Although the 2012 season ended in bitter failure for the Chicago White Sox, the first year of manager Robin Ventura’s tenure has been considered in most quarters a great success.
Ventura added instant stability to a team that had gone different directions due to management discord. The Ozzie Guillen-Kenny Williams battle for favored status with team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had become a major distraction for everyone involved, including the 25-man roster.
At the end of last season, Guillen moved on to Miami and Williams, along with special advisor Dennis Gilbert, came up with the improbable -- Ventura as the replacement for the popular Guillen.
After giving the idea a little thought, Reinsdorf agreed and endorsed the idea. Nobody knew how the first-year manager would do with no time as a coach or manager in the minor leagues.
The White Sox spent 117 days in first place in the Central Division. They were at the top of the standings from July 24 on, only to be caught and passed by Detroit on Sept. 26. The 85-77 finish was not expected by any of the pre-season prognosticators. One major magazine predicted a last-place finish with 95 losses for the White Sox.
I sat down with Ventura on Wednesday, the last day of the season, to take a look back at his first year in the dugout.
Ventura on being a rookie manager: There certainly were surprises along the way. At first you are doing everything on the fly. You have certain ideas how things might go and you get other people’s advise, but it still does not prepare you for the job. I was very happy with my staff and the players of course. I am disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs. I was confident I could do the job, but baseball is a cruel game. Any time you think you have it all worked out something will happen that you had not seen or were not prepared for. You just work hard and try to improve.
On dealing with the final two-week collapse: It is a lot different how you deal with it as a manager as opposed to being a player. As a player you are just trying to figure out your own stuff. Most of that is your swing and your approach. This has a lot more to do with thinking through a lot more things for each guy and acting on what is happening in front of you.
On his approach to his players as a manager: You try to make sure everyone is treated well. I don’t believe you treat everyone in the same way. Everyone is different in how they interact within your own team. I do the best I can to treat them with respect and make them understand they are going to get treated fairly. The bottom line is we are here to win games so there is a balance there.
On the biggest challenge: We had to deal with (former Sox pitcher and pregame instructor) Kevin Hickey’s death. That all happened at the beginning of the year. We had to put baseball in perspective and work at the same time. That was tough on everybody. You are still playing games and dealing with that was so different for the guys.
On handling the pitching moves: Any move that you make can be argued with and picked apart. That is just the nature of that element of the game. In the moment of having to a make a decision those are the choices you make and you live with it .
On managing in the future: This is a demanding position, and I think there is a shelf life to doing it in this day and age. I would like to do it for a while. I feel I put everything I had into it. Do I think I will manage 20 years? Probably not. You just don’t see anyone being able to do that in one spot very long.