White Sox

Sox Drawer: The Ventura decision

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Sox Drawer: The Ventura decision

VIDEO: Ventura ready for the job

For the last week, there were rumblings coming out of U.S. Cellular Field that the name of the new White Sox manager was going to surprise everyone.

Who could this mystery person be?

Carlton Fisk? Tony Pena? Bill Melton?? Hawk Harrelson???

The White Sox kept their decision an ancient Chinese secret. Nobody had a clue.

But then came the announcement late Thursday afternoon: the next skipper of the Chicago White Sox is Robin Ventura.

Sorry to disappoint those in the front office, we werent surprised at all. Shocked, stunned and completely stupefied would probably be more accurate. Absolutely nobody saw this coming.

But Kenny Williams did. Years ago.

While Ventura played third base for the White Sox in the mid-90s, Williams was working for the team in player development. He says that during the five seasons before he became general manager he was actually interviewing Ventura all along.

He just didnt know it, Williams said.

When it came time for him to assemble a list of candidates to replace Ozzie Guillen, Williams says that rumored front-runners (and former White Sox players) Dave Martinez and Sandy Alomar Jr. were a part of the discussions.

Let me assure you, when we went down the list we looked at all of the guys, all the names that you've heard about and read about, we've looked at all of them, Williams said Thursday on Chicago Tribune Live.

But through it all, Venturas name kept popping off the page.

During a recent meeting with Jerry Reinsdorf, Williams brought up Venturas name as a possibility. At first, the Chairman smiled and said, interesting. Ventura had never managed before, and had just recently joined the White Sox front office in June as a special assistant to Buddy Bell, the teams director of player development.

He seemed like a long-shot, a wild card, just like another guy the team hired to manage the team in 2004: Ozzie Guillen.

After thinking it over that night, Reinsdorf told Williams the next day that he agreed with his decision about Ventura saying, I now know exactly why you brought his name to the forefront.

From there, the wheels went in motion. Ventura was their guy.

So what is it about Ventura that makes him the right fit, not only as White Sox manager, but as a manager period?

This isn't your average bird, Williams said. This guy comes with confidence, but if you ever had one conversation with him you understand that there's a certain humility, a certain regular guy, dry sense of humor. But at the same time he's got some toughness behind it, and will get on you in a way that doesn't demoralize you, in a way that doesn't sound so critical that you can't perform.

"He's a guy that will come in and have a positive affect on the young guys trying to establish themselves in the major leagues, while at the same time some of our veteran guys who are trying to rediscover themselves," Williams went on to say. "He's been there.

If Ventura never seemed to have that burning desire to become a big league manager, should that be held against him?

I say no, just as long as he still has the same desire to win like he did as a player. This being the team that drafted him and played him in 1,254 games during his White Sox career, my guess is that Ventura will do everything in his power not to let Reinsdorf and Williams down.

Im not one to back away, Ventura said when asked about his decision to become manager. The passion was there to do it, and Im honored to have the opportunity to do it. The White Sox care about me and my family. That was big in my decision. I realize that I havent managed, but this is the organization that is going to give me the support to do the job.

Being a first-time manager, who Ventura picks as his bench coach might be the next most important hire. Ventura has found a candidate, someone who is already a bench coach on a major league team. The White Sox are expected to ask the candidates team for permission to contact him on Friday.

As for his hitting coach, White Sox legend Frank Thomas told Comcast SportsNet Ill definitely listen if the Sox called. Williams revealed on Chicago Tribune Live that the Big Hurts name has already been brought up in conversations.

I have talked about that with Robin and because we've had so much growth within our system and we got so many young players as well as guys trying to rebound, we are probably going to stay within the organization, Williams said. We've still got to have some conversations on it and whether or not Frank is spoken to about or not, that'll be Robin's choice at the time. But I'm thinking initially, because we have history with some of our young players that have now come through and have performed well, we'll probably stick with that. But Frank will undoubtedly be welcomed to add any advice he has and he'll be part of the family because he is who he is and he's got a lot to offer.

In case Ventura doesnt succeed as manager, believe it or not, his replacement might already be lurking inside the White Sox clubhouse. Just like Ventura had no clue he was on Williams radar in the 1990s, this player probably doesnt realize it either.

As I'd freely admit right now, Paul Konerko can be a major league manager just because I've had 10 years worth of conversations with Paul Konerko, Williams said. And as a result, I've come to the conclusion that this guy certainly has the necessary stuff. He's a little busy right now, you know, becoming an MVP. But one day he too will hopefully be considered if he wants to do it along the same line. This might be out of left field or a surprise, but to people who are within the organization, not so much.

Cant say Im surprised. After the Ventura announcement, very little will.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

White Sox Talk Podcast: SoxFest at Night!

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

White Sox Talk Podcast: SoxFest at Night!

Chuck Garfien and White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti host SoxFest at Night live from Sox Fest at McCormick Place. They're joined by Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez and many more.

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

It might not be possible to measure the effect Yasmani Grandal has already had on the 2020 White Sox.

While the team’s first big splash signing of the winter has been met with near universal acclaim — how could you not love a guy with Grandal’s track record of offensive production and winning experience? — plenty wondered why it happened in the first place. After all, the White Sox already boasted an All-Star catcher in James McCann.

