White Sox's Ventura hire a daring move

BY foxsports • October 6, 2011

There was a school of thought surrounding the Chicago White Sox that perhaps the departure of Ozzie Guillen would herald a more predictable era for the franchise.

The new manager couldn’t help but be more buttoned-down, thus lending stability to an organization that has had little of it since winning the World Series in 2005.

That may happen. But the announcement of Guillen’s successor on Thursday was far more shocking than the initial news of Ozzie’s departure last week.

The new manager had a distinguished playing career, including two All-Star appearances. But he’s never managed or coached in professional baseball since retiring after the 2004 season.

His name is Robin Ventura, and the job ahead of him is exceedingly difficult. I’m not prepared to call this a bad hire. But is it eyebrow-raising and risky? Yes, it absolutely is. The White Sox, instead of taking the safe route, remain as erratic as ever.

But in one sense, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprise: White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf loves hiring former players for prominent jobs. He has general manager Kenny Williams. He had Guillen. And now he has Ventura.

“You will not find a better teammate, leader and friend,” Reinsdorf said in a statement.

Reinsdorf couldn’t say that it’s impossible to find a better manager — because Ventura has never done it before.

Ventura, 44, spent six full seasons away from organized baseball, before returning to the White Sox on June 6 as a special adviser to director of player development Buddy Bell. In between, he spent time coaching Little League and high school teams.

In June, Ventura told the Chicago Sun-Times that the adviser position appealed to him because it allowed him to spend time at his California home in between visits to instruct White Sox minor leaguers.

“They gave me the opportunity to be a little flexible, and that’s the part that intrigued me,” Ventura told the Sun-Times then. “It would be a different sell if it was for six months at a time. But going for three or four days was appealing.”

Four months later, Ventura is suddenly excited about a nine-month job, when including spring training and postseason.

Ventura may actually be the right fit from a personality standpoint. He is the opposite of Guillen, who once played beside him on the Chicago infield — Guillen at shortstop, Ventura at third base. As one major-league executive put it, “They’re going from a guy who wouldn’t shut his mouth to a guy who won’t open his.”

Ventura has never run a professional pitching staff before, which means he’s fortunate to have a veteran pitching coach in Don Cooper. But Ventura’s biggest challenge may be getting through to Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham; their poor 2011 seasons spoiled what otherwise looked like a contending roster.

Hiring a popular figure from the past often plays well with fans but doesn’t necessarily yield the best results. The Detroit Tigers named Alan Trammell as their manager when he was similarly inexperienced. That didn’t end well. Reinsdorf is wagering his $100 million payroll that this outcome will be different. That is a big gamble indeed.

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