The Chicago White Sox held a news conference to introduce Robin Ventura as the clubÕs 39th manager. Robin Ventura and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf at a photo opportunity at the 3rd base. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun~Times
Updated: December 14, 2011 8:29AM
Robin Ventura is getting prepared for his first season as a manager. The big question is, how are White Sox players preparing for him?
Will veterans such as A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko buy into a new mission statement at U.S. Cellular Field? Can the untested Ventura stand tall and command the respect of his players the way Ozzie Guillen — himself an inexperienced managerial hire in 1994 — did?
‘‘That’s a great question,’’ said Sox director of player development Buddy Bell, who has worked with Ventura since the former Sox All-Star came back to the franchise as Bell’s adviser in June. ‘‘One of things about bringing in Robin, there is instant credibility there. [New coaches Joe] McEwing and [Jeff] Manto are guys who’ve been in the organization. The only instructor our guys haven’t been around is Mark [Parent]. There will be a transition period. But as long as the guys really show that they care about the players, you’re never going to have a problem. Robin is going to bring that out.’’
Ventura knows his hiring was a shock to fans and players alike, so maintaining that instant credibility in the clubhouse will be key.
‘‘Absolutely,’’ he said. ‘‘Just the process of what happened, I don’t know if the players were taken back, but they heard the names that were out there of who was supposed to be the manager and now I’m the manager. But it’s going to be how I interact with them and how they interact with me. You can’t go in there and scream and yell and guys are going to step in line and respect you. It will take time.’’
Ventura said his players will quickly learn he’s not in this managerial thing for grins or because of a mid-life crisis, and the coaching hires — Parent as bench coach, McEwing at third base and Manto as the hitting coach — demonstrate that.
‘‘I’m not just hiring friends who I think we’re going to go in there with and have a great time,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘We’re here to work and win games. And that’s what I was looking for.’’
Bell, who managed nine seasons in the major leagues, endorsed Ventura for manager, played a major role in helping Ventura assemble the staff and will serve as his managerial adviser. Some say Ventura doesn’t know what he’s getting into with the magnitude of the job, but Bell downplays that notion.
‘‘I’ve done this a couple times,’’ Bell said, ‘‘and really, it’s baseball. It’s taking care of your players, caring about them, putting them in the right spot, and as long as you do that on a consistent basis, you’re going to have instant credibility if you stay consistent with your message.’’
Bell is one of several sources Ventura can make calls to or sit down with this offseason.
‘‘There will be a lot of that,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘There are a lot of people I respect and will get advice from. Obviously Buddy is one of them. The guys we have within the organization, like [coach] Mike Gellinger, who has been there a long time and whose opinion I respect. I want to use everybody — that’s the nice thing about the situation that I’m in. I like and respect all of the guys that we have in there.’’
Ventura has talked to a handful of players and will make periodic calls to all of them in the coming months. He is looking forward to the organization meetings in Arizona next week.
‘‘The coaching staff getting together next week, that’s sort of the first thing,’’ Ventura said.
McEwing, who reportedly will interview for the St. Louis Cardinals manager’s job but isn’t considered a favorite, managed the Sox’ Class AAA team at Charlotte, Parent was the Class AA manager at Reading in the Phillies system and Manto, a former Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach, has been the Sox’ minor-league hitting coordinator the last four seasons.
McEwing is the high-energy type Ventura wanted, and Parent the big, imposing figure who can ride shotgun. Parent reached out to Ventura when Ventura suffered a gruesome ankle injury during spring training in 1997, and they have stayed in contact but are not as close personally as Guillen and former Sox bench coach Joey Cora.
‘‘For all these guys and what they do, it’s not a manufactured thing that just because he does that he comes in,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘They’re qualified, and I totally trust what they’re going to be doing and asking me.’’
‘‘I’ve known Mark for a long time, I’ve seen what he’s done in the minor leagues and the talks we’ve had over the years and even recently, I trust his baseball ability and all the managerial things he did in the minor leagues. I feel confident and lucky to have these guys coming on.’’
Ventura laughed when asked if he’s having ‘‘job acceptance remorse.’’
‘‘No, I’m excited,’’ he said. ‘‘As much as it came out of nowhere, I’m excited. I love the place, the people, and the baseball part I’ve always loved. You don’t always expect an opportunity like this.’’