CHICAGO (AP) — Robin Ventura was easing his way back into baseball with the Chicago White Sox. Hired as an adviser to player development director Buddy Bell in June, it afforded him just the right mix of work and time with his family.
When Ozzie Guillen asked out of his contract near the end of the season and eventually ended up in Florida, Ventura was as surprised as anyone.
And when general manager Ken Williams and Bell talked to him and broached the possibility of succeeding Guillen, he was initially taken aback.
He mulled it over, discussed it with his wife and after a face-to-face meeting with Williams decided it was the right move, facing a challenge in a place where he was comfortable and well-liked for a decade. An offer, it turned out, he couldn’t and didn’t refuse.
“Not having managed before, I did have apprehension,” the former White Sox star third baseman said in a conference call Thursday. “(Williams) never tried to talk me into it. It was more of what was going to be there and be available. Ultimately it was going to be my decision.”
Ventura, known for his slick fielding, clutch hitting and left-handed power, has a good sense of humor and a well-rounded perspective on the game.
Fiery as Guillen? Nope. But he’s had his moments, too.
Who can forget the time he charged the mound after Nolan Ryan plunked him with a pitch in 1993? Once there, Ryan applied a quick headlock and administered several punches before players from both teams reached the confrontation.
And Ventura was tough as a player, too, surviving a grotesque injury in 1997 when he fractured and dislocated ankle in a spring training slide.
Now he’s the 39th White Sox manager overall, a list that includes 17 who played for the team.
“I think there is a challenge there, getting back into the game,” he said.
“I do have a passion for it. I do have a passion for this team and this city. I’m not one to really back away from a lot of things. … The passion is there to do it, I was asked to do it. I’m honored.”
Guillen was released from his contract with one year remaining after eight seasons with the White Sox and immediately was hired by the Florida Marlins as their manager.
“That whole thing surprised me as much as anybody. I figured he would be managing here a long time,” Ventura said of Guillen, his friend and former teammate.
The 44-year-old Ventura played for a host of managers who could influence his style — Jeff Torborg, Gene Lamont, Jerry Manuel, Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre and Jim Tracy.
“I run the gamut on different styles and smart baseball men and just different ways to communicate and get guys to play,” he said.
What kind of manger will he be? Yet to be determined. He said he wants players who care and are accountable.
Ventura was a first-round draft pick of the White Sox out of Oklahoma State in 1988 and spent the first 10 seasons of his 16-year career with Chicago.
After leaving the White Sox, Ventura also played for the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was six-time Gold Glove winner and an All-Star in 1992 and 2002. Ventura’s selection came as a big surprise. Most speculation had the White Sox’s top candidates as either Tampa Rays coach Dave Martinez or Cleveland Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. Both are former White Sox players.
But Ventura was always on Williams’ radar.
“Needless to say he was a little surprised and little apprehensive,” Williams said. “We had to explain to him exactly what the support system would be and exactly what are expectations were at the start. I was very clear with him that I do not expect him to be Tony La Russa on day one. In our estimation the fit is such that all of that will come together and we will ultimately be better off down the line that we could be if — in my opinion — we went in a different direction.”
Pitching coach Don Cooper and first base coach Harold Baines were already re-signed to multiyear contract extensions before the season ended. Hitting coach Greg Walker is not returning. Other staff additions will be announced by Tuesday when Ventura will have his first news conference at U.S. Cellular Field Ventura batted hit .267 with 294 home runs and 1,182 RBIs over his career. His 18 career grand slams are tied for fifth in major league history.
He appeared in 1,254 games over 10 seasons with the White Sox, hitting .274 with 171 home runs and 741 RBI. He ranks among the White Sox career leaders in grand slams, walks, homers, RBIs, extra-base hits and runs scored.
Ventura led Oklahoma State to the College World Series and still holds the Division I record with a 58-game hitting streak.
Guillen left after he couldn’t get a contract extension from owner Jerry Reinsdorf. His relationship with Williams had become fractured over the last two seasons.
Now another White Sox player is back to try and get the team into another World Series. Guillen led them to the title in 2005, ending an 88-year drought.
Just like Guillen, Ventura is a big favorite of Reinsdorf.
“His ability to motivate and lead others will be a terrific attribute as manager,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “I loved him as a player, from his baseball knowledge, to his professionalism, to how he went about his business in the clubhouse and on the diamond.”
Expected to be contenders this season, the White Sox finished 79-83 and third in the AL Central as several key players, most notably DH Adam Dunn and center fielder Alex Rios, struggled offensively.
Ventura said he’s familiar with what transpired last season, adding that once spring training gets under way in Glendale, Ariz., everything will be in the past and it will be a fresh start. For him, too.
“I started to put my foot in the water with Buddy. I was easing my way back in,” Ventura said. “Not it seems I’ve jumped all the way back in. I jumped right in the deep end. I can swim, though.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)