The Chicago White Sox had a chance to bring back a beloved former player to the Windy City, an infielder who wore No. 23 whose name still evokes memories of better baseball days in these parts.
Instead, they chose to hire Robin Ventura to replace Ozzie Guillen.
Ventura comes into the job never having been a coach at the professional level. Ventura’s only notable post career experience was working as a special advisor to Director of Player Development Buddy Bell. That’s what makes it all the more surprising to hear GM Kenny Williams say he was the one person at the top of his managerial list. Were Robin Ventura anything less than a star for the White Sox in the 1990s, fans would be a whole lot more outraged than they are right now given the fact that Ventura lacks the experience that a Terry Francona or even a Dave Martinez has.
The logical choice from a public relations and a strategic standpoint would have been to hire the man you see above to run the team for the next three years. Ryne Sandberg has established himself as one of the most successful minor league managers in all of baseball over the past few years. He was spurned by the Cubs last year when they chose to hire Mike Quade to replace Lou Piniella instead. Sandberg wound up leaving the Cubs organization, his ego bruised, to take over the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Hiring Sandberg to replace Guillen would have sent shockwaves through the Windy City, putting baseball back on the front page and potentially convincing a number of Cubs fans disillusioned by the team’s recent failures to switch over to the dark side. Sandberg brings instant credibility given his extensive minor league managerial experience and the fact that he remains one of the best to ever man the infield in the city of Chicago.
In a city that remains devoted to the Cubs despite the fact that the White Sox won the World Series just six years ago, hiring Sandberg would have gone a long way towards changing all that for the first time in over 100 years. Sandberg’s divorce from the Cubs was acrimonious at best. For Cubs fans to see him go to the South side while Quade or some other unknown (Dave Martinez?) captains a rudderless ship could be enough for many to at the very least avoid Wrigley given the way one of their heroes has been treated. The Cubs don’t necessarily owe Sandberg anything per se, but one would expect
Ventura on the other hand was popular in these parts during his playing days but doesn’t nearly have the same cache that Sandberg does. His legacy, as Joe mentioned, is that infamous mound charging incident that saw him get his clock cleaned by Nolan Ryan, who was 20+ years older than him at the time. Not only does Ventura lack the cache that Sandberg has, he’s not nearly as experienced, hasn’t felt the pressure that comes with making a big decision in a game as the man in charge.
Of course, he’s not the only member of the 1993 White Sox expected to be in the dugout next year. Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas is rumored to be joining Ventura’s staff as his hitting coach, another inexperienced coach who had significant success as a player. Ventura and Thomas established that they knew how to do their jobs as players. Thomas is a first ballot Hall of Famer and were there a Hall of Very Good, Ventura would most certainly have a place there. But can those skills between the line translate into the dugout?