It's fitting that Robin Ventura's namesake in the Batman world was known as the Boy Wonder, as that's exactly what Reinsdorf, Kenny, and all of us in White Sox Nation are hoping he is. Because as a manager, Ventura is just a boy. Not a young man - a freakin little boy. The whole of his professional baseball coaching experience is as some sort of special assistant for four months to Buddy Bell, the Sox head of development.
What does that even mean? What did it entail? How much confidence can you have in such a fluff position, especially when it's at the right-hand of a man who hasn't developed a whole lot in terms of non-pitchers in the past decade. Brian Anderson? Jerry Owens? Josh Fields? And now Beckham - all raging disappointments.
Aside a hot streak in some totally meaningless September games, Morel also hasn't hit for average, walked, or hit for power. Now it was just his rookie year and he did seem to start to get it in September, so I've still got some hope for Morel (and for Beckham, too, actually), but it's still a knock on Buddy Bell that none of these Sox players hit the bigs and just light it up. Can you remember the last Sox prospect to hit .290+ immediately on reaching the bigs?
I guess you can say Viciedo last year (.308 in 104 ABs) - but really, one guy in a 100 AB call-up is all we got? Especially when Dayan fell back to a more Sox-like .255 w/ no power in his call-up this year? Also not making me feel good about the future - Flowers was very Sox-like in his .209 tally this year.
Maybe, just maybe Bell hit on something w/ De Aza, who did rip it up all season in the minors and bigs after being picked up off the scrap heap two years ago. But he's also 27 - that's when most guys hit their prime, not emerge as rooks. De Aza was a longtime product of first the Dodgers and then the Marlins systems who, while apparently decently touted, ran into injuries that stunted his development.
De Aza has raised his average in the minors every year since 2006 and now finally looks like he's ready to shed the dreaded 4A (too good for the minors, can't get it done in the bigs) label. But I look at Alexei and Beckham, who also both looked like they were ready for superstardom, only to fall back to middling (Alexei) or near worthless (Beckham), and I'm not yet ready to give Buddy Bell a victory on De Aza yet.
The point is, I'm no Buddy Bell fan because the guy hasn't done a whole lot of developing hitters, so when our brand new manager's biggest stake to his job is working alongside Bell in an undefined role for 4 months.... well, let's just say this move hasn't done a whole lot to wash away the pessimism that 2011 drilled into me. "Anyone would be better than Ozzie!" If you found yourself thinking that... well, we may just find out. Cause experience-wise, Ventura is basically just "anyone."
Make no mistake about it, there is a heck of a lot on the manager. Ignore all these know-nothing, apologist pundits who let Ozzie and every other failing manager off the hook with trite comments like "he can't go out there and hit or pitch for them." Sure, there are inherent limitations to what a manager can do based on the quality of his talent, the level at which they are playing, and the luck that's coming their way (injuries, match-ups, intangibles, etc).
But a baseball manager can and should have a HUGE impact on his baseball club:
He should be a strategic asset, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent's lineup every night and responding with a very specific lineup and approach to capitalize on such.
He should have a profound insight into each player's physical mechanics and mental make-up, knowing what's necessary to keep them going when they're hot and to get them out of it when they're slumping.
He should establish the fundamentals and approaches required on his team, and then ensure they are executed unfailingly by each and every player at all times, including all of those being developed at every level of the minors.
He should be in the ear of his GM and Owner, ensuring he gets the right mix of talent and also the right mix of chemistry, leadership, and other intangibles in his clubhouse.
He should be equally adept at developing youngsters to their full potential, maintaining the high level of play of his established vets, and getting more out of his unfulfilled talents.
He should be able to surround himself with great coaching talent and then ensure that every aspect of instruction - from video review, to scouting, to teaching and ensuring execution - of all facets of the game are done to the highest level.
Finally, he should be able to manage the egos of his players personally and the chemistry of the clubhouse collectively to create confidence, cohesion, energy, and comfort.
Look at all of that - that is one heck of a big, complicated, nuanced job. Now throw in that he has to do this while knowing all the different players and coaches in his own system, plus all the different coaches, teams, and players elsewhere, plus all the video and scouting on all of them, plus all the constant changes and developments with them. And he has to do it while dealing with the fame, pressure, and constant press interaction that comes with being a big league manager.
This is a tremendous responsibility, the kind of job you have to be strong, smart, confident, relaxed, energetic, and experienced to be able to do well. The kind of job where maybe 10-12 guys on the planet can actually say they are reliably good at. The kind of job where no matter your natural skillset, it will take time to learn everything that's needed of you, and then even more time to learn everything that you can be doing to be good at it.
Ventura has had almost no opportunity to do any of that learning. Sure, he'll be helped along by the fact that Cooper will take a good portion of the pitching aspect out of the equation. And maybe he'll have the advantage whatever it is Harold brings to the plate (again, I love the guy, it's just hard to know what such a quiet dude in such a minor role brings to the table... it may be huge, it's just hard to know).
There also will be a new hitting coach... and yes, I will absolutely stand by the statement that ANYONE is better than Greg Walker. Since 2004 this team has had all of one half of a season where the offense lived up to expectations (the first half of 2006) given the incredible talent, the huge amounts of money, and the hitter-friendly ballpark the Sox play in. That's 1/2 of a season out of 8... or a 6% success rate. Yeah, 6%. And yet there are TONS of local pundits who actually defend this guy!!! 6%! What know-nothing morons.
