During the course of this week, baseball's traditional All-Star break, I've graded the White Sox's current major league roster based on their first-half performances. Today, concluding the series, is my perspective of Robin Ventura's first half-season as a big league manager.
From the beginning, the day that the Sox anointed Robin Ventura as their new field manager, I thought it was an inspired choice. And if evidence is needed, you can look it up.
The characteristics I most liked about Ozzie Guillen as Sox manager were multi-fold: 1.) He was one of us and he understood South Side baseball dynamics; and 2.) For better or worse, he brought attention to our Sox, which is lacking both on a national and local level. And 3.) It certainly didn't hurt that he won a World Championship.
As names like Sandy Alomar Jr. and Dave Martinez were being thrown around as candidates last fall, I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to find someone to replace Ozzie that had a top-notch White Sox pedigree, having no idea Ventura was a possibility. Both Alomar and Martinez played for the Sox, but it wasn't the same. Sandy is better known as an Indian and Martinez more of a journeyman.
So, Ventura's move to the manager's role was most welcome in my eyes as he started his playing career with the Sox, was working for them at the time, and had the kind of understanding and loyalty to the franchise I, for one, feel that is important.
Furthermore, despite his lack of experience, I felt he could handle the X's and O's (it's not rocket science) and if managing the pitching staff was a challenge, he had Don Cooper by his side. Plus, Ventura was always a leader and tougher than his low-key approach and wry sense of humor indicated. Even Tigers' coach and former Sox manager Gene Lamont, who was skeptical of the choice because Ventura had no prior managerial experience, felt if anyone could do it, Robin could.
The bottom line is that at this point in Ventura's tenure, early as it is, he's been more than we could have expected. Apart from the Sox being in first place, which is the obvious tangible indicator, the new skipper has set a positive tone and his players have responded. He and an excellent pair of new coaches, Mark Parent and Joe McEwing, have stressed fundamentals and the club is far better than in the past few years--in fact, they are tied with the Mariners for the fewest errors in the majors (35). They simply don't throw games away.
"Robin has been great. The whole staff has been," Captain Paul Konerko told Scott Merkin of MLB.com. "They had a plan coming in from the offseason of what they wanted to do and they have stuck to it--regardless of the schedules or how we played good or bad--and just wanted to be consistent with the way they gave us things as we went.
"He's not a yeller or a screamer. He's not over-managing or anything like that. He trusts his players, but I think he set the tone early that, 'I'm not going to talk a lot, but when I talk, it's important and everybody listen.'"
There's no other grade to give Robin at the All-Star break other than an A. Admittedly, there's a long way to go, but if the White Sox continue to excel in the the second half, even if they don't win the division or make the playoffs, Ventura will be a top candidate for A.L. Manager of the Year.
Those so-called experts said he couldn't succeed without any experience. So far, he's got them all fooled.