It was fitting that the world greeted the news of White Sox manager Robin Ventura’s contract extension Friday with a blank look. Ventura greets the world with the same look.
But it would be a mistake to think he was born without a pilot light. There’s not a shortage of passion on his part; there’s an excess of outward impassiveness. It’s simply how he rolls. It’s how he always has rolled — smoothly, both hands on the wheel, mirrors adjusted correctly and rules of the road honored. If you recall, it worked pretty well for him as a Sox third baseman.
Ventura’s mellow-fellow approach to managing was the market correction to Ozzie Guillen’s boisterous approach. Remember? Many Sox fans wanted Guillen out in the worst way, tired of the drama that followed him like a bodyguard. Fine, you got your way. Now give Ventura more than the two seasons he has had so far to prove himself. Seems fair, doesn’t it?
The Sox didn’t have to give their manager a contract extension, and if there was a consensus among fans on social media, it was that, with a year left on his current deal and the Sox coming off a 99-loss season, what was the rush?
There wasn’t a rush. But there also wasn’t a compelling reason not to do it, which I guess is the conundrum here, perhaps even for the Sox. No one is totally certain about Ventura yet.
That might sound bad, but I look at it mostly as a positive. It’s why I didn’t have a problem with the extension. It’s going to take a few more years before we fully understand Ventura and know what he can do. He probably wasn’t as good a manager as he looked when the Sox went 85-77 in 2012, and he probably wasn’t as bad a manager as he looked when the Sox went 63-99 last season.
Or maybe he was both of those things, a walking case study in erratic managing. We simply don’t know. He and we need time. What a concept.
That’s not the answer impatient fans want to hear, but it’s the truth. At this point, we just don’t know how skilled a manager Ventura is or will be. If you’re going to rip him for the 2013 debacle, then you have to give him credit for 2012, when the Sox played far above expectations. It seems like more people remember last season than the previous one.
Why the extension? I think chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is haunted by signing off on the firing of manager Tony La Russa in 1986, then watching him go on to have a Hall of Fame career. I think that bit of history is in the background in every decision Reinsdorf OKs regarding Bulls coaches and Sox managers. That certainly fits here.
I’ll admit to having some reservations when Ventura turned down a contract extension after his first season in 2012. But more than anything, I thought it was a healthy outlook in an industry full of people with unhealthy worldviews. Rather than rushing headlong into the unknown, Ventura wanted to see whether the job was right for him in the long term and whether he was right for Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who was going to have a bigger role as Ken Williams moved on to other duties. Now Ventura thinks the job is right for him, and the Sox agree.
But we need to see development.
Sometimes teams can’t hit, whether it be for stretches of a season or the majority of a season. It can be mysterious, contagious and hard to explain. It just happens. It happened to the Sox in 2013. But when a team can’t field properly, it’s usually because of a lack of attention, effort and emphasis. And that falls on the manager. It was on Ventura that the defense was atrocious last season. And it will be on him to make it better in 2014.
Let’s see how he guides newcomer Jose Abreu, the Sox’ big free-agent acquisition. Let’s see how he shepherds him from Cuban baseball through the challenges of the American League. Let’s see what Ventura does with the other young position players Hahn got for him this offseason.
Let’s see what Ventura does with a younger roster. Let’s see what he can do with another year of experience under his belt.
Let’s just wait and see. How about that, for a change?