A defense of friction as White Sox open managerial search

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 07: Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch (14) during Game 3 of the ALDS between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays on October 7, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Because no team’s problems are unique, you can indirectly rehash Rick Renteria’s disastrous bullpen game in Game 3 of the wild card series by reading Lindsey Adler’s story about Aaron Boone’s reputation after the Yankees’ busted opener strategy in Game 2 of the ALDS.

If you’d missed it, Boone already had J.A. Happ warming while Deivi Garcia retired the first two batters in the first inning. Garcia gave up a solo shot to Randy Arozarena before he completed his inning, after which Happ took over and gave up a pair of two-run homers over the next two innings. The Yankees trailed 5-1 on their way to a 7-5 loss, Happ sounded miffed by the unusual usage after a long layoff, and the Rays ended up taking the series in five games.

If the gambit worked, the Yankees would have out-Raysed the Rays. As it stood, it’s generating questions about how much autonomy Boone has in the dugout. Brian Cashman went out of his way to vouch for Boone’s independence.

A few minutes into his end-of-season news conference Wednesday, general manager Brian Cashman offered stunning pushback to the perception that Boone does not control the team’s games.

“It’s been asked several times about the manager being a puppet,” Cashman said. “None of that’s true.”

I’d guess that Boone’s calls are his own, because clubhouses generally seem to be able to sense weak managers, and Boone holds his own there. There’s just a limited effectiveness in such a strong denial.

And this is a path the White Sox could be headed down depending on how they go about filling their managerial vacancy.

Daryl Van Schouwen wrote about the deteriorating relationship between Renteria and the front office, and while Renteria probably absorbed a lot of valid criticism ….

Even before that, not all was seashells and balloons between Renteria and the front office. Renteria and his coaches, including pitching coach Don Cooper, pushed back not entirely but to a degree on the in-game use of metrics and data as supplied to them by the Sox’ baseball operations staff, sources said.

… it sounded like he also offered valid pushback.

That — along with Renteria’s belief that the rebuild was ahead of schedule, yet his desire to add pitching help at the trade deadline fell on deaf ears — created some disharmony, sources said.

It’s fun to picturing Renteria offering this as, “Oh, so NOW it’s important to win.” However he voiced this, it puts a different spin on the White Sox’s inactivity at the trade deadline, which came after a meeting with players, coaches, and executives that attempted to gauge the temperature of the clubhouse as the front office pondered moves.

Asked about weighing the addition of a player with character questions, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn revealed that Sunday included not just a walk-off win, but a meeting around a conference table at Guaranteed Rate Field involving himself, executive vice president Kenny Williams, manager Rick Renteria, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, and seven key veterans.

It was an opportunity to assess the clubhouse culture, the status of the team’s play and locker room, and in possible examples of well-traveled veterans like Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel, an opportunity to get feedback about players and potential additions across the league.

I was reminded of Keuchel’s inclusion in this meeting by his tweeting, which is normally something he doesn’t do. He hadn’t posted anything since April until the dismissals of Renteria and Don Cooper broke. His his first tweet thanking his now-former bosses hasn’t been noticed, like or retweeted as much as the tweet that followed.

Had Keuchel risen to prominence with any other team besides the Houston Astros, this could’ve been interpreted as boilerplate optimism. But the White Sox are seeking a proven upgrade at the helm and A.J. Hinch is one of the few available managers who meets the description, so the message urged close readers to connect some dots. It was similarly easy to recall Keuchel airing his grievances to the media in early August after Ken Rosenthal reported that “some White Sox veterans felt Renteria needed to hold players more accountable” in the wake of Renteria’s firing.

Hinch was part of a well-oiled machine with the Astros, but a lack of friction is not always a feature. Below the manager, the last years of Ozzie Guillen are what it looks like when underperforming players aren’t even acknowledged, much less addressed. Above the manager, the Yankees show that it’s easy to stoke suspicions that a manager isn’t convinced in his own calls, regardless of their validity.

The Astros are an example of something else entirely. Houston’s lack of organizational friction allowed Hinch to resurrect his managing prospects, because his debut with the Diamondbacks was a dud. He was taken out of the Arizona front office and planted in the dugout, replacing a more traditional and respected authority figure in Bob Melvin. He never commanded respect of a quorum, and he fell out of favor after just two partial seasons.

