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White Sox pay no heed to experience in hiring Robin Ventura

When GM Ken Williams first talked with RobVenturabout possibility being Sox’ new manager Venturreacted like guy who never had managed

When GM Ken Williams first talked with Robin Ventura about the possibility of being the Sox’ new manager, Ventura reacted like a guy who never had managed before. | Getty Images

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Updated: November 16, 2011 10:38AM

The story goes that Al Davis, the longtime managing general partner of the Raiders, once eyed an empty plot of land and envisioned a cemetery where all of his former players could be together for eternity.

I don’t know if the story is true, but Davis is so odd that I very much want to believe it’s true.

Does Jerry Reinsdorf have something similar in mind? Will there be a special place for all the people who have worn the black and white for the White Sox?

And if ‘‘Shoeless’’ Joe Jackson still were around today, would he have gotten a look for the Sox’ managerial opening?

We’ll never know. The Sox swooped in and hired former third baseman Robin Ventura, who never has managed or coached in his life, before any other major-league club could get him. Think of it as a pre-emptive strike against all the teams that were dying to hire a guy with no experience.

Ventura might turn out to be the best manager the Sox ever had, but jeez. He might have the sharpest baseball mind of anyone alive, but come on.

‘‘I understand that it is in your minds — and maybe many of our fans’ minds — something that was off the radar,’’ general manager Kenny Williams said Thursday. ‘‘But he’s definitely never been off the radar in our estimation.’’

‘It took me aback’

The Sox’ answer to us skeptics is direct: It wasn’t as though Ozzie Guillen was Tony La Russa when they hired him as their manager in November 2003. Fair enough. But Guillen had been a coach for three seasons and never had made it a secret that he wanted to manage.

Ventura, on the other hand, never had a burning desire to manage. If he had, he would have done something about it. When he joined the Sox in June as a special adviser to director of player development Buddy Bell, he did it with the thought of perhaps becoming a coach.

He jumped right to manager. Did he ever step foot in the mailroom?

It’s not as though he doesn’t know the game. You don’t play 2,079 games (1,254 with the Sox) and not absorb baseball knowledge. But by hiring Ventura, the Sox are saying that experience doesn’t matter. If they’re right, it means teams won’t have to waste time looking at how a prospective manager gets along with players as a supervisor. Resumes will be things of the past. Dues? Not necessary.

When Williams first talked with Ventura about the possibility of being the Sox’ new manager, Ventura reacted like a guy who never had managed before.

‘‘It took me aback,’’ he said. ‘‘I was not expecting that conversation when we had it.’’

Who would?

‘‘Needless to say, he was a little surprised and a little apprehensive,’’ Williams said.

Who wouldn’t be?

More than a stopgap

At least two things are in Ventura’s favor: The Sox have a fairly strong pitching staff, and pitching coach Don Cooper recently signed a four-year contract extension. It means Ventura has help with one of the trickier parts of the game.

‘‘I realize I haven’t managed, but I’m in a place where I’m going to have as much support as I can possibly have of any organization out there,’’ he said.

The Sox’ 2011 payroll of
$127 million is about to go on a diet. They aren’t rebuilding. They are crossing their fingers that Adam Dunn will find the ability he lost so badly last season. Same with Alex Rios. Same with Gordon Beckham. And if there’s a miracle cure to make Jake Peavy the pitcher he used to be, the Sox will take that, too.

When teams aren’t sure what they want to do, if they believe a managerial candidate is too expensive (hello, Terry Francona) or if they think their team isn’t going anywhere for a while, they’ll hire a stopgap for a few years. Is Ventura keeping the seat warm for a couple of years?

The Sox aren’t saying that, of course. It would be an insult to Ventura, one of the more popular players in team history. But why hire someone who never has managed or coached before?

‘‘He’s getting this position because we think that he’s the guy to help lead us to another banner, not because he was once a fan favorite,’’ Williams said.

Hey, at least the fan-favorite angle makes some sense.

‘‘The passion is there to do it,’’ Ventura said.

Now all he needs is experience.

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