I’m a week away from my annual trip to White Sox spring training to watch the Sox with my own eyes, but I like what I’m hearing from Camelback Ranch.
While Ozzie (Remember him?) is on the cover of Sports Illustrated representing the circus that will personify the Miami Marlins, our new low-key skipper is talking about “effort,” giving positive feedback to his players and acting like this club is going to confound the so-called experts and be a major surprise in the A.L. Central. And to that point it seems the troops are responding by saying all the right things with a sense of renewed camaraderie.
I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that every team thinks they have a chance in February and March. I’m just saying that after the Ozzie years Robin Ventura‘s approach is a breath of fresh air. As big a fan I was of Ozzie’s, it’s just time for a change.
The Sox marketing slogan this year is “Appreciate the Game,” low-key like the new skipper. I have no quarrel with that, but I could have been just as satisfied with something like, “No More Drama.”
Scott Merkin whets our White Sox appetite today on whitesox.com with some facts, figures and projections to chew on:
* Pitchers and catchers report on February 23
* Full squad reports on February 28
* First Spring Training game, March 5, vs. the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch
* Opening Day, April 6, at Texas
Merkin’s Projected Batting Order:
Alejandro DeAza CF, Gordon Beckham 2B, Paul Konerko 1B, Adam Dunn DH, Alex Rios LF, A.J. Pierzynski C, Alexei Ramirez SS, Dayan Viciedo RF, Brent Morel 3B
John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Philip Humber
Matt Thornton Closer, Jesse Crain RH setup man, Will Ohman LH setup man (with all other spots up for grabs). Key bullpen prospect to watch is Addison Reed, who very well might be the closer (my two cents, not Merkin’s).
Nestor Molina RHP, Dan Johnson 1B, Ozzie Martinez IF and, of course, the skipper Robin Ventura
Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Ramon Castro, Jason Frasor
In a few weeks the White Sox will be firmly embedded in spring training mode trying to assemble a team that’s ready to contend in the A.L. Central.
Conventional wisdom says it’s going to be a difficult task with the Tigers showing no signs of fading and the Royals and Indians seemingly poised to reach the next level.
You really can’t blame the skeptics. As names like Pujols, Fielder, Buehrle, Darvish, Wilson and others have been the talk of the hot stove period, the White Sox made “headlines” with the acquisition of minor league pitchers Nestor Molina, Simon Castro, Pedro Hernandez, Myles Jaye and Daniel Webb while losing known quantities Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor in the process. The only major news was the signing of John Danks, who we all thought was destined to be traded.
It’s really easy to look at all this and come to the conclusion that bad things are in store for the 2012 club. But we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. With myriad questions, the truth is that we just don’t know how the season will manifest.
How will the Ozzie-less Sox be with Robin Ventura at the helm?
Will the Sox survive without Buehrle?
Will Danks pick up where Buehrle left off?
Will an effective closer be found to replace Santos?
Will Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham rebound?
Will Alejandro De Aza be a competent major league leadoff hitter?
Will Paul Konerko be Paul Konerko?
Will Jake Peavy be the Cy Young Peavy?
Will Dayan Viciedo live up to the hype and make us forget Quentin?
Will Chris Sale make a successful switch to the starting rotation?
Will Kenny Williams make any more significant deals to upgrade the big league roster?
More than any other year I can remember, it’s hard to predict what’s in store for all of us this season. We’re just going to have to wait and see.
Mark Buehrle, one of the great White Sox of all-time, leaves us with a treasure trove of memories gathered over his 12 seasons on the South Side. There’s the perfect game, the no-hitter, the Gold Gloves, the World Series save, the All-Star Game nods, the record Opening Day starts, his outstanding winning percentage and all those innings pitched. And I haven’t even mentioned the unbelievable between the legs throw on Opening Day 2010 (see below).
There are also the things that were more under the radar: his sense of humor, his leadership, the humility that was evidenced by him catching ceremonial first pitches (except on the days he pitched) through his Sox career and, of course, how beautifully he represented the franchise. Simply a class act.
It’s no surprise that Mark opted to play for Ozzie in Miami. He couldn’t resist the four-year, $58 million deal and the lure of playing in the National League, which he has dominated in interleague play. And the Sox apparently felt that at this stage of his career and the fact that they are in a rebuilding phase, it wasn’t feasible to match the offer as much as they wanted to keep him.
This week certainly hasn’t been a great one for the Sox. On Monday, Minnie Minoso was once again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame and yesterday another one of the club’s most popular players chose to take his talents to South Beach.
It won’t be the same on the South Side without No. 56, who very well might be the last Sox player to wear that number. But we’ll surivive, just as we did when the likes of Minoso, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Billy Pierce, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura changed uniforms.
And remember, you can go home again. Just ask Minnie, Billy, Frank, Robin and the others.
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.
It seems serendipitous doesn’t it? On Monday, the White Sox release Ozzie and two days later he officially becomes the manager of the Miami Marlins. Then, in about 48 hours with the Sox on the hunt for a new skipper, former Chisox minor league manager Terry Francona, after winning two world titles in Beantown, parts ways with the Red Sox.
Arrange the press conference at the Cell immediately, right? Well, not so fast.
Conventional wisdom is that hiring Francona should be a no-brainer. A proven winner with ties to the organization that would give the South Siders an established leader in the dugout and instant credibility with the fans. But is it the right thing to do? Is Francona the answer or should the Sox brass opt for a fresh start with a young, respected, managerial star of the future?
At the risk of waffling, I would be happy either way. I’d welcome Francona and his impressive resume. I also think Sandy Alomar, Jr., the Tribe’s new bench coach who seems like the favorite to get the job, or Dave Martinez, Joe Maddon‘s trusted bench coach with the Rays, would be outstanding choices. And both have spent time in a Sox uniform.
For all the buzz about Francona coming to Chicago, at the end of the day I don’t think it will happen. I believe that when Kenny Williams comes to the microphone in a couple of weeks, he’ll announce the following as the new Sox field general: