New Faces, New Places

The manager and bench coach are in Miami, the hitting coach is in Atlanta, at last look the third base coach is looking for his next opportunity while the pitching coach, first base coach bullpen coach and bullpen catcher are back in Chicago with a whole new set of personalities.

The further transformation of the White Sox on-field braintrust became official yesterday, which began with Robin Ventura replacing Ozzie Guillen who has moved on to South Beach:

* Mark Parent, a long-time major league backup catcher and, most recently, a minor league manager replaces Joey Cora as the Sox bench coach. Cora has joined Ozzie in the same role with the Marlins.

* Joe McEwing (pictured above), known as “Super Joe” during his major league career for his hustle and enthusiastic brand of play, replaces Jeff Cox as the third base coach. McEwing, a Tony LaRussa favorite when the former played for the latter in St. Louis, managed the Sox AAA club in Charlotte last summer. Cox has not yet landed his next gig.

* Jeff Manto, a former major league journeyman infielder, replaces Greg Walker as hitting coach. Manto has most recently served as the Sox’s minor league hitting instructor and at one time was the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Walker was just hired as the Braves hitting coach.

* First base coach Harold Baines, pitching coach Don Cooper, bullpen coach Juan Nieves and bullpen catcher Mark Salas are the holdovers from last year’s coaching staff.

Six Years Ago Today…Best Sports Day Ever!

Robin’s Back

The Ventura philosophy?

“Just being truthful, being upfront, honest and fair, really. I think’s everybody’s accountable and as being a player, guys like that. Guys know what to expect, they like that. As a manager I don’t change day-to-day and I think that’d be part of the draw. I’m pretty much the same every day, and they’ll know what to expect.”

An Inspired Choice

It doesn’t escape me that the day the world was mourning Apple visionary Steve Jobs, the personification of thinking out of the box, that Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams named Robin Ventura manager of the White Sox.

All we’ve heard since Ozzie left for South Beach is that the top candidates were Sandy Alomar, Jr., Dave Martinez and Terry Francona. Then, yesterday, the Sox fooled us all and chose one of their own who has absolutely no professional coaching or managing experience.

I think it’s a terrific, inspired choice on multiple levels. Ventura is a proven leader, he is familiar with the White Sox, he’ll have credibility with the veterans, will nurture youngsters like Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo and will somewhat offset the loss of Guillen in the eyes of the fans. He will also be great with media in a non-Ozzie sort of way. He will be thoughtful with a touch of wry humor as opposed to his predecessor’s 24/7 stream of consciousness. And, as far as I know, he doesn’t have a twitter account.

As you would expect, many in the baseball community have come out of the woodwork very skeptical of the move. Everybody from Tigers’ coach Gene Lamont, a former Sox manager, to a legion of baseball writers. With experienced men out there for the taking, they’re saying, how can the White Sox pick someone with absolutely no experience?

My answer to them is that managing a baseball team is not rocket science. It’s about leadership. Everything else can be learned. What Ventura doesn’t know about pitching, he’s got Don Cooper. What he needs to understand about other facets of the game he’ll have an experienced bench coach and another quiet professional in Harold Baines. And in time, Robin, who was a smart player and a consummate pro as well as being enormously popular, will know all he needs to know.

Nobody, including Ventura, knows how this will play out. But with high risk there’s high reward. And although Mr. Jobs most likely didn’t know the White Sox from the Red Sox or Stan Williams from “No Neck” Williams, I think he would have approved of this decision.

Robin Ventura New Sox Skipper

“When I met with the media as our season ended, I identified one person at the very top of my managerial list. I wanted someone who met very specific criteria centered around his leadership abilities. Robin Ventura was that man. His baseball knowledge and expertise, his professionalism, his familiarity with the White Sox and Chicago and his outstanding character make him absolutely the right person to lead our clubhouse and this organization into the seasons ahead.”  –Sox GM Kenny Williams

PS — More from me tomorrow.

Is Francona the Answer?

It seems serendipitous doesn’t it? On Monday, the White Sox release Ozzie and two days later he officially becomes the manager of the Miami Marlins. Then, in about 48 hours with the Sox on the hunt for a new skipper, former Chisox minor league manager Terry Francona, after winning two world titles in Beantown, parts ways with the Red Sox.

Arrange the press conference at the Cell immediately, right? Well, not so fast.

Conventional wisdom is that hiring Francona should be a no-brainer. A proven winner with ties to the organization that would give the South Siders an established leader in the dugout and instant credibility with the fans. But is it the right thing to do? Is Francona the answer or should the Sox brass opt for a fresh start with a young, respected, managerial star of the future?

