Why Robin Ventura will fail as White Sox manager

11 Nov

Finding an article critical of the White Sox hiring Robin Ventura as manager is harder than finding an article complementary of Adam Dunn. So allow me to be presumably the first writer to unequivocally say that Robin Ventura will  be a flop as White Sox manager. Here’s why:

Experience is king.

As a youth baseball coach, I’ve discovered there are a myriad of decisions that you have to make, from drafting to preseason preparation to in-game strategy to handling players to postseason planning. Sometimes you’ll face a new situation you hadn’t handled before and make a mistake in the choice you make to address that situation. While major league players need less coaching than youth players, major league managers still have a lot of decisions to make…sometimes just in one inning! Learning from your mistakes (and your successes) is crucial to building your managerial database.

Yet Ventura has no managerial database. That’s because he has no managerial experience. Heck, he doesn’t even have any coaching experience. At any level. Not even Little League. In fact, Ventura once said he didn’t have any desire to manage or coach. With that kind of resume, you and I are just as (if not more) qualified to coach the White Sox as Ventura.

Yes, I realize Ventura has played for Bobby Valentine and Joe Torre, and the argument goes that Ventura surely will have learned something from his former managers. But playing for a manager only means you know how they run spring training, not how they think strategy, how they make decisions, etc.

The greenest of greenhorns who is learning everything for the first time in real-time is unlikely to be successful in that gig. Perhaps in Ventura’s second or third managerial opportunity he’ll be successful, but this first job with the White Sox has ‘disaster’ written in big bold letters via permanent marker. You can take that prediction to the bank. Name any successful manager, whether old-school or modern-day…Torre, Joe Maddon, Billy Martin, Ron Washington, Tommy Lasorda, Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, Bobby Cox, newcomer Kirk Gibson, Sparky Anderson, or even Ventura’s predecessor Ozzie Guillen…they’ve all gotten some kind of coaching experience prior to becoming a manager. Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein (inadvertently?) took a swipe at the White Sox and Ventura when he said the Cubs next manager must have major league coaching experience.

Every opinion posted about Ventura’s hiring can be classified as “cautiously optimistic“. Yes, such writers know that Ventura has no managerial or coaching experience but these optimistic articles invariably hinge on some combination of the following two arguments: (1) he is a fan favorite/nice guy, and (2) Ventura should earn respect from players in the clubhouse based on his own excellent player stats. I’ll address these arguments in a moment.

So why did GM Kenny Williams hire Ventura?

If experience is king and Ventura has no experience, then why would Williams hire Ventura, and why isn’t anyone else critical of the Ventura hiring?

Let’s address that second question first. First, Ventura’s hiring is quite possibly the first ever of its kind in hiring someone with zero coaching experience at any level to run a major league club. That means there is no history with which to make comparisons. Without any precedent to analyze, people are hesitant to make critical judgments because, for all we know, Ventura could succeed and thus prove that experience is overrated.

Second, Ventura was a fan favorite when he was a player so people can’t bring themselves to criticize him; instead, cautious supporters argue that no one should be able to criticize Ventura since they contend there’s no way to know if he’ll succeed or fail.

As for why Ventura was hired, I have two thoughts on that. First, many have speculated that Williams wanted somebody who was the opposite of Guillen. The thought is that people hire a loud guy (e.g. Guillen) after firing a quiet guy (e.g., Jerry Manuel), and they’ll hire a quiet guy (e.g., Ventura) after firing a loud guy (e.g., Guillen). But I think it’s deeper than that. Guillen and Williams were known to have feuds, and I suspect Williams hired Ventura because Ventura will be more of a ‘yes man’ than Guillen. That’s not to say Ventura will be Williams’ puppet, but Ventura is expected to be much more in lockstep with Williams than Guillen or even someone like Tampa Bay’s Dave Martinez or Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar Jr, two perceived White Sox managerial candidates.

Second, Ventura comes cheap. Very cheap. Since Ventura has no experience (gee, I see a recurring theme here), he won’t ask for much money, which is great for the White Sox since their payroll is weighed down by big contracts for Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy. While Ventura’s financial contract details were not disclosed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the salary was one-third what a Dave Martinez or Sandy Alomar, Jr. would have commanded.

The fact that Kenny Williams considered current Sox first baseman Paul Konerko to be player-manager tells me all I need to know about Ventura as Williams’ managerial choice. Konerko too would have been a Williams ‘yes man’ and would have only needed a modest bump in salary. From where I sit, control and cheap salary were Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf’s two foremost requirements for the next Sox manager, not credentials.

Hey, doesn’t Ventura’s fan favorite status, player history or leadership count for something as a manager?

Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf pointed to Ventura being a “born leader” as one reason Reinsdorf believed Ventura would be a successful manager. Others argue that Ventura’s excellent player stats will gain him some respect in the clubhouse.

Ultimately, though, leadership doesn’t help win games; smart decision-making does. And while I agree Ventura’s glory days as a player likely will give Ventura some respect in the clubhouse, that respect will erode quickly if the White Sox aren’t winning games…and winning games will be challenging for someone who has (here it comes again) zero coaching experience.

What’s more, success as a player has no correlation to success as a manager. None of the aforementioned successful MLB managers had the gaudy player stats Ventura has. Some, like Joe Maddon, didn’t even make it to the bigs.

However, fan favorite status does come in handy in one area: helping deflect media & fan criticism of Kenny Williams for any cheap Sox hire…hence Ventura and Konerko as Williams’ candidates.

Your turn

What do you think? Do you think Ventura will be a successful manager with the White Sox? Do you think experience is overrated? Are you aware of MLB managers who have had no coaching experience yet succeeded?

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