection as well. Was he too close to them, unable to play bad cop when necessary?

Ricky’s demands

Now, it’s a fairly common presumption that it was the White Sox rejecting Ricky, and not the other way around. But Renteria, in spite of that ballyhooed meeting that Hahn had with team veterans and the manager at the trade deadline to discuss acquisitions, saw his hopes that the White Sox would add an arm for the stretch run go nowhere. It’s possible that the tenure-long “discussions” centered more around Ricky’s demands — to have more say in personnel and create more of a win-now culture, for example.

Vet support

Dallas Keuchel was seemingly elated to see Ricky gone, at least per his post-firing tweet. Keuchel also was the player who most notably spoke out when the South Siders were in the doldrums early, spurring the team to a hot streak that ran the balance of the season and shot them into first place for a time. (Renteria, while claiming there had been other talks with the team before Keuchel’s, expressed some unease with Keuchel going public with his team meeting, although every player asked about it later supported Dallas.) There were many whispers from vets — none as vocal as Keuchel — that Ricky “ran things like a high school team.” And while nothing surfaced in 2020 that reared its head as visibly as benching an injured Avisaíl García for not running hard on an out, you can’t take the booster club out of a rah-rah guy.


Feel free to list anything I missed in the comments. If it’s a huge enough whiff on my part, who knows, maybe I’ll edit this and re-rack the poll below, which will otherwise end in a week.

Poll

Why did Ricky Renteria get fired from the White Sox?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Another manager’s availability
    (85 votes)
  • 21%
    Bullpen usage
    (129 votes)
  • 1%
    Coaches criticism
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Flouting protocols
    (2 votes)
  • 13%
    Game 3, Oakland
    (81 votes)
  • 16%
    Lineup construction
    (97 votes)
  • 6%
    Lineup myopia
    (41 votes)
  • 10%
    Loss of composure
    (62 votes)
  • 0%
    The Moncada conundrum
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Papa Ricky
    (20 votes)
  • 1%
    Ricky’s demands
    (9 votes)
  • 10%
    Vet support
    (65 votes)
606 votes total Vote Now