Sure, two All-Star backstops are better than one. But with so much still on Rick Hahn’s offseason to-do list when the move was made, why spend big bucks — the richest contract in team history — on a position you already had covered?

Well, the 2020 campaign hasn’t even started yet, and already Grandal’s worth is evident.

As much love as McCann got for his skills as a game-planner during his All-Star season in 2019, the rave reviews for Grandal take things to a whole different level.

“I got to talk with Yaz for a while, I played catch with him today down the road. He’s already got a plan for me, how he wants to set up, attack guys, showing me the program he uses. It’s awesome,” new White Sox reliever Steve Cishek said before SoxFest kicked off Friday. “He’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.

“Just talking with him today, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. And then you see why he’s one of the best catchers in the game. And then how mentally prepared he is, we’re not even into February yet, and he knows what he wants to do with each and every one of us. That’s incredible to me. He’s just planning ahead.

“I introduced myself. He wanted to play catch, just to see what my stuff does first hand. … First conversation after playing catch, he’s like, ‘Did you see me messing around? I was standing over here just to see if you would start your fastball over here. This is how I’m planning on setting up with you. I watched how Willson (Contreras) set up with you last year. I like how he did it, but I want to try this way, too.’

“Are you kidding me? When can we start? Let’s go.”

It’s clear from talking to his new teammates — some, like Cishek, who haven’t even been able to spend much time with him — that Grandal is prepared to the point where he’s ready for the season to start yesterday.

Rick Hahn revealed when the White Sox signed Grandal way back in November, that the newest backstop on the South Side is the kind of student who asks for homework — then devours it in no time.

“We met with him in Phoenix (the) Tuesday afternoon during the GM meetings, but I think it was by Thursday, he had reached back out and requested video of each of our starters and wanted to spend some time getting to know each of them,” Hahn explained the day the White Sox announced Grandal’s four-year contract. “He had some familiarity from afar but wanted to spend some up close time learning their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them better.

“He and I, since things became official late last night, we’ve been texting back and forth about various guys both on our roster and available throughout the league. He really has a deep, deep knowledge of how to maximize a pitcher’s ability. He’s tireless worker.”

Though the White Sox have yet to converge on Camelback Ranch for spring training, that unmatched work ethic has already become apparent to Grandal’s new teammates. These pitchers haven’t had much opportunity to work with Grandal yet — as Cishek mentioned, he talked with Grandal for the first time Friday before heading to SoxFest — but they’ve already been blown away by the kind of preparation and the kind of work Grandal has done.

It’s the kind of effect a veteran with winning experience can have on a young group.

“I haven't personally thrown to him, but having conversations with him about pitching and pitch mechanics, he's very intellectual,” Michael Kopech said earlier this week. “He himself is very serious about his training and his body and his regimen. It's refreshing to see somebody take that much pride in what their doing.

“Not that we don't have that already, we've always had that. But to have that veteran role step in and show you that you can do this and you can do this for a long time, it means the world to us, because that's what we're all wanting to get to.”

One of the White Sox other offseason splashes, Dallas Keuchel, has on multiple occasions talked about Grandal as an attractive selling point that helped bring him to the South Side. Friday night, he described Grandal signing with the White Sox as “mind-blowing.”

Grandal has excited pitchers who were already a part of the organization, too.

“When he signed, the first thing I did was I went to YouTube and I looked him up,” Dylan Cease said Friday. “First, I started with his framing highlights, because there’s a YouTube (video) of that. And then I went to his hitting. I was like, ‘All right. This is a nice addition.’”

That would seem to be an understatement.

Obviously, Grandal will be expected to add something special to the White Sox lineup, and his career .348 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons — not to mention a career-best 28 home runs in 2019 — ought to provide plenty offensively.

But Grandal is here to help the Ceases of the world, too. While Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez bring some veteran reliability to the South Side starting staff, the White Sox will need to see some improvement from both Cease and Reynaldo Lopez from the not-so-stellar numbers they put up last season if they’re truly going to contend for a spot in the postseason.

Grandal is making that his mission, to help the younger pitchers blossom into the stars their once lofty prospect rankings said they could be.

“This not being the first time (I’ve been through this kind of thing), I understand it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Grandal said Friday. “We’re not going to try and hurry the process up, we’re just going to let it be. We know what we have, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

“Once I have at least 80 games behind the plate, we’ll look at the bigger picture and start making the bigger strides and start doing the things that we really have to do. We’ve got to lay some sort of base in order to start building. I feel like we’ve moved in the right direction so far this offseason. It comes down to me and the whole catching group getting together with the pitchers.”

That kind of work is something Grandal has already shown he’s willing and excited to do. He’s impressed the pitchers he’ll be catching in their limited interactions, and while he describes a potentially time-consuming process in getting everyone to where they need to be, he’s still thrilled to be working with this group of arms. He continues to explain that it’s the No. 1 thing that drew him to the South Side.

Because as a guy who’s played in each of the last four postseasons knows, it’s all about the pitching.

“As we saw in the past World Series, the Nationals kind of did exactly what needed to be done. They relied on their pitching staff,” he said, “and they got big hits when they needed it. At any point, once you get to the playoffs, if you have the right amount of pitchers, you can have a big win.

“Let’s just get there first.”

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