As SoxFest is being celebrated this weekend at the Palmer House Hilton, bits of news are filtering out. Here are some of the things that caught my attention:
* Adam Dunn, who last year endured what was arguably the worst season ever for a major league position player, was in the house. A slimmed down Dunn (that’s not him above, but you get my point) said that all the Sox need is for last season’s two biggest disappointments–himself and Alex Rios–to rebound and that would prove to be, in essence, two major offseason moves. He also said he can’t wait for opening day and is putting the past behind him.
* Don Cooper, who Steve Stone called one of the Top 5 pitching coaches in the game, said he sees three openings in the bullpen with Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman and rookie Addison Reed as the staples going into spring training.
* Jeff Manto, who has replaced Greg Walker as the Pale Hose hitting coach, said (and I’m paraphrasing) he would be nuts not to look to new skipper Robin Ventura and coach Harold Baines for help in dealing with the hitters.
* Speaking of the new manager, Ventura kiddingly said that Cooper is now his BFF as he approaches his rookie year at the helm of the ballclub.
* Kenny Williams put his cards on the table: If the Sox hit, they’ll contend. See Dunn, Rios and Gordon Beckham for details.
* Williams also said we should expect righthanded hurler Nestor Molina, acquired in the trade for Sergio Santos, to be in the majors as early as mid-season this year.
* Joe Crede got the biggest applause when members of the 2005 World Champs were announced. Among the others were Pablo Ozuna and Cliff Politte.
* Ventura said he wants Beckham to have as much confidence at the plate that he does at second base.
SoxFest runs through tomorrow…
The manager and bench coach are in Miami, the hitting coach is in Atlanta, at last look the third base coach is looking for his next opportunity while the pitching coach, first base coach bullpen coach and bullpen catcher are back in Chicago with a whole new set of personalities.
The further transformation of the White Sox on-field braintrust became official yesterday, which began with Robin Ventura replacing Ozzie Guillen who has moved on to South Beach:
* Mark Parent, a long-time major league backup catcher and, most recently, a minor league manager replaces Joey Cora as the Sox bench coach. Cora has joined Ozzie in the same role with the Marlins.
* Joe McEwing (pictured above), known as “Super Joe” during his major league career for his hustle and enthusiastic brand of play, replaces Jeff Cox as the third base coach. McEwing, a Tony LaRussa favorite when the former played for the latter in St. Louis, managed the Sox AAA club in Charlotte last summer. Cox has not yet landed his next gig.
* Jeff Manto, a former major league journeyman infielder, replaces Greg Walker as hitting coach. Manto has most recently served as the Sox’s minor league hitting instructor and at one time was the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Walker was just hired as the Braves hitting coach.
* First base coach Harold Baines, pitching coach Don Cooper, bullpen coach Juan Nieves and bullpen catcher Mark Salas are the holdovers from last year’s coaching staff.
It doesn’t escape me that the day the world was mourning Apple visionary Steve Jobs, the personification of thinking out of the box, that Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams named Robin Ventura manager of the White Sox.
All we’ve heard since Ozzie left for South Beach is that the top candidates were Sandy Alomar, Jr., Dave Martinez and Terry Francona. Then, yesterday, the Sox fooled us all and chose one of their own who has absolutely no professional coaching or managing experience.
I think it’s a terrific, inspired choice on multiple levels. Ventura is a proven leader, he is familiar with the White Sox, he’ll have credibility with the veterans, will nurture youngsters like Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo and will somewhat offset the loss of Guillen in the eyes of the fans. He will also be great with media in a non-Ozzie sort of way. He will be thoughtful with a touch of wry humor as opposed to his predecessor’s 24/7 stream of consciousness. And, as far as I know, he doesn’t have a twitter account.
As you would expect, many in the baseball community have come out of the woodwork very skeptical of the move. Everybody from Tigers’ coach Gene Lamont, a former Sox manager, to a legion of baseball writers. With experienced men out there for the taking, they’re saying, how can the White Sox pick someone with absolutely no experience?
My answer to them is that managing a baseball team is not rocket science. It’s about leadership. Everything else can be learned. What Ventura doesn’t know about pitching, he’s got Don Cooper. What he needs to understand about other facets of the game he’ll have an experienced bench coach and another quiet professional in Harold Baines. And in time, Robin, who was a smart player and a consummate pro as well as being enormously popular, will know all he needs to know.
Nobody, including Ventura, knows how this will play out. But with high risk there’s high reward. And although Mr. Jobs most likely didn’t know the White Sox from the Red Sox or Stan Williams from “No Neck” Williams, I think he would have approved of this decision.