No one is really still under the impression that Kenny Williams is a fantastic GM. A 3-year playoff drought without even a whiff of rebuilding will do that.
However, if possible, it'd be great to dismiss the notion that he's a terrible GM, or one who has tragically outlived his usefulness. As he continues to devalue youth, and dismiss the notion of reloading a cartoonishly barren farm system during a time where investing in player development has never been more chic, it's getting harder to avoid the notion that he's operating on his own plane, detached from any line of thinking shared by those in his industry.
Well, this isn't going to help.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN put together a piece examining the unconventional managing hires of the White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Turns out, the White Sox process was very unconventional.
Ventura, 44, played for the White Sox in the 1990s when Williams was a scout and then a special assistant with the team. They talked enough for Williams to see the leadership potential Ventura possessed. And he wasn't the only one. During the recent general managers' meetings in Milwaukee, Williams told the story of a "very well-respected psychologist" (whose name he declined to reveal) who does personality testing for the military, large corporations and professional sports organizations.
"This psychologist was asked, 'Of all the people you've tested, who impressed you the most in terms of their capabilities to lead?'" Williams said. "And his reply was, 'There's one guy who's capable of being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And if he were in the military, he would achieve four-star general status.' I'll give you one guess who the person was."
Hint: His initials are RV.
"The point is, [Ventura] is a cut above," Williams said. "If he could have been a four-star general, I think he's probably equipped to run a baseball team. And he's probably equipped to lead this group of guys." No experience? Who cares?
"In our situation, I think the [biggest] risk would have been not hiring Robin," Williams said.
The White Sox never would have hired Ventura, Williams said, if they didn't have an adequate support system in place. It's headed by pitching coach Don Cooper, a strong, opinionated voice and a man known for getting the most out of his staffs. After hiring Ventura, Williams compiled a list of bench coaches from the "grizzled veteran" school. But when Ventura told him he wanted former big league catcher Mark Parent, Williams deferred to his new manager's judgment.
"Robin came back to me and said, 'I've got my guy, this is who I want, and there is no one else,"' Williams said. "Now that I've spent some time with Mark Parent, I know exactly what he's talking about."
The irony, is that Williams' process is compared to that of St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and his hiring of former catcher Mike Matheny with equally non-existent coaching experience.
Mozeliak is of course playing with so much house money he could weave a set of undergarments out of it. After weathering losing his No. 1 starter in Spring Training, hitting a home run in free agency with Lance Berkman, and pulling off a risky, short-sighted mid-season trade that brought in the ultimate short-sighted prize, Mozeliak could write the names of candidates on plates and skeet shoot them to make his decision, and it would more or less be conceded that everyone should defer to his judgment.
Williams is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He's arrived at SoxFest three straight years with what he believed was a playoff contender, and closed up shop at the end of September each time, with less promise for the next season.
Instead of being trusted to make the right call, Williams' hiring of Ventura represented a disappointing eschewing of an opportunity to bring in another's organization's perspective. Added to that is the news that the hiring process at best shirked conventional baseball thinking, and at worst...well, I wouldn't want to just be instantly dismissive of psychologist without knowing anything about them, but let's just say there's a large investment in their findings, and subsequently Ventura's capability, an individual who most are expecting to be nursed along. It's all very inviting to cynicism, of which there is a lot of at the moment
It's not fair.
If after 2005 Ozzie Guillen had said "Well, I ain't gonna top that!" and retired, and Williams had begun his search for a new skipper still fresh off a series of trades that made him look like a fringe candidate for a MacArthur grant, I would be all about KW holding some clandestine summit with psychologists in an island fortress discussing the utmost essence of leadership while drinking Leadership tea flown in fresh from Nepal.
Instead, the White Sox are mired in a stretch where it would be most encouraging to see Williams humbled and re-assessing his own approach, and he seems as mired in his own ways as ever.