Positive-thinking Rick Renteria unfazed by Cubs’ youth movement
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter November 7, 2013 10:24PM
Logan Forsythe grounds Everth Cabrera into a double play. Cabrera hits Mark Ellis in the crotch to the disdain of the Dodgers. Benches cleared but no punches were thrown in the 7th inning. Padres Bench Coach Rick Renteria restrains Cabrera.
THE RICK RENTERIA FILE
Born: Harbor City, Calif. (Dec. 25, 1961).
Previous job: Spent six years on San Diego Padres manager Bud Black’s coaching staff, including last three as bench coach.
Managing experience: No major-league experience. 2013 World Baseball Classic (Team Mexico). Spent eight seasons as a minor-league manager in Florida (1998-2001) and San Diego (2004-07) farm systems, including five winning seasons.
Playing career: 20th overall pick of Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980; played 184 big-league games over five seasons for Pirates, Mariners and Marlins. Playing mostly second and third, finished with a career .224 average, four home runs, .608 OPS.
Updated: December 9, 2013 11:05AM
Whether Rick Renteria fully comprehends the job at hand — or even wants to acknowledge the rebuilding process — the hiring of the Cubs’ latest manager appears to have been at least three years in the making.
General manager Jed Hoyer said he recognized the first-time manager’s path toward this point in his career in 2010, when Hoyer was a first-year GM in San Diego and Renteria was the Padres’ first-base coach.
Early in the season, “I was talking to our owners about the coaches,” Hoyer said during a conference call Thursday introducing the new manager. “We had a good coaching staff, and the one that we singled out as the best worker, the most prepared, the most positive guy with the most impact, was Rick.
“It was pretty apparent Rick was going to be a big-league manager and pretty quickly.”
Is the 51-year-old former big-league infielder the right man for the job? Does the veteran of small-market teams as a player and coach have any idea of the kind of daily grind and gauntlet he faces in this championship-starved, roster-stripped market as a first-year manager?
It’s probably going to be impossible to know for more than a year what kind of manager he is with a capable team — given the Cubs’ youth-driven, long-term rebuilding process that promises at least another rough season of transition in 2014.
And the only thing most Cub fans know about Renteria is that he’s not Joe Girardi — the local favorite who opened the door wide on the hiring process when he re-signed with the New York Yankees four weeks ago and abandoned back-channel overtures toward the Cubs’ job.
Largely because of the front office’s familiarity with him, Renteria was one of the first candidates interviewed, and he quickly took front-runner status — described internally in recent weeks as the “leader in the clubhouse.”
His lack of big-league managing experience was the one deficit he had to make up for. But Cubs officials said he had everything else they were looking for — especially as it became increasingly clear that the player-development part of the job will be critical in the process the next few years.
Key prospects are coming through the system, and the big-market resources for major player acquisitions aren’t for the short-to-mid term.
He has an eight-year track record of developing young players as a minor-league manager in two organizations, and he has played a key role in helping transition a large number of prospects into productive players for the constantly transitioning, small-market Padres. And former players, colleagues and bosses all say he has an uncommon ability to relate to young players, even as he has become more fatherly than big-brother-like over the years.
“I have four kids, ranging from 35 to my daughter who just turned 18,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a youth movement almost my whole life.”
His reputation for compassion combined with tough love also comes with the added qualification the Cubs sought of being bilingual and relating especially well with young Latin players. Some in the game say he’s one of the best in the business at that.
“I’m hoping that I happen to be a manager that happens to speak Spanish,” said Renteria, who signed a three-year contract that includes two additional club-option years. “But the ability to communicate in the same language sometimes creates a little more of a comfort zone for a player.
“The reality is baseball is played between the lines and it has its own language. And that language is performance.”
Renteria and those who know him say he focuses on building confidence and stressing preparation and awareness. He’s so positive and upbeat he even seems to think the Cubs can compete right away.
“I know everybody thinks I’m nuts,” he said, “but I feel like any team has a chance to move forward if you really believe in the concept of playing as a team, going out prepared on a daily basis, really knowing what you want to do and giving yourself a chance to fight and play.”
“Rick was tremendous in his initial interview with us,” team president Theo Epstein said, “and excelled in the follow-up and the many phone calls that we had. You can’t find anyone in this game to say a bad word or even a neutral word about Rick Renteria. He really excelled throughout the process.
“We took our time. We wanted to be thorough and had the benefit of doing so. It was clear to us that Rick was the right man for the job.”