Robin Ventura Talks White Sox

ACE VENTURA: In our Q&A, the surprise pick for manager discusses his “midlife crisis” and how it feels to be the most underestimated man in baseball

Robin Ventura
 

It’s rare for a major-league team to hire a manager with zero top-level experience. What did you do in your interview that sealed the deal?
The interview was different than most, I guess. It’s not like I was seeking out the position or that I came out of nowhere. The people involved in the process were people I’ve known for 20 years. [General manager] Kenny [Williams] and [team owner] Jerry [Reinsdorf] were looking for certain things: The manager needed to understand the organization, the fans’ mentality, and the city.

Did you have any reservations when you were offered the job?
You do have reservations. I realize how tough and important the job is. At the time, I was [evaluating players] in the minor leagues, and I was spending a lot of time with my family. [Ventura is married with four children.] So I had to talk it through with my family and see where everyone was. Once they were excited, I got over that hurdle of thinking, How would it affect them? Then I could think about the job itself.

Before the White Sox announcement, you were out of the limelight after 16 years as a player and were living in California. Is that why your wife joked that, at 44, this is your midlife crisis moment?
After you finish a long career, you think you’re never going to miss it, but you do. You miss the game, the competition, even the grind. There’s something special about the season and the way it goes. There’s a beauty in that. Baseball is what I do, and there’s nothing I’ve found that replaced it. I guess it is a midlife crisis. It’s a good one, though.

The movie Moneyball made the public aware of how statistics are taking over baseball. Are you going to rely on numbers or your gut?
Billy Beane has created a new way of thinking, and a lot of it is very valid. There’s a way to use both—a way to look at the numbers and keep your eye on the field. You have to look at what’s in a guy’s eyes, how he is looking that day. It was a good movie, but they focused so much on the numbers and getting on base that they didn’t mention how, at that time, the Oakland Athletics had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.

Your predecessor, Ozzie Guillen, was loud and provocative. Have you been asked to change the clubhouse culture?
That’s going to naturally happen. Personality-wise, Ozzie and I are different—completely different. But nothing was ever said to me directly. When you play long enough, there are chances to take the game for granted. But your career goes by quickly, and that’s one thing I can impress upon players: Even if you think you are never going to miss it, you are. So take advantage of it.

Ozzie was a prolific and controversial tweeter, and tweeting has caused problems for the Sox as well as other pro teams. Are you going to have a social media policy?
If guys use it for the right reasons, that’s fine. But if you are using it to be a disruptive teammate, then we are going to have issues. I won’t [tweet], though.

When you were hired, critics said not to expect anything from the team, or you, for a year or two. [See “Chicago Baseball Preview: The Most Dismal Season in 30 Years?”.] How does it feel to be the most underestimated man in baseball?
There are a lot of teams that haven’t been picked to finish first, but they play as a group and get hot. It’s my job to figure out how to get this team hot. I know people are going to say things about our team and me and my lack of experience. But all I can say is this: I just worry about our guys. I’m confident that I can do this job, and that’s what I’m going in with. But it’s not all about me. I don’t have to try and steal a base. I don’t have to get a hit.

How are you going to help Adam Dunn get back on track?
I’ve seen enough of Adam in the past—he’s been a good hitter for a very long time. Sometimes you have a year where it doesn’t click. I think I just need to get out of his way and let him play and not try to mess with his mind.

As a manager, will you kick the bases and get in umpires’ faces?
I have to back up the players and support them. I don’t sit there and plan on acting a certain way. When guys are competitive, it just happens. I’ve had my moments.

The Sox play the Rangers in their home opener on April 6. Do you think the Rangers will dust off the infamous video of your 1993 brawl with pitcher Nolan Ryan?
I don’t think it’s ever gotten dust on it, actually. I’m sure we’ll see it running on a loop in the stadium. But I’m not worried about it. It is what it is.

 

Photograph: Blair Bunting

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