By now youve likely heard the criticisms of Robin Ventura managing the Chicago White Sox. Hes heard them too. Theyre tough to ignore.
One, hes never managed. Two, hes never even coached.
Well, thats not entirely true. Two years ago, Ventura actually was a coach -- at the White Sox Fantasy Baseball Camp in Glendale, Ariz.
People say that Ventura doesnt have a sharp tongue like Ozzie Guillen? Heres what Robin said when I asked him about his rag-tag team of seniors who paid thousands of dollars to play in the camp, but couldnt win a game.
We were terrible," he said. "We were not just no good. We were terrible.
So if Ventura couldnt inspire a collection of athletically challenged baseball players between the ages of 40 and 70, what makes him think he can suddenly lead a real major league team, and into the playoffs no less?
Well for one, the fantasy campers couldnt catch. They couldnt catch or even hit, so I was at a disadvantage from the start, Ventura said laughing. Now I feel like I have a foot in the right direction with the squad that we have here.
But lets not kid ourselves. That foot has an extremely large shoe to fill.
Hes taking over for Guillen, who might be long gone in Miami, but his voice is still echoing at U.S. Cellular Field. His words were so memorable, theyre permanently embedded in the rafters.
Guillen also won a World Series title for the White Sox, the only manager alive who can say that.
But while they are both vastly different on the surface, Ventura and Guillen are almost twins when it comes to their approaches to the game. Theyre cut from the same cloth, brought up in a White Sox organization that stressed the importance of playing the game one way -- the right way.
There are parts of baseball that Ozzie and I both had instilled in us early in our careers that are very similar in the way we do things here, Ventura said in an interview following his Tuesday press conference. We do appreciate guys who play hard and we expect that. Theres no other way around it.
Ventura might have the look of a laid-back surfer who would prefer to hang 10 than to play nine, but inside that belly of his is a competitive fire that burns, and has been known to boil. Just ask some of his former teammates, like Frank Thomas, who not only heard but felt the wrath of Ventura when he believed they werent giving 100 percent of themselves to the team.
I took it personally when guys didnt come out and do what they were supposed to or back a teammate or play hard as theyre supposed to, Ventura said. And thats something that our team is going to understand about me. Im going to come every day with the same attitude, the same personality. Whats expected is not going to be a shock.
Speaking to reporters last week, Williams said that he wants Ventura to have his own voice, and to challenge the Sox GM whenever he feels necessary.
One day into the job, does Ventura have the comfort level to stand up to his boss when conflict arrives?
Youre going to have disagreements, Ventura said. It may not be like the same as the ones he had before with Guillen. But I have beliefs just like anybody else. Our staff is going to have beliefs. And thats going to be something that if I dont agree with something hes doing, Im going to tell him that. It doesnt mean Im going to scream and yell, but hes going to understand that I dont agree with whats going on.
The Detroit Tigers beat the White Sox by 16 games to win the Central Division. But that gap is nothing compared to the difference in experience between the two skippers. Jim Leyland has managed 1,716 games in his career; Ventura 0.
So when the fans and media criticize Ventura as being a managing neophyte whos in over his head, he understands where theyre coming from.
I get it. I totally get it, Ventura said about his lack of coaching experience. But just because they say it, doesnt mean its true.
Just ask anyone who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003 and 2004, Venturas last two seasons as a player in the big leagues. His teammates had a special nickname for him.
What was it?
It was ploach.
Player-coach, Ventura said modestly. I dont know if it was about my age. I was at the end of my career. I was the oldest guy on the team, but it stuck early in spring training and I had it for the whole year.
At the time, Ventura might not have seen himself as a manager, but everyone else did.
Of all the players I played with, he would be my No. 1 choice to manage a team, tweeted former Dodger teammate Shawn Green soon after Ventura was hired.
As for the perception that Ventura had to be talked into the job? First, that didnt happen and second, who in their right mind would sign up to be the White Sox new manager with all the pressure of replacing Guillen, dealing with the media pressure and taking over a struggling team if they werent 100 percent certain that they wanted the job, and felt deep down that they could succeed?
It wasnt like, Hey lets just take a shot at it, because no organization is going to go into a season and waste one full year on a guy who says, Well, lets see how it goes, said Ventura. Thats not how Im going into this. Im going to work hard until I get to spring training having everything I need to have ready to go.
For the last 20 years, it seems like wherever Ventura goes hes reminded of the infamous night when he charged the mound against Nolan Ryan and received a round of noogies to the head from the Hall of Fame pitcher. Coincidentally, Ventura will make his managerial debut next season in Texas, where Ryan is now the teams president.
Its going to be great, Ventura said, rolling his eyes. I think there might have been 500,000 people in the stadium when that happened because everyone says they were at the game.
Among those in attendance was a teenage ballplayer dreaming of the big leagues.
Paul Konerko was actually at that game, Ventura said.
How about that little nugget?
Konerko was with a traveling baseball team that got to meet the White Sox third baseman before the game.
What did Ventura talk to them about?
I guess you never know where life will take you. Ventura knows that ... from experience.
Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton.