Without changing an easygoing demeanor, which his critics view as detrimental to managing, Robin Ventura has remained steady, and tough, through his most trying season as manager of the White Sox.
Ventura’s unshaking leadership and patience might be paying off. The Sox won nine of 12 games going into the just-completed All-Star break, and, armed with a legit starting rotation and capable bullpen, they might be evolving into the playoff contenders Ventura and general manager Rick Hahn envisioned five months ago.
With a mountain of teams above them in the wild-card race, Ventura has embraced a “we’re the underdogs” MO, and why not? It’s a tall order, and the “we’re a playoff team” tactic did nothing but turn an entire lineup into underachievers.
After one of the most deflating and disappointing first halves in Sox memory, Ventura is faced with the daunting task of quieting those who were calling for his job in May and June. Keeping the team around the 9-3 pace they charged into the All-Star break with will do it, but if this recent run turns out to be nothing more than a freak departure from the norm, fool’s gold if you will, Ventura’s detractors will cry out loud all over again, questioning if he’s the best man for a job he was hired to do almost four years ago.
Sox management has stood firmly in Ventura’s corner, but as Hahn said before the season, the manager would be evaluated in a different light with more talent to work with. When the Sox played horrible defense, ran the bases poorly and didn’t hit out of the gate, Hahn said everyone was accountable.
As much as Hahn, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and vice president Ken Williams respect Ventura, “there’s always a possibility of change,’’ assistant general manager Buddy Bell said this week. “I can’t think of anybody who hasn’t had to go through a change or a firing or adjustment. That’s just the way the game is. Robin knows that; Kenny [who hired Ventura] knows that; Rick knows that; I know that.’’
While Ventura’s second season, 2013, likely will be his worst with 99 losses, he was given a pass with a team in rebuild mode. This one, though, with veteran players forgetting how to hit and players young and old not knowing how to field, has placed blame at the manager’s feet, warranted or not.
While Williams and Hahn had Ventura’s back, fans and media called for him to be fired. Some wondered if he would step down.
“He has handled this as well as he possibly could,’’ said Bell, a former All-Star third baseman who managed six fifth-place teams in Detroit, Colorado and Kansas City. “He knows the game as well as anybody I’ve been around, and he knows how to deal with people.’’
Ventura has this much going for him. Bell says he’s the kind of manager he would have wanted to play for, a behind-the-scenes operator who has players’ backs and gives them the information and support they need.
To his credit, Ventura has tinkered at the helm, moving runners, bunting, trying to manufacture runs and moving slugger Jose Abreu from third to second in the lineup for a stretch, all in hope of getting a pulse from the American League’s worst offense. His patience with sure-handed second baseman Carlos Sanchez’s lagging bat seems to be paying off now that Sanchez is starting to hit. Ventura has even had a bit of an edge about him of late.
“I just can’t imagine Robin not managing this club as long as he wants to,’’ Bell said. “Because of what he stands for, what he expects from the club. Eventually he’s going to get the right pieces, and it’s going to work for everybody.’’
Sox fans hope “eventually” comes soon. Since the 2005 World Series championship that is being celebrated at a team reunion this weekend at U.S. Cellular Field, the Sox have been to the playoffs once.
Fans have seen one playoff win in the last 10 years.
Their patience is wearing thin.
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