CINCINNATI — If the White Sox really wanted to shake things up on the South Side and hire an ex-Cubs manager, they should have called Dale Sveum, whose fingerprints are still on the best team in baseball.
The Cubs are still paying Rick Renteria this year, and the White Sox bench coach will get another chance to manage, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report, taking over for Robin Ventura, an immensely respected ex-player who’s at the end of his fourth consecutive losing season.
“I don’t know what’s going on there internally, but I think (Robin) does a great job,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Game 162 at Great American Ball Park. “As a friend — I’ve had dinner with him — he’s a wonderful man. I don’t know what’s happening there, so we’ll just wait and see.”
Renteria, of course, officially got fired on Halloween 2014, ending an awkward limbo period that started as soon as Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Team president Theo Epstein pounced on the star free agent and gave Maddon a five-year, $25 million contract, weeks after saying Renteria “absolutely” would return in 2015.
Renteria’s one-and-done season featured a seven-game improvement from the year before, All-Star selections for Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, some shaky bullpen management and questions about how his rah-rah style could get tuned out in the clubhouse.
But firing Renteria was always more about Maddon’s sudden availability than a bad performance review. Here’s hoping Renteria shows to the Chicago media a little more of the edge and the personality that allowed him to carve out a playing career in the big leagues and become such a popular coach with the Padres.
Credit the White Sox for hiring a bilingual manager at a time when the industry’s power structure is so embarrassingly tilted toward middle-aged white guys and Ivy League kids.
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Ventura at first created the sense of calm the White Sox wanted — a complete change from Ozzie Guillen’s combustible personality — but the franchise couldn’t build off an 85-win season in 2012.
That year, the Cubs tanked and lost 101 games, but Sveum’s staff helped create a gym-rat mentality and build trade-deadline value for short-term assets, with Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode still running that pitching infrastructure now. Sveum earned a World Series ring last year as Kansas City’s hitting coach.
“When you say Robin Ventura to me, I’m going to say it one more time,” Maddon said, beginning a story he’s told Cubs beat writers before. “It might have been 1995. I was a new coach with the Angels and I’m walking in the front door at Comiskey.
“I’m just a nobody. I don’t even know — I was the bullpen coach or the first-base coach at that time. He took the time to talk to me. And he knew me. And he was very, very complimentary. From that moment on, I became a Robin Ventura fan.
“Renteria — I’ve only gotten to visit with him this past spring when he came up to me on the field. We just talked briefly. I know Buddy Black loved him San Diego. I know that. I know people here like him a lot, too.
“So, again, until it’s official, I don’t have anything to say other than: Robin Ventura’s always going to get high marks in my book for that one day in 1995.”