At the risk of waffling, I would be happy either way. I’d welcome Francona and his impressive resume. I also think Sandy Alomar, Jr., the Tribe’s new bench coach who seems like the favorite to get the job, or Dave Martinez, Joe Maddon‘s trusted bench coach with the Rays, would be outstanding choices. And both have spent time in a Sox uniform.

For all the buzz about Francona coming to Chicago, at the end of the day I don’t think it will happen. I believe that when Kenny Williams comes to the microphone in a couple of weeks, he’ll announce the following as the new Sox field general:

Over and Out

The season of our discontent ended in familiar fashion this afternoon as the White Sox, a wild Chris Sale in particular, blew a ninth inning lead to end the season in third place at 79-83.

A lot will happen during the offseason as the Sox retool in an effort to get better and erase the memory of a very forgettable 2011. At the top of the list will be the naming of a new skipper, hopefully some time before the start of the World Series.

I’ll be back with my opinions and observations as things develop. And thanks for hanging in with me this summer, it wasn’t easy for any of us.

Life Goes On

The former face of the franchise was in South Beach with his bench coach and the long-time pitching guru was the manager, but life went on last night at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago.

I’m in full agreement with Jerry Seinfeld‘s theory that we root for the jersey–the team–regardless of who is wearing it. Last evening at the Cell, the fans in attendance had lost their popular manager after a season we all want to forget, but they were still there rooting for their beloved Pale Hose. And, specifically, they were there to honor one of their favorites, Mark Buehrle, with a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls in what might have been his last appearance in a Sox uniform.

Buehrle, who along with Paul Konerko has represented the franchise with as much class as any players in the club’s history, was his typical consistent self in the 2-1 victory. He reached the 200-inning mark for the 11th year in a row as he won his 13th game of the season and 161st of his career–all with the Sox. And, of course, we will always savor his no-hitter, the perfect game, his All-Star appearances, his clutch World Series save in Game 3 and the ultra-competitive approach he demonstrated on the mound at all times.

If this was the last time we’ll cheer for Buehrle as a member of the Sox, it will be unfortunate and we will miss him. But life goes on.

I Miss Him Already

I’m going to miss Our Ozzie.

I’ll miss his bewildering stream of conciousness, his fall-down-laughing humor, his solid managing and his debunking of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Most of all, though, I’ll miss that we had “one of us” at the helm of the White Sox who no longer will be the face of the franchise.

Having said all that as a fan of Ozzie since he put on the Sox uniform in 1985 and one who saw him guide the Sox to a World Series title, it’s time for the skipper, and for us, to move on. Nothing lasts forever and it became obvious when Ozzie began campaigning for a contract extension. Sorry, Oz, but that was bad timing if you really wanted to stay in Chicago. A contract extension after presiding over one of the most disappointing seasons in the teams’s history? There was no way that was going to fly with the Chairman.

So, what now? I think it would be an exercise in futility to try and find someone as colorful and fits as perfectly as Ozzie did in the context of his Sox bloodline. That person doesn’t exist. That’s not to say we won’t hire an outstanding manager with the potential of getting better results–even someone with a high profile who will help bring the fans back into the fold. But there’s only one Ozzie and we shouldn’t look for a clone.

The names of candidates are out there, though Kenny Williams hasn’t tipped his hand. Tony LaRussa is a longshot at best. There’s Dave Martinez, Sandy Alomar, Jr., up and coming AAA manager Joe McEwing, former manager and Sox player development director Buddy Bell, among them. Williams has said that because of Ozzie’s “warning” the Sox already have been focusing on a possible replacement and the decision could come sooner than later.

Last offseason, the Sox were “All In” for 2011. This offseason there undoubtedly will be substantial changes. A new manager, certainly new coaches and a belt-tightening that might see more familiar names–like Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Matt Thornton  and Carlos  Quentin–leaving as well.

It’s a time of change on the South Side. While I’ll miss Ozzie and some of the others, an overhaul is the right thing to do. We need to move on.

 

Pride Matters

After the White Sox lost the opener and found themselves down 4-0 going into the fifth inning in the second game of yesterday’s split doubleheader vs. the Tribe, I wondered, Where is the Sox pride?”

Sure, the Sox have been eliminated from the A.L. Central race, but the truth is that there is still something to play for–second place and a .500 record. Modest achievements based on this season’s expectations, but in my view the players owe it to themselves, the organization and the fans to give it their all through Game 162.

So, it was heartening to see the Sox rally to overcome the four-run deficit to win the nightcap, 5-4. It makes me feel a whole lot better about this group.

It was also nice to see how they did it. Gordon Beckham smashed three doubles and drove in a run; Alejandro De Aza, who could be an important piece of the puzzle in 2012, knocked in a pair ; and Josh Kinney, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Chris Sale, in relief of Dylan Axelrod, pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings.

Eight games to go.

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