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On same day Cubs keep their man, White Sox stumble around

The Cubs have signed president Theo Epstein to a five-year contract extension. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The White Sox are weird, odd, bizarre, eccentric, unreadable and unknowable. That strange uncle of yours, the one talking to himself in the corner? He’s Mr. Normal compared with these people.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, who is more plugged into the Sox’ front office than any other national writer, reported Wednesday that that the Sox would allow Robin Ventura to return as manager next season if that’s what Ventura wants. Considering Ventura has a .463 winning percentage in his five seasons with the Sox, that might strike outsiders as peculiar. Yes, he should be shown the door.

But the Sox are deathly allergic to change. It’s the reason for the lack of anything resembling movement, growth or advancement with this franchise. If it were a medical condition, it would be called Reinsdorfitis, and the symptoms would easily be mistaken for catatonia.

So the outside world might look at a report that Ventura could be back as strange, but it isn’t to those of us who have watched this act, glassy eyed, for the past few decades. No, the weird part was a particular phrase in Nightengale’s report: if Ventura wants to return.

Now, Ventura has said this season that he would like to be back, but when reporters asked him about that Wednesday after the USA Today story came out, he said he would address his future with the team after the season.

Huh?

Wouldn’t the Sox have conferred with Ventura before someone leaked the story to USA Today? Wouldn’t everyone have been on board? You would think so. So either there’s a monumental disconnect between the team and its manager or perhaps – and this is where being around the Sox can make you think strange thoughts – the team and Ventura have agreed to part ways but the Sox don’t want to embarrass their loyal soldier by announcing his departure.

Whichever route chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is taking, the Sox are handling it in their usual ham-handed way. Keeping Ventura would alienate fans, who have been agitating for a change. Making it look like Ventura’s departure is his decision might be even stranger, if that’s possible.

Either way, what a mess. Or, as it’s commonly known on the South Side, business as usual.

Meanwhile, the Cubs and president Theo Epstein finally agreed on a five-year contract extension, meaning his philosophy of sustained success can roll on. Not to wade too deep into the Cubs-Sox muck, but doesn’t the news about Ventura and Epstein on the same day speak volumes about the two franchises?

If anyone can explain how the Sox could even begin to consider retaining Ventura, here, write the rest of my column.

That’s what I thought. There is no explanation, other than that Reinsdorf loves his employees to death, has an aversion to firing anyone and/or thinks the whole winning thing has gotten out of control in competitive sports.

I always add this whenever I write about Ventura’s status: I like the guy. He’s as decent a person as you’ll meet in a game that can carve out your soul. And I can almost understand how difficult it is for Reinsdorf to axe him, though it doesn’t explain his reluctance to fire anyone who works for the Sox or the Bulls, whom he also runs.

But there have been no highs with Ventura as leader, no elation, just the steady hum of sameness.

You’d think the roaring success of the Cubs the past two seasons would prod the Sox into dramatic action, but no. You’d think the fact that Wrigley Field is filled and The Cell isn’t would have spurred the Sox into some hard self-analysis over the years, but no. You’d think … well, that’s the problem. Stop thinking.

Built into the Sox’ distaste for change is a real lack of respect for the fan base. It would take a lot of gall to be as bad to mediocre as the team has been under Ventura and then tell the faithful that you’re re-signing manager Status Quo. It would take almost as much gall to advance a phony storyline to protect Ventura’s feelings over the feelings of fans who have been battered by this franchise for years.

Juxtapose all of this with the Cubs’ approach and the Epstein contract extension.

The six NBA titles with the Bulls were nice, as was the World Series with the White Sox, but you never get the feeling that winning has been Reinsdorf’s motivation. He has always seemed more grateful for the relationships he has forged over the years, whether it be with Harold Baines, Ozzie Guillen, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome or Ventura, than the winning. But professional sports isn’t about collecting friends. It’s about collecting victories. What do they say? It’s why they keep score.

There’s the possibility that the only change for the White Sox will be the name of the ballpark. In November, The Cell will become Guaranteed Rate Field, or, if you prefer, Zero Interest Park. The mortgage company’s logo is an arrow pointing down. The Sox seem intent on continuing in that direction.