White Sox job closes for Francona -- Ventura hired

BOSTON -- The Chicago White Sox have announced the hiring of former All-Star third baseman Robin Ventura as their new manager, bringing to a crashing halt speculation that Terry Francona could surface as a candidate there.

Francona had begun his professional coaching career 20 years ago as a hitting instructor for the White Sox, and his first managing job came a year later, in 1992, in Class A South Bend (Ind.). He managed four seasons in all in the White Sox system, most famously in 1994, when he had an aspiring Double-A outfielder named Michael Jordan. He was Baseball America's Manager of the Year in 1993, and after the '94 season was named that publication's top managerial prospect in the minors.

Francona has maintained a close relationship with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, further fueling speculation that he could be headed to Chicago's South Side. That ended with Wednesday's announcement of Ventura's hiring.

Unlike some other years, it doesn't appear as though there will be significant turnover among big-league managers this winter. The Orioles' job could be open if Buck Showalter is promoted to general manager. Mike Quade has a year remaining on his contract with the Cubs, but his job may depend on whom the Cubs hire to be their new GM. Brad Mills, Francona's long-time friend and former bench coach, could be in some trouble in Houston, where the Astros are undergoing an ownership change. And the wild card is in St. Louis, where Tony La Russa had been mentioned as a possible candidate to return to the White Sox if he elected to leave the Cardinals.

La Russa's name also has been mentioned in speculation in Boston, a city for which he has always expressed a great fondness. La Russa would come as a package deal with his long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan, presumably an attractive proposition for a team that had the pitching problems the Sox had. But the Sox in previous managerial searches during the John Henry reign have steered clear of big-name candidates, and La Russa is not exactly the type to rely heavily on statistical analysis, as he demonstrated anew during the division playoff series between the Cardinals and Phillies.

Asked about how he deploys his outfielders, he answered: "It's my tribute to Moneyball. I'm not a big Moneyball fan. What we do is we take the square footage between the right-field line and center field and the square footage from left field to center field, divide that by pi ... and then we pick the dugout. The field that's closest to the dugout, and that's where Lance [Berkman] plays. That's almost always true. Some places there may be, if it's spacious — probably not good. Here it's close to the dugout, that's where he plays."