If Robin Ventura was Kenny Williams’ idea, Sox fans are in trouble
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org October 7, 2011 12:34PM
White Sox GM Kenny Williams has made some less-than-stellar baseball decisions of late. | AP
Updated: October 7, 2011 12:40PM
Nobody knows if Robin Ventura is the next Ozzie Guillen, Chuck Tanner or Don Gutteridge. But I’d feel a lot better about Ventura succeeding Guillen if this was Jerry Reinsdorf playing a hunch rather than Kenny Williams.
While Williams deserves his share of the credit for bringing a World Series championship trophy to the South Side, let’s not forget that his intuition, his gumption and his penchant for making clandestine, unpredictable and bold moves is largely responsible for the Sox being in this situation in the first place.
The Sox didn’t fall short the last two seasons just because of a couple of bad trades and a couple of bad contracts and too many players having bad seasons at the same time. They failed mostly because Williams outsmarted himself in acquiring Alex Rios and trading Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson; didn’t quite know what he was getting in Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn; and somehow ended up with a flat clubhouse loaded with good guys and good players, but no heart.
And if you don’t believe in the intangible effect of heart or character or chemistry, you’re asking us to accept the oddly coincidental failures of the 2011 team: Every time the Sox had a chance to be somebody or accomplish something, they fell apart. Almost every time they had something to lose, they lost.
The Sox started 11-22. And every time they clawed their way back to respectability, they fell back. When they finally reached .500 at 42-42, they lost the next game. At 43-43 they lost four straight. At 52-52, they lost six straight.
They finally got over that hump and had one last chance to challenge the Tigers for the division lead — at 68-65, 5 games behind on Aug. 30. But Peavy allowed six runs in the first inning against the Twins, and after the Sox climbed back to 7-6 with two outs in the ninth inning and a runner on first, Rios struck out looking on three pitches to end the game. (Guillen didn’t help matters by pitching the tender Peavy on four-days rest or by pinch-hitting Dunn for Brent Lillibridge in the ninth inning. But Williams had a bigger hand in putting him in that position.)
From there, the Sox predictably imploded in a horrific three-game sweep by the Tigers in Detroit and it was over.
There have been teams in Chicago that have famously choked or flopped, but rarely has one so obviously showed potential and missed opportunity like the 2011 White Sox. This is a team that hit two last-at-bat, game-tying home runs against the Nationals in June, and still lost.
Williams built this team with his unique managerial style. And while it’s important to him that he has the respect of his fellow GMs, he’s got a little Jerry Krause in him — if you’d pardon the expression. More than most in his business, he’s always looking for something nobody else sees.
Last year around the trade deadline, Hudson was the subject of trade rumors and it was reported that his ‘‘stock had dropped’’ after a poor outing against the A’s. I asked Williams if a prospect’s stock could actually drop based on one performance.
‘‘Yes. It makes a difference,’’ he said. ‘‘One at-bat. One misplay in the field, all that matters. [But] it doesn’t matter to me. I look at it as an opportunity. If I like a guy and he’s been on our radar and we’ve gone through that process, I’ll say, ‘OK. Good [that] he had that poor outing, because now maybe I can get him.’ ’’
That’s a pretty definitive illustration of a guy who thinks he can outsmart people. It’s an m.o. that has worked for Williams. But not lately. It would be great if Robin Ventura had a successful run as White Sox manager. But I’m not holding my breath. I respect Kenny Williams’ record. But I don’t trust his intuition.