Ventura making smooth transition to manager
Former White Sox player already living up to team's expectations
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Soon after Ozzie Guillen was released from the last year of his contract by the White Sox, names started popping up as possible managerial replacements.
Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Davey Martinez quickly jumped to the top of this list, compiled in the court of public opinion. People wondered aloud if Tony La Russa would want to join up again with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, La Russa's close friend and former employer.
Then there were questions as to whether the White Sox would want to spend the money for someone like Terry Francona, who had departed from a successful Red Sox stint.
Nowhere on that list was Robin Ventura. Not even under the "also receiving consideration" line. But the only list that really mattered was the one put together by general manager Ken Williams.
On that particular lineup of candidates, Ventura sat at the top, the bottom and pretty much everywhere in-between. The Gold Glove third baseman's first managerial gig at any level has shifted into overdrive with the start of Spring Training, almost five months after his October hire.
The qualities Williams liked in Ventura have grown stronger during that time, just as Williams had expected.
"For the most part, he is who I thought he was," said Williams, while watching the White Sox's first day of workouts Thursday. "Keep in mind this was not a short interview process.
"This was years in the making of trying to get a gauge on who he exactly is. He hasn't disappointed."
Quite a few jaws hit the floor when the White Sox announced Ventura's hiring. That stunning moment had nothing to do with the 44-year-old's qualifications.
Ventura became one of the most popular players in franchise history, both inside and outside the organization, through his decade playing on the South Side of Chicago. He played the game right and expected others to do the same, just like Guillen, his good friend and infield-mate with the White Sox.
Ventura's style falls in the "bit more understated" category in comparison to Guillen, although Guillen believes the two share some of the same qualities.
"We grow up together. I'm not going to say from the same school, but we had the same thought about managers," Guillen said prior to Spring Training. "Robin is crazier than me. I just show it. Players are going to love him. Players will get along with him very well."
Last June, Ventura was hired as a special advisor to director of player development Buddy Bell. That short stint marks the only professional baseball job Ventura has held at any level, aside from third baseman, first baseman or designated hitter.
In watching Ventura through the early stages of his tenure, prior experience clearly looks to be an overrated intangible.
"Let's look at what Kirk Gibson did last year and some of the new managers and fresh faces," said White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy, in analyzing Ventura's task. "Look at how excited they are about Mike Matheny [in St. Louis]. Robin is a baseball guy.
"There is certainly stuff Robin will learn over the years, but Robin is awesome. I love his demeanor. I love his attitude. We are going to do things right. We are going to be punctual. He's a professional. He oozes professionalism. You can't not be excited to play for a guy like that."
Peavy also pointed out that Ventura "surrounded himself with good baseball people" on his first staff. That coaching crew isn't exactly loaded with experience in key positions, with bench coach Mark Parent and third-base coach Joe McEwing also taking their first run at the Major League level. But it's a group already fitting well together, taking its cue from the man wearing familiar jersey No. 23.
"If this team wins the world championship or whatever they do, Robin will take none of the credit," Parent said. "He's just giving them a platform and a stage and a way to go about their business that tends to be successful. They are anxious to play for a guy who is there for them."
"He's one of my best teammates ever," said McEwing, who played with Ventura as part of the Mets during the 2000 and '01 seasons. "He's very humble and expects the game to be played the right way. As a staff, I believe that's how we all view it."
During Ventura's post-workout press conference Thursday, he was asked if his current jersey was the same size as the one he wore as a player. Ventura smiled and said it was.
That response seemed to be a fitting one from Ventura, bordering on symbolic, since he hasn't changed much over the years. So, who is Robin Ventura?
He's the man who famously charged the mound after Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan hit him with a pitch during a game in 1993. Ryan's headlock on Ventura is what most fans take away from that moment, but as Ventura explained at SoxFest, it was a situation that he felt had to happen for the White Sox to change the tone of the particular series.
He's an individual who regularly visited children battling insidious illnesses and stayed in contact with some of these valiant young men and women after his playing days were done. He preferred to make these visits on his own, without the glare of television cameras.
Ventura has a commanding presence, supplemented by a biting but enjoyable wit, and usually says more with less. He appears to be exactly what the White Sox needed, even if many within the organization didn't realize it as a possibility back in October.
And remember, the only real doubt about Ventura as a manager was whether he wanted to make that sort of time commitment away from his family, not if he could handle the job.
"Personally, I just love the guy," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, a fellow member of the 2012 new-manager's club, who managed Ventura with the Mets. "He was a quiet leader who totally understood the game of baseball, who expressed what needed to be expressed in the right manner, but only at chosen times. I think Robin will do great."
"He brings a new attitude to the team," said White Sox backup catcher Tyler Flowers. "You could see it with some of the guys at SoxFest, just guys really enjoying themselves again rather than all that pressure and negativity we've had in years past."