Ventura deserving of AL MOY in his first season
Robin Ventura did so many good things in his rookie season as manager of the Chicago White Sox that it's hard to know where to start.
First, though, let's revisit his hiring, because it has had a significant impact on the game. Even though Ventura had no previous managerial experience, his hiring didn't seem like a huge leap of faith.
That's because of the regard in which he was held during 16 seasons as Major League player. In terms of intelligence, preparation and professionalism, there were few better.
2012 Manager of the Year finalists
|American League||National League|
|Bob Melvin, OAK||Dusty Baker, CIN|
|Buck Showalter, BAL||Bruce Bochy, SF|
|Robin Ventura, CWS||Davey Johnson, WAS|
Because of his success -- and that of Mike Matheny of the Cardinals, who also had no previous managerial experience -- clubs seem to be revisiting the way they evaluate the position. Thus, the Marlins' hiring of Mike Redmond, who has no previous big league coaching or managing experience.
Ventura brought a sense of calm to a clubhouse that needed some in the wake of Ozzie Guillen's turbulent final seasons. Ventura reached out to his players in the beginning and kept the lines of communication open.
He demanded that his team take care of the details. That's why they went through a round of infield drills at the beginning of every series.
Perhaps as a result, the White Sox allowed just 30 unearned runs, fewest in the Major Leagues and 11 less than they'd given up in Guillen's final season. In other words, Ventura demanded that they play the game right.
The White Sox finished with a .988 fielding percentage, tops in franchise history and tied with the Mariners for the best in baseball in 2012. In addition, the White Sox run differential went from -52 in 2011 to +72 in '12, and they increased their overall victory total by six, from 79-83 to 85-77. That's why he's a finalist for American League Manager of the Year.
Ventura's work would be seen in a different light if the Sox had finished the season better. After spending 104 days in first place, they let the AL Central slip away with a 4-8 finish.
Still, Ventura did tremendous work. When the White Sox went to Spring Training, they had no idea what they'd get from Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy, Jose Quintana, Alex Rios and a bunch of others.
Ventura helped Dunn and Peavy get their careers on track, and his decision to move Rios from center field to right may have had a settling effect that opened the way for a 25-home run, 91-RBI season.
Ventura also got great work from a bullpen that had at least five rookies, including Addison Reed, most of the season. He also got 17 wins and 192 innings from first-year starter Chris Sale.
Ventura was criticized by some for too many sacrifice bunts and for leaving starting pitchers in too long. Those may be valid points, but his was a team built around home runs and starting pitching. In addition, all those rookies in the bullpen may have led to asking his starters to go an inning or two longer in some games, rather than what was best for them.
In the end, it was a terrific start to his managerial career. He apparently never thought much about managing during his playing career -- not many star players do -- but the job seemed to fit him perfectly.
That 4-8 finish was a bitter disappointment for the White Sox, but it shouldn't erase all the good things they accomplished in 2012. They played with energy and purpose, and they held off the heavily favored Detroit Tigers for 154 games.
Along the way, Ventura changed the way people viewed the entire franchise. Far from Guillen's combustible nature, Ventura's calm and poise became a trademark of the 2012 White Sox.
He had one of baseball's most respected pitching coaches in Don Cooper and leaned on him for counsel and direction. But managing the White Sox was all Ventura. In an era when managers can get assistance with lineups, defensive position and bullpen matchups, there's more importance than ever on a manager's ability to get his players to play hard and with a single purpose.
Nothing can replace that human touch, and it was Ventura's greatest strength during his first season. He gained the trust of his players during Spring Training and built on it a day at a time after that.
The White Sox didn't end up where they'd hoped to be, but Ventura was one of the best things about this team in 2012. Here's to more in '13.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.