At an ungodly early morning hour, Robin Ventura sat alone in an unlit room. The darkness was impenetrable, but from what he could discern, the cold chair he was seated in was the cheap, flimsy plastic-type normally reserved for hot, drunken backyard barbecue parties. There was a crack in the base of it that stirred up fond memories of a 1993 post-season party at Bo Jackson's house, where Mike Lavalliere caused similar damage to a similar chair while miming out an amusing anecdote about how he tweaked his groin while blocking the plate back during his Pittsburgh days...
..."This couldn't be the same chair, could it?" Ventura murmured to himself.
At this moment the light of an overhead projector flicked on, revealing a screen at the front of the room. Initially all that shone was the Diamond Sock, but quickly the voice of White Sox PA announcer Gene Honda played over the still image of the video feed.
"Welcome to the penultimate stage of your training to be manager of the Chicago White Sox - the final exam. You are an extremely highly thought of candidate, which is why you've been afforded the opportunity to prove yourself capable of this esteemed position. Take the time to congratulate yourself on reaching this point, and earning the invitation to the White Sox Seecret Decision room at the 35th Place & Shields."
"Aren't I just in the basement?" Ventura wondered aloud.
"Technically the the door you entered at the end of the corridor was the entrance to a separate facility...the last four digits of the zip code are different."
"Um..." (sound of papers being shuffled is audible). "The managerial final exam is simple; you will be offered a short series of scenarios a White Sox manager is bound to encounter over the course of a normal regular season, and will be asked to give your decision on each one."
"Ready? Let's go!"
The first question was projected onto the screen, in what looked to be a hastily made PowerPoint presentation...
1. Paul Konerko is on 1st base after being drilled in the knee. Calling for a steal is...
B) Extremely unexpected
C) A three-front failure where Konerko is almost a lock to be thrown out/injured/hate you forever
D) Irrelevant, because you're obviously bunting
"Indicate your answer with the remote device you have been provided."
"I...I don't see it."
"It can be found on the left armrest of your chair."
"...Nope, not here."
"I taped it to it to the bottom of the armrest."
"It's not here, Gene"
"On to question two..."
2. A veteran player whom you adore in every element of his personhood is struggling in his play. The hometown fans boo him relentlessly, the media savages him, and your General Manager has asked if you're ok with releasing and replacing him with the top positional prospect in the organization, who has spent most of the season playing at the veteran in peril's position. The rational response is...
A) Stop taking him for steak and wine dinners every night, he's blatantly hungover out there
B) Screw the fans, what do they know?
C) Screw the GM, what does he know?
D) What? Struggling? What are you talking about? He's great!
"Should I just write my answers on something?...I can't really see." Ventura began fumbling around for a business card to scribble on, finally deciding to just write on his forearm.
3. Your hitting coach informs you that your cleanup hitter has horrendous form and is certainly doomed. You decide that...
A) He's probably overreacting. This is a veteran player that will work his way out of this
B) Holy crap! That sounds awful! I'd better keep an eye on his play to see if he struggles early on!
C) Hahahaha, what a stupid fattie!
D) You're legitimately torn between paying the premium to live in Miami proper, or finding a home in the suburbs and trying to drive to the stadium every day on the interstate and risk getting caught in the afternoon commute. Maybe find a place for rent for a while before you make up your mind?
Ventura took out his cell phone and tried to catch a glimpse for what he had scrawled on his arm. The light revealed that his ink marks were bunched together into a form that resembled a row of menacing teeth. It had been a while since Ventura had sought a job dependent more on the interview process than his raw performance or renowned expertise, but he sensed that it would be bad if Jerry Reinsdorf walked in right at that moment and saw this thing.
4. Alex Rios is about to enter the practice facility...
B) Hide....behind something!
C) Hide everything! Hide the equipment! Hide the logos! Make all the other players hide in the women's bathroom! (why do we have one?) Draw the blinds! Turn out the lights! Go away! No baseball here! Nothing to see here! Why don't you check out that auto parts store across the street, Alex? That's probably more interesting than anything inside this not-baseball facility.
D) Freeze in place. Stand there motionless. Watch him pass in silent terror as he dresses, stretches, takes his batting practice, goes over film footage, takes a pre-game nap, runs out to his position, takes his at-bats, high-fives teammates in the dugout. Murmur "Alex is our best option" in the post-game press conference while having a staring contest with the bottle of water placed out for you that you will not drink. Never drink the bottle of water.
E) Exit office, walk out to the exact center of the clubhouse, face the door, stand erectly, extend out hand at 70 degree angle with palm open, un-clench jaw, find a speaking voice that straddles the fence between the honey-smoothed marketing hum of Don Draper and the gruff grunt of a Neanderthal tribe leader fresh off killing a family of bunnies with a jagged rock and say "HEEEEEELLLLLOOOOOO, AAAAAALLLEEEEEEEEXXXXXXX"
"How much longer is this going to g--"
"And now the final question"
5. Young starting 2nd basemen Gordon Beckham is struggling terribly yet again, he really looks like a bust now. What to do?
A) Lament the cruel truth of top prospects, accept him for his competent defense, and try to talk over the screams that are audible from the workout room in the bowels of the stadium.
B) Play cruddy AAA-quality utility infielder more. Be struck aghast at the quality of play. Develop a smoking habit to cope with the disgust. Resort to secretly smoking in the dugout. Bond with Jim Leyland over smoking secretly in the dugout. Bemoan that hanging out with Jim Leyland is terrible.
C) Demand that Tyler Saladino be promoted directly from AA Birmingham. Bellow "It'll be just like Mike Caruso!" Hope that no one says anything in response.
D) Play the utility guy with abandon, because the utility guy is Ryan Theriot after you angrily demanded a trade for him in the middle of Spring Training, because you spent the last month re-reading and re-reading Steve Sax's guide to leadership and personal prosperity. You read it in your spare moments, but also ducked out to the bathroom in SoxFest to read it again, listened to the audiobook in the car, and ripped out your favorite pages and stuck them to the wet walls of your shower during your two-hour long bathing sessions. Like the Great Sax (career .281/.335/.358), Theriot (career .282/.344/.353) values contact above all. Like the Great Sax, Theriot is known for his baserunning, and shows bravery even in the face of certain doom. Like the Great Sax, he will play multiple positions even if he shouldn't.
The Simpsons once had an episode where they joked about The Great Sax being framed for murder, but you know that if Sax took life from others, it's because they stood in the way between him and self-actualization. Which means it's OK.
The lights came on, the projection shut off, a Muzak version of "Thunderstruck" started playing softly over the speakers. Kenny Williams entered the room
"Well done, Robin."
"What the hell was that?!?
"It was what it said it was, the final test to see that you're ready for the job."
"Most of those questions were just 'Are you Ozzie Guillen? Yes or no?', I don't know what the hell the last option on question 5 was about, and I just sat there and watched the whole thing passively because no one gave me the remote clicker so I actually could do something!!!"
"Which is exactly why you're ready to manage the 2012 White Sox."
"Because you won't try to use tools that you won't be provided with."
Tags: Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, baseball, birmingham barons, bo jackson, gene honda, Gordon Beckham, Jerry Reinsdorf, jim leyland, Kenny Williams, mike caruso, mike lavalliere, Ozzie Guillen, Paul Konerko, Pittsburgh Pirates, Robin Ventura, Ryan Theriot, steve sax, U.S. Cellular Field, White Sox