03/09/12 7:12 PM ET
Ventura's first impression a hit with White Sox
Players, organization appreciate new skipper's approach
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Robin Ventura is at the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and his team trailing by an 8-6 margin, with future Hall of Famer "Goose" Gossage on the mound. Ventura launches a 2-0 pitch into right-center for a walk-off grand slam, and then a voiceover from the present incarnation of Ventura begins as he's circling the bases and fireworks are going off at the ballpark.
"I'm a big believer in hard work and focusing on the fundamentals, not doing things the easy way when you can do them the right way," says Ventura, shown standing near home plate at U.S. Cellular Field wearing a White Sox jacket and hat.
"That's my approach to baseball and [I] hope I can teach these guys," Ventura concludes, before "Appreciate the Game" flashes on the screen.
In 32 seconds, the essence of Ventura seems to be accurately and dramatically captured. And through 16 days in Glendale, this essence has been imparted on his White Sox charges with great acceptance and respect.
MLB.com surveyed a handful of White Sox players over the past few days, looking for one sentence to describe Ventura's managerial start. Most players went deeper than the required basic statement, but through the first quarter of Spring Training, there seems to be nothing but strong support for Ventura's debut camp.
"He's got that fine line down really well early. He has a lot of respect coming toward him and I think he realizes it, too. He's in a tough position, but I respect him from, I still remember him as a player, how good of a player he was playing against him. He has all my respect."
This praise for Ventura simply focuses on the man currently running the team, not in comparison to any other White Sox manager, including his predecessor Ozzie Guillen. In fact, Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the venerable White Sox television play-by-play man who has been part of baseball for more than five decades, mentioned Ventura and Guillen in the same manager genre when questioned about Ventura's current camp.
Both had no previous managerial experience, with this position serving as Ventura's first professional coaching job. But both were exceptional managers on the field during the time they played.
"They say he has no experience?" said Harrelson of Ventura. "He has 16 years of managing.
"You get guys like Robin, Sal Bando was another guy who was like another manager on the field. I said if Robin wanted to, because Robin made a lot of money, I said on the air if Robin wanted to, I told him the other day I never thought he would manage. I didn't think he wanted to go through the hassle."
So, why did Ventura take the job in Harrelson's opinion? He believes it's because of Ventura's strong connection to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the entire organization with which he was a standout third baseman for a decade.
"I've never seen a manager come into an organization and manage like this, who has the entire organization behind him," Harrelson said. "Experience is something that you got when you didn't want to get it, and that means failure. He's been involved in many losing ballgames in his career. He's been involved in many winning ballgames. He has had plenty of experience."
Harrelson made one more strong point concerning Ventura. X's and O's are important in a sport such as football and in basketball, to some extent, but they "aren't important" in baseball. So good managers don't micromanage, and Ventura has the potential to be one of those good managers, in Harrelson's opinion.
"A manager is good in close ballgames. A manager is good in postseason," Harrelson said. "The rest of the time ... .
"Good managers don't want to manage. They want to let [the players] play and get out of the way. The issue is getting these guys to produce what they have in them and get it out of them on a consistent basis. That is where a manager is good, and Robin is going to be fantastic."
Players appreciate Ventura's straightforward approach, the way he says more with less but gets his point across and the staff's commitment to getting things exactly right during morning workouts. Those asked seem to agree with a second commercial promoting the "Appreciate the Game" slogan, in which Ventura talks about seeing a new team in 2012 that will run hard, throw hard and play hard from the first inning to the final out.
It's his mission, along with more victories mixed in than growing pains along the way. The teaching part is important, but the White Sox want to win.
"Everything is going smooth," said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton of Ventura. "Information is given to us. We have a meeting before we do it, then we do it and pitchers have a meeting to go back over it again. We really pay attention to details."
"Awesome," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, when asked for the sentence on Ventura. "Just one word."