hite Sox manager Robin Ventura is floating in the breeze these days, calmly guiding his first-place squad the way a horse whisperer guides a pack of ponies.
The Sox’ 20 wins are more than any team in the American League, and the Sox have to be considered the early surprise winner in the majors.
Maybe you can throw the Seattle Mariners into the shockingly successful group, riding Robinson Cano, as they are, to first place in the AL West.
But remember how bad the Sox were last year?
And remember the expectations?
In 2015, they had so many hopeful offseason additions, like Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson and Adam LaRoche, that winning seemed certain. Result? A sputtering start that led to a 76-86 record and a fourth-place finish in the AL Central.
There were Sox people everywhere to blame for the underachievement, and we’ll come back to our buddy LaRoche and his take-your-kid-to-work-forever philosophy and its ripple effect.
But manager Ventura caught a major load of the anger and disappointment last season, and perhaps it was deserved. It marked his third straight losing season and fourth in a row without making the playoffs. ‘‘Let Robin Fly Away’’ was the mantra for many fans.
But Ventura was brought back for 2016, and we are reminded again of how loyal and oddly unbending Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is with many of his employees. And Reinsdorf still pulls the major executive strings for the Sox, don’t ever forget.
Baseball managers are like dairy farmers, and the best ones know how to milk their cows without wounding or roiling them. Give the bovine group good hay, keep them refreshed, use the best milking machines, keep them out of the loco weed and snake zones, and — voila! — your tanks will run over.
Hopefully. Yet things beyond your control can happen. Like droughts. Or parasites. Or even LaRochian fever.
LaRoche, the new, highly paid lefty first baseman, was such a disaster in 2015 that the wonder is he even got to this year’s spring training before quitting the game. Not only were his 89 hits in 2015 the fewest by far in any of his 11 uninjured seasons, but his 12 home runs were the worst of his uninjured career, as was his pitiful .207 batting average and 44 RBI.
When LaRoche finally said goodbye in March — taking his 14-year-old son/sidekick, Drake, and all their familial clubhouse karma with him, the Sox looked ready to implode from a curiously misguided anger and hurt. Superstar pitcher Chris Sale went bat-stick crazy on executive vice president Ken Williams in a verbal tirade, a team strike was considered, and the club looked like a bridge about to crumble into the gorge.
But that potential collapse into chaos never happened, thank God. And who stayed calm through it all, like a pillar of sanity? Ventura. Who did the players respect though it all? Ventura.
Quiet as a cat, soothing as lanolin, he is the anti-Ozzie Guillen, which was the plan when he was hired in 2011. Ruckus and sideshow was replaced by dignity and calm.
Those things may not win games, but they don’t lose them, either.
So if Ventura was blamed for 2015, he must get credit for 2016. The knife cuts both ways. And right now, one of the best managers in the AL is not just floating in the wind, he’s twisting in it.
Ventura’s five-year contract is up at the end of the season, and, as far as we know, there has been little or no effort by general manager Rick Hahn or president Williams to extend Ventura’s contract beyond its end point.
“I have one year on a contract. That is not a secret,” Ventura said last winter. “Regardless, I’d want to win all the games if I had 10 years. The [contract] doesn’t matter.”
Let’s believe him. And let’s try to see into the future and determine whether the Sox can keep up this pace, if Ventura can prove he’s special. Players such as pitcher Sale and Jose Quintana, plus sluggers Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier and savvy gamers Adam Eaton and Brett Lawrie make success seem possible.
Nobody should want to upset this delicate chemical balance the Sox have right now. Let it flow.
But a lame duck manager, coaching the best of his career, might at some point feel the lack of front-office love. Ventura’s tough as nails, but he’s got a heart, too.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.