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March 19, 2012
The hiring of the former White Sox third baseman could not have been more surprising—not least to Ventura himself
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March 19, 2012

Robin Ventura's Rockin' A Manager's Cap

The hiring of the former White Sox third baseman could not have been more surprising—not least to Ventura himself

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"Robin and Mike, they have familiarity with the fan bases," adds Hinch, now a Padres assistant G.M. under Byrnes. "I never played for the Diamondbacks. It wasn't as easy for fans to relate to me. I joke, 'If only I had more hits as a player, I would have been more famous and accepted a bit easier.'"

While Ventura was a two-time All-Star, Matheny was a part-time catcher most of his career, though he was well respected in the clubhouse during his time in St. Louis from 2000 through '04. "There is zero credibility gap between Tony [La Russa] and Mike," says Cardinals rightfielder Lance Berkman. "From the second he was hired, Mike had the credibility."

"Those guys played a long time," Guillen says of Matheny and Ventura, the latter of whom he played with in the White Sox infield for nine seasons. "They should know how to deal with players. You don't need experience. You need good players. The less moves you make, the better manager you are."

That advice should serve Matheny well. He takes over the defending World Series champs, a club that, despite the free-agent departure of Albert Pujols, is loaded for another title run. Says Berkman, "With the veteran makeup of this team, his main objective should be to just keep the train on the tracks."

Ventura, meanwhile, must steer the White Sox in a different direction: The club is coming off a disappointing 83-loss season, despite the highest payroll in franchise history. Ventura is even-tempered and soft-spoken—the anti-Ozzie, though the White Sox scoff at the notion that personality was a factor in Ventura's hiring. "There's no one trait a manager needs to have," says Reinsdorf. "Robin reminds me of Phil Jackson—laid-back but smart. I have the same feeling about Robin that I had about Phil."

As a player, Ventura was known for his keen baseball intellect. "He has unbelievable recall," says White Sox VP of player development Buddy Bell. Last May, Arroyo Grande High was playing in the first round of the state playoffs, and Ventura and head coach Brad Lachemann were sitting side by side in the dugout. "The [other] team's best hitter had hit an absolute bomb in the first inning," says Lachemann. "We're up a run when he comes up to the plate, late in the game with a man on second. I get up to tell the pitcher to walk him, but Robin grabs my arm and says, 'He was overswinging on the first pitch. He'll pop out to second.' We pitch to him, and he pops out to second."

This winter Ventura consulted with former managers like Bell and Jeff Torborg. (Both will be in White Sox camp as advisers later this spring.) He read scouting reports on the White Sox players and called many of them, though he didn't spend hours dissecting video. "They had a bad year, so you don't want to watch video of a guy not hitting," he says.

Ventura's biggest strengths might be his media savvy and unruffled demeanor, traits that defined, for example, Joe Torre as much as strategic acumen. He will also have the luxury of leaning on one of the game's best pitching coaches, in Don Cooper. (Asked if he would have hired Ventura without Cooper on staff, Williams says, "Probably not.") "He's always had a way of seeing things from different angles," says Williams, who was a White Sox scout and special assistant during Ventura's playing days. "It takes a strong personality to deal with people around here, from ownership to the media. You better have thick skin. I needed someone who could withstand all of that and continue to be his own man. And Robin will."

Ventura says he was "50-50" on taking the job before Williams and Reinsdorf flew to California to meet with him at home. "Robin picked us up at the airport," says Reinsdorf, "and we went up a mountain and got to the house, which had a fabulous view. I was somewhat confident that he'd take the job until I saw his house."

Looking out over a valley and onto the Pacific Ocean, Williams turned to Ventura and said, "Now why the hell would you want to come to Chicago?"

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