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…
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.
The Ventura philosophy?
“Just being truthful, being upfront, honest and fair, really. I think’s everybody’s accountable and as being a player, guys like that. Guys know what to expect, they like that. As a manager I don’t change day-to-day and I think that’d be part of the draw. I’m pretty much the same every day, and they’ll know what to expect.”
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.
“When I met with the media as our season ended, I identified one person at the very top of my managerial list. I wanted someone who met very specific criteria centered around his leadership abilities. Robin Ventura was that man. His baseball knowledge and expertise, his professionalism, his familiarity with the White Sox and Chicago and his outstanding character make him absolutely the right person to lead our clubhouse and this organization into the seasons ahead.” –Sox GM Kenny Williams
PS — More from me tomorrow.