And Ventura will have some bench coach the Sox seem pretty settled on (reports are they've asked permission of some team to talk with this guy and plan on announcing him, along w/ Ventura and the whole staff, on Tuesday). I'm guessing that in hiring a guy like Ventura, part of their thought was that the right experienced bench coach could help offset Ventura's complete lack of any.
But still - this move makes no sense to me. Especially when the seemingly perfect candidate was out there - Dave Martinez. A consummate pro when he played, bouncing around from stop to stop, learning different systems and approaches from numerous different managers and coaches, Martinez was always a solid player, too.
Since then he's had the luxury of being the right hand man to Joe Maddon, who can point to the long line of success of both the Rays and Halos (where he was a longtime bench coach). These are teams that play the game right, that have sustained long stretches of success without New York/Boston-level spending (the Halos spend a decent amount, but like our lovely Sox, don't always spend it wisely).
In short, Dave Martinez brings a wealth of experience from exactly the types of teams that I wish the Sox would be like. And yet, the Sox basically didn't even consider him. Given the timing of Ventura's hiring, there's no way the Sox could have been seriously considering Martinez, talked with him about the job, for whatever reason realized they had to go a new direction, and then put all this Ventura stuff together.
Instead, this seems to have been in the works for a while. But why? Yes, you've got a good start with Coop - it was brilliant to sign him for four more years, because given where the Sox play, the incredible sustained success of their pitching makes Coop one of the top 5 or so pitching coaches in the game, no question.
And maybe Baines is a real astute and learned coach who adds a lot. It's hard to believe, just because the Sox have been a team that didn't seem to out-think or manage anyone, didn't seem bright enough even to realize their own obvious failings and fix them. I mean think of the year after year of poor fundamentals, the horrible hitting approach, and the existence of a bad hitting coach incapable of stopping proven hitters from having prolonged slumps - if Baines is an asset, why couldn't he stem these things?
Was it really all Ozzie's fault? I guess we'll learn that next year, with a blank slate like Ventura allowing Baines more room to show what he can do.
But let's just say Coop and Baines are perfect - why not bring in yet another asset to be your manager? Are you really that concerned about having too many good minds working together? Is it really that difficult to find a bright, capable manager with real professional baseball coaching experience that is able to work right alongside Coop and Baines?
To me, it's simple - whatever you had in-house wasn't enough to get it done. And the idea that Ozzie and the other coaches you jettisoned were holding back the real talent you had in the system isn't flying with me. I do totally agree you can improve over Ozzie and his staff, but I don't think that improvement comes just by elevating the people you already had around. They weren't getting it done before and I'm not buying that it was cause Ozzie wouldn't let them.
Instead, the Sox need some new blood, some outside talent. I wanted to see them bring in a guy off a successful coaching tree - successful for the right reasons. Think Twins, Halos, Rays, Cards, Braves... teams that have been good for a while, playing the game right, and not just buying their talent.
I wanted a new manager, a new hitting coach, a new bench coach from outside of what we have, combining with whatever assets we had left over, to infuse new views and approaches that worked elsewhere with whatever the Sox had been doing right. I wanted it all - the best of what we already had and the best of what was out there.
Now there's still time for some of this to be saved - if the Sox hire an outside hitting coach and a bench coach from some coaching tree I can respect. Those are two crucial and highly influential positions, especially with a know-nothing manager like Ventura at the helm. If we go out and get the right guys there, then maybe somehow this works.
Maybe Ventura can handle the chemistry/leadership role, while a great support staff handles the trenches. Many a successful organization work this way. Sure Ventura will still have some stumbling blocks as he learns the ropes, both with in-game decisions and in running the team. But maybe those are offset by his ability to allow guys like Coop, so skilled in what they do, to shine through.
Look, I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to the Sox cause come on, why root for any team except to add to the enjoyment in your life? And what enjoyment is there in not giving your team every benefit of the doubt and therefore keeping as much hope and positivity alive as possible? So yeah, I'm gonna talk myself into Ventura and whomever they bring in as hitting and bench coach, even if on paper I don't like the decisions they make. You just never know how it will work out, so why not hope it all comes together for us?
Especially when we've got 2005 as proof that sometimes, it actually does.
ADDENDUM - So word is coming out that Cooper helped engineer this whole fire Ozzie/hire Ventura thing with Kenny, that Ozzie was run out of town by a groundwork that was laid way back early in the season.
But two things - first off, the source for a lot of this is a guy who readily admits he thinks Ozzie should have been kept and Kenny should have been let go... so not exactly the most objective source. And, really, anyone who felt Ozzie should have stayed after the epic failings he delivered these past two seasons has to have their baseball acumen questioned. I'd even say his personal relationships with the two men factored in too much to his views (a common failing by way too many beat writers and columnists).
Second, who cares even if that was the case? Good for Coop - Ozzie has been doing a garbage job, he deserved to be undermined. Ozzie needed to have his horrible handling of Rios and Dunn called out. He deserved to have his long, uncritical protection of the horrible Walker questioned.
I mean we were doing that as fans - think about how much more frustrated you'd be if you were a coach and in addition to your team loyalties, your livelihood was being threatened by Ozzie's constant failings? Can you blame Coop if he did work to get things done right around the organization? What kind of ass would accuse Coop of doing something wrong by trying to make an undeniably poorly playing team do things differently?
Ozzie had a beauty situation - a team with consistently good to great pitching and a boatload of money invested in its payroll every year. All he returned was a single division title since 2006, despite playing in a weak division. God bless Coop if he was doing what all of us fans wished someone on the inside was - complaining about how bad Ozzie and Walker and the rest of the non-pitching coaching staff have largely done with this team since we won the title.
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