Robin Ventura was made to manage
September, 2, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesA consistent demeanor and approach has made Robin Ventura an excellent manager in Chicago.DETROIT -- Long before Robin Ventura even knew he wanted to manage, Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams had written down his name as a possible candidate, among other names, in a folder that Williams updates and maintains.
Ventura is understated and even-tempered and cannot be any more different from the old-school Earl Weaver/Billy Martin/Ozzie Guillen model of what a manager should be: fiery, demonstrative, the loudest and most aggressive guy in the room. But Williams had thought that in Ventura's playing days, he had a natural leadership quality, because he was someone who other players trusted and relied on.
Williams also remembered how he had informally quizzed a doctor who specialized in giving personality assessments -- something like the test that's given to prospective NFL draftees -- and Williams had asked who had most impressed him, among all the people the doctor had spoken to through the years. The answer: Robin Ventura.
This is how it came to be that Williams met at his Arizona house with Ventura last fall, with White Sox official Buddy Bell.
"Do you have any managerial aspirations at all?" Williams remembers asking Ventura.
"Naaaah, not really," Ventura answered.
Days later, when Ventura was introduced as the White Sox manager, the initial perception of the move within the industry was that it was all about public relations, about trying to rebuild a once-popular White Sox player into someone who might have the stature to replace Guillen.
Instead, Williams' new manager is his version of the new prototype of what a Major League Baseball manager should be: respected and respectful -- a very important trait in winning over a new generation of players far more sensitive to criticism than their baseball ancestors -- with an ability to motivate through building expectation rather than through screaming or insults.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have this with Don Mattingly, the Chicago Cubs have it with Dale Sveum; Oakland's Bob Melvin fits the new model, as does the Cardinals' Mike Matheny, among others. These are men who do not overreact, an extremely important quality in this time of exploding social media, when a manager's biting comment about a player erupts outside of a clubhouse in mere seconds.
The White Sox players rave about their work environment, finding Ventura's consistent day-to-day personality a perfect fit for the requirements and challenges of their jobs. He and his coaching staff -- a group that mirrors Ventura's mien, in the eyes of the players -- put the players to work and expect them to prepare and play hard. For example, they are the only team in the majors that takes infield before the first game of every series. Ventura and his staff are positive, upbeat, energetic.
"I love it here," Adam Dunn said after Saturday's game. "I'm still waiting for that day when [Ventura] acts different, but he's the same every day."
When Williams first began seriously thinking about Ventura as a managerial candidate last fall, he was unsure of how White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf would react initially. One day, he was in the same room as Reinsdorf and longtime agent Dennis Gilbert, and with Reinsdorf within earshot, Williams mentioned to Gilbert that he had in mind a candidate who was completely out of the box, someone who would be a surprise.
Gilbert had seen Williams recently chatting with Ventura, who had worked in the minor league system for the White Sox in 2011. "Are you talking about Robin?" Gilbert asked.
Williams was astounded that Gilbert had guessed correctly. Their conversation drew Reinsdorf, and when Williams told Reinsdorf what he was thinking, the owner's eyebrows darted upward.
"You know, that's a very interesting name," he said.
The next day, Reinsdorf talked with Williams and told him that overnight, as he thought about the idea hour by hour, he loved the idea more and more. Unlike other outside candidates, Ventura would not have to prove himself to Chicago, to the reporters who covered the team. The focus would be on baseball. Reinsdorf also knew how smart Ventura is and how secure he is, without the burning need for attention.
Williams and Bell asked for a meeting with Ventura under the premise that they would discuss players in the White Sox farm system, until Williams asked him whether he wanted to manage -- and Ventura indicated that no, it wasn't something he had thought about.
"Well, you need to change that attitude," Williams recalled saying, "because what you're really here for is to talk about becoming the manager of the Chicago White Sox."
Ventura looked at Williams and Bell, and with the use of a profanity, told them they were nuts.
Today, Ventura is the manager of the first-place White Sox, a young team that has performed far beyond preseason expectations, and will face the Detroit Tigers on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET, ESPN2).
By the way: Williams has another name in mind of someone who, like Ventura, could manage in the majors without a single day of managing in the minors, someone who is a natural leader: Paul Konerko.
The White Sox hitters were dominated Saturday by Max Scherzer, who registered his ninth consecutive start of eight or more strikeouts, and the Tigers are now within a game of first place. They can move into a first-place tie tonight, when Justin Verlander starts against Chris Sale.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Scherzer threw eight shutout innings, striking out nine. It was the ninth straight game Scherzer has struck out at least eight. That is tied for the fifth-longest streak by an AL pitcher in the live ball era (since 1920).
Most consecutive games with eight-plus K's (AL pitchers since 1920)
1994: Randy Johnson -- 12
1977: Nolan Ryan -- 12
2002: Pedro Martinez -- 11
1989: Nolan Ryan -- 11
2012: Max Scherzer -- 9
1999: Pedro Martinez -- 9
1946: Bob Feller -- 9
Francisco Liriano was ineffective, struggling to command his fastball.
Dunn, who injured an oblique on a check-swing the other day and was not in the lineup Saturday, told me he fully intends to play tonight.
More on tonight's Sale-Verlander matchup (from ESPN Stats & Information): Sale has struggled in his matchups with the Tigers, going 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA this season. Verlander has picked up a no-decision in each of his past four starts. He'd never gone more than two straight starts without a decision before. On Sunday, he looks to avoid going five straight starts without a win for just the third time in his career (and first time since 2008).
The Tigers called up five more players, John Lowe writes.
Tigers rookie Avisail Garcia made a big first impression in the big leagues, battling Liriano through 10 pitches in Garcia's first plate appearance before drawing a walk. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, and he's never played above Double-A, and it's apparent that Jim Leyland is going to give him a chance to play regularly in Detroit.
His resemblance to Miguel Cabrera -- his shoulders, his batting style, and even how he walks -- is remarkable.
• The New York Yankees were desperate for a victory and got some help from a newcomer. The Baltimore Orioles blew a three-run lead.
Meanwhile, a reinforcement could be on the way for the Orioles: Jason Hammel threw five innings in a rehab start.
• The Boston Red Sox have a lot of money to spend and will do so -- and Jacoby Ellsbury might cash in, writes Michael Silverman.
From the story:
- That won't be cheap but [Ellsbury's agent, Scott] Boras said the Red Sox can still make it happen.