It’s happened before this season. And it happened again Tuesday night. Rick Renteria is not going to stand one of his players not running to first base.
As much as the developmental stages of this rebuilding effort on the South Side are about moving players through the minor league system and transforming them into the types of talent that will fuel the next contending White Sox team, they are also about establishing a culture, a way of doing things. That’s where Renteria comes in, and the “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” mantra is a distillation of how he wants his players to compete.
More than one time this season, he’s made a very public display of enforcing that ethos, sitting a player down for not running to first base. Tim Anderson was the latest to be on the receiving end of a mid-game benching, pulled following the sixth inning of Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals.
Anderson’s miscue was not a good look, as Renteria hammered home during his animated postgame press conference. The shortstop lined a ball right at the third baseman, who he believed caught the ball on the fly for an inning-ending out, but the call on the field was that it was a ground ball. Confusion reigned for the Royals, too, as the third baseman whipped the ball to second base to try and cut down Omar Narvaez, but Narvaez was safe there. The second baseman then walked the ball over to first for the force out on Anderson, who remained at home plate the whole time.
“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. Just go until they ultimately make the call. We’ll let the opposing team make the review call. It didn’t look very good to have him standing at the plate and having the ball going around the diamond,” Renteria said. “It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews.
As animated as Renteria was after the game, he was even more animated after the play, slamming his hand down in the dugout before walking toward the clubhouse. Anderson was out of the game when the White Sox took the field in the top of the seventh.
“These kids are growing up and the reality is, we want our veteran players, and they do, talk to the players. But there are moments when the manager has to take control of a particular situation,” Renteria said. “That was mine. And so when you see me get upset like that it’s because it’s something that we preach and talk about all the time. We don’t give in.”
This is at least the fourth time Renteria has employed this strategy this season, and while it’s a strategy that most definitely counts as a teaching tool, age and experience have not been factors in his decision-making in these situations. He benched Avisail Garcia during a spring training game. Leury Garcia and Welington Castillo were benched during regular-season games.
Avisail Garcia was an All-Star last season and Castillo was a veteran free-agent signing, but Anderson is probably the highest-profile member of that quartet when it comes to the team’s long-term future and his place in this rebuilding effort. In that sense, this kind of learning experience could be a valuable one.
Anderson, as he said after the game, believed the ball to be caught on the fly. And despite the ruling on the field in that moment, replay showed that the ball was indeed caught on the fly.
“It can’t happen. It don’t look good,” Anderson said when asked what Renteria told him. “He’s the manager. It’s his call on the players. I have to respect his decision. Come tomorrow and be ready to play. … It’s the way he teaches us to play hard, to keep playing. I’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”
“He didn’t try to do it that way. He hit what he thought was a line drive at the defender. He thought he genuinely saw the defender catch the ball,” Renteria said. “As much as we all want to take it all into account, you never assume the out. That’s what we talk about all the time. I’ve been talking about it since I got here.”
Onlookers might question why this type of penalty needs to be handed down as the White Sox turn the calendar to the final two months of a season that currently sees the team sitting 32 games below .500. But Renteria has this job for a reason in the middle of this rebuilding process. And benching Anderson in July 2018 could have a positive impact in September 2020 or October 2021. It’s an organization-wide culture that’s being established alongside the hoped-for perennial contender, and Renteria’s a big part of that process.
“If we’re going to win and move forward as a championship organization, we need fighters. And Timmy’s a fighter,” Renteria said. “He had a lapse in that particular instance because he recognized something that he thought was clearly an out. But we know how we’re supposed to go about it, and we’re going to continue to do it and it’s not going to change. As long as I’m here it’s not going to change.
“Sometimes you have to react a certain way. With all due to respect to Timmy and all my guys — I love all of my guys. Don’t get me wrong, I love every single one of those guys in there, but we’re going to continue to do it because it’s important for us to do it here all the way through the system because anybody that comes to play for us, that’s the way we're going to play.”