White Sox in Year 2 of the no-nonsense Ventura era
BY CHRIS DE LUCA Sun-Times Media March 11, 2013 7:42PM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Hawk Harrelson was hanging out at Camelback Ranch last week when White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn sidled up for a chat.
Dunn told Harrelson the previous March that he had just completed the most fun spring training of his career. So Harrelson asked him how 2013’s camp was measuring up.
“Even better,” said Dunn, who was spotted zipping around the clubhouse Monday on a child’s mini motor scooter before playing hockey — with real sticks, but a can of chewing tobacco as the puck — against Paul Konerko in front of their lockers.
Then Dunn said something Harrelson had never heard before during his seven decades in pro baseball.
“He said, ‘This coaching staff is going to put another couple years on my career,’” Harrelson recalled. “I’ve heard almost everything that could be said about baseball said, but I’ve never heard that said before.
“That’s a testament to Robin. He does everything right. The players, to a man, love him. I’ve never seen that.”
Harrelson was pointing toward Robin Ventura, entering his second season as Sox manager.
He’s no Ozzie Guillen. No F-bombs sprinkled into every sentence. No feuds with the front office. No worries about contract extensions at the worst possible times.
Just that low-key Ventura smile.
It has been the needed calm after the Ozzie storm.
“He has the perfect temperament for what he does,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “He never gets too high or gets too low.”
That’s what the White Sox ordered up after eight turbulent seasons with Guillen.
There was the 2005 World Series and champagne-soaked smiles — memories proudly displayed with giant photos plastered on every open wall space at the sprawling Camelback Ranch. For that magical season, Guillen will forever hold a special place in the heart of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
But there was also the nonsense. The drama. The in-fighting between Guillen and then-GM Ken William that at first amused some of the Sox — including Reinsdorf, insiders say — then grated on everyone’s nerves.
“That’s not easy because you’re friends with both of them,” Ventura said of his long-distance view on the Ozzie-Kenny saga. “I wasn’t necessarily in the middle of it, but you look at it as tough. Any time you see people that you are friends with who are not necessarily getting along, it’s tough. I wasn’t there, so I didn’t have to deal with it on a daily basis.”
No one does these days.
Ventura is the direct opposite of his former White Sox teammate. And that’s by design.
“He came in with this fresh set of eyes and this fresh approach,” Hahn said. “Guys were free to make new impressions and a lot of guys, Dunn for one, took advantage of that.”
When it was clear at the end of the 2011 season that Guillen’s time was up, Williams reached out to Harrelson and asked him to provide a short list of candidates to be the Sox’ next manager.
The next day, Harrelson, who had campaigned for Guillen in 2003, dropped a list of three names on Williams’ desk.
“He looked at it and smiled,” Harrelson said. “And he said, ‘Those are three pretty good names, but I’m thinking about hiring somebody else. And before I tell you his name, I have to tell you why.’ First thing out of his mouth is he has never coached before, never managed before.
“I didn’t say anything. I thought: Never coached or managed? Wow.”
Then Williams revealed that Ventura was his man, saying: .
“I raised up my arms and said, ‘Kenny, you just made my winter,’ “ Harrelson said. “Kenny told me, ‘I’m going to get crucified.’ I said, Yeah, you’re going to get your ass killed.
“I was kicking myself in the ass for not thinking about it. I never thought he would manage. He made well over $100 million playing, so he didn’t need the money. He was a great family man. But he put together a staff, and they just all meshed.”
Ventura, who had the Sox in first place for 117 days his rookie season as manager, was approached by Hahn in the offseason with a one-year extension to his original three-year contract.
The reply was a polite no.
“I want to get through what I signed up for, then we can talk about it after that,” Ventura said. “I don’t have any trepidation about whether I want to go on or not go on, it’s just that I like things to fit in my little box. This is what I agreed to do. I’m going to do this first, then we’ll talk.
“I didn’t talk about extensions when I was a player, either. If I had a contract, I didn’t think the team had to come to me in the last year of it and offer me something else.”
That’s not the view of most managers or players these days.
“It’s extremely unique,” Hahn said. “For Robin, it was more like, ‘I don’t know if two years from now you’re going to want me to be the guy. And I don’t want to be here just because I have paper that says I should be here.’ And his focus was on 2013, not 2015, and he doesn’t know how he’s going to feel as it gets closer to 2015. It was extremely refreshing, but consistent with everything about him.”
The decision raised speculation that Ventura isn’t in this job for the long haul.
Asked Monday if he expects to hold the same job five or 10 years from now, Ventura wouldn’t reveal his hand.
“I don’t know,” he said. “There comes a point that either the message is old or the team needs something new. I would hope that I get to make the decision and I don’t get ... That’s the only thing in my mind. These jobs don’t last very long anyway. I don’t look at it as though I’m planning on being here for 20 years.”