Coach Jeff Manto steps up to the plate for White Sox
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org February 29, 2012 8:54PM
New Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto talks with Gordon Beckham (left) and Adam Dunn during batting practice Wednesday. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: April 2, 2012 9:52AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Manto knows how it is for the hitting coach. Team hits, and the players are doing what they get paid for. Team doesn’t, and he needs to be fired.
Beginning his first year with the White Sox after four as the organization’s minor-league hitting instructor, Manto expects the same scrutiny from fans that Greg Walker was under.
“It comes with the territory, without a doubt,’’ Manto said Wednesday. “I’ve been there before in a different environment [as Pittsburgh’s hitting coach in 2006 and ’07], but it’s part of the gig. It’s a sign that these people are passionate. I know it’s not going to be against me personally but me the hitting coach. People are showing the passion. That’s appreciated.’’
It’s early, but Manto seems to be appreciated by Sox hitters, including Adam Dunn, one of his important projects.
‘‘The good thing about the interaction is he listens to me,’’ Dunn said. “He’s just not telling you one thing, him talking. He listens to what you want to do, and that’s all you can ask for.’’
Dunn’s problems last year are so well documented that fans don’t want to see his numbers anymore. Comparing him to the guy he saw in camp last spring, Manto sees a different Dunn.
“I see a hunger, I really do,’’ Manto said. “I think this guy is going to turn it around. He’s talking like he’s ready, and he sincerely believes it, as well. There’s something different in his eye than what I saw last year at this time in spring training. The way he’s talking, the way he looks, the way he’s carrying himself, it’s just a hunger.’’
For veterans such as Dunn — who had at least one hitting coach with another team he had no use for — Manto said the key is not getting him to buy into his theory but more the other way around.
“It’s me buying into what they’re doing,’’ Manto said. “There’s no way I can tell Paul Konerko, ‘We’re going to do this.’ I’m not stupid. It’s making sure it’s a theory that’s respectable, that has stood the test of time.’’
Manto’s style has been shaped by various coaches, but none more than Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
“He never told us a lot about hitting, and he knows a ton about hitting,’’ Manto said. “The goal for him was not to give us all the information; the goal for him was to get us to hit. Sometimes when people start talking about where your hips, hands and head should be, they forget about the most important thing, and that’s the hitter. That’s where my approaches come from. It’s a pretty cool concept when you’re dealing with simplicity.’’
Having been on the other side as a nine-year major-league veteran, Manto knows not to act like a know-it-all. Building trust is huge, and it starts now. That, Manto said, comes by showing that they matter to him.
“I can make a comment that they don’t agree with, but when they know my intention is that I care, it makes a big difference,’’ he said.
There are those who say handling 13 hitters during the course of a season — the majority of whom might be feeling lousy about themselves most of the time — is one of the toughest jobs in sports. Manto thinks not.
“It’s like parenting,’’ he said. “You have to make sure you’re dealing with each guy on a daily basis, touching base every day, knowing what they’re doing. Dealing with 13 guys, that’s not hard at all. Everybody has a different personality, and you adjust to them.’’