With Houston, the front office had already set the tone for an analytics-friendly manager like Hinch. They didn’t need somebody to keep talent in line as much as they needed a guy to put that talent in a position to make the most of it. It worked spectacularly, at least until it all came crashing down.

Hinch’s post-firing apology tour probably offers the most honest account of any of the figures involved. Some of his answers nevertheless invited further questions. Hinch, whose lack of any coaching experience left him struggling to connect to players in Arizona, sounded like he overcorrected in his version of the banging scheme. He allegedly smashed the monitor they were using to steal signs, but it sounded like he didn’t directly ask or demand his players to stop.

Astros players told investigators that if Hinch had told them to stop stealing signs, they would have ceased the activity.

“That’s hard to hear,” Hinch said. “I hope so.”

But even after Hinch damaged two monitors, according to the investigation, the Astros continued to steal signs “throughout the postseason.” Taking a bat to the monitors wasn’t enough to deter them.

“Clearly it wasn’t,” Hinch said. “It’s something what I look back at as something I could have done better.”

If the Astros front office engineered the scheme, and the players and coaching staff sustained it without Hinch’s involvement or support, then it’s fair to wonder how much he individually contributed to the proceedings.

There is fresh evidence of Hinch’s willingness to defy a player, although it surfaced in a way that doesn’t flatter him. After Dusty Baker left Zack Greinke in to escape his own mess in Game 4 against the Rays on Wednesday, Greinke noted the difference in how he’d been handled by the previous administration:

“It’s nice having someone have confidence in me,” Greinke said. “Since I‘ve been here, they haven’t seemed to have confidence in my ability. So, it was nice having that happen at an important time like that.”

Baker might’ve made a mistake by leaving in Greinke, but last postseason, Hinch made the opposite call to terrible results. In Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, Hinch pulled Greinke despite just 80 pitches with one out in the seventh. An Anthony Rendon homer cut Houston’s lead to 2-1, and Hinch lifted Greinke after a subsequent walk to Juan Soto. Hinch called for Will Harris, who promptly surrendered a two-run homer to Howie Kendrick, and the Nats went on to win it all. You may remember that Gerrit Cole never pitched in the elimination game, and he wore a Boras Corp. hat instead of Astros gear as he prepared to head into free agency.

Long, meandering story short, friction is unavoidable in even the most optimized of environments. I’d go further and say that friction is welcome, especially in cases where, I dunno, it attempts to halt the sport’s biggest scandal in decades.

That’s probably the biggest selling point for this Tony La Russa business, as he’s never shied away from upsetting people if he thought it would accomplish the job. He’s the guy who opened his St. Louis career by benching Ozzie Smith, and managed an uncomfortable relationship with Scott Rolen for the best years of his career. Sure, La Russa has provided even more evidence over the past decade that 2021 is not the time for any of this, but if you’re looking for a non-Reinsdorf reason for what appears to be dangerous levels of Reinsdorfian sentiments, this is the best I can provide. Nobody could accuse La Russa of being a front office puppet, for better or for worse. Probably worse.

(Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

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roke1960

Since there are not many of us on here that remember the Tony LaRussa days as a White Sox manager, I’ll put my two cents in on the matter.

First of all, I am hoping the Sox hire AJ Hinch. I think he is the best candidate for the job. His recent success and his use of analytics would, I think, give this team the best chance at success.

I really don’t want to see LaRussa get the job, but if he does, I think he could also be very successful. He would basically need to have his “replacement” brought in to be the bench coach- someone like Matt Quatrero from Tampa. I don’t see LaRussa managing for more than a few years, and having someone who he and management agree on to take over would be a big plus. Bringing in a good analytics-driven pitching coach would be a must also. Tony has always been a very good game manager, and if he is willing to embrace the vision the Sox have about the future, then I think he could be very good for the Sox.

I still think this whole LaRussa story is a smokescreen created by Jerry and Rick and using good ol’ Nightingale to spread this story. I think they already have an agreement with Hinch and will announce it after the Series ends. But if they are serious about LaRussa, I’m trying to find the positives in him becoming the manager. Hopefully, we’ll know very soon.

GrinnellSteve

At LaRussa’s age two things come to mind. First, he wouldn’t be in the job long. A year? Two? Three at the most. Second, I can’t see him taking the job without assurances that the Sox will leave no stone unturned in assembling a championship team. He wouldn’t come here because he misses being the dugout. He’d come here to win one more title. Have any managers ever won World Series with 3 different teams? I don’t think so.

I could warm up to LaRussa if it meant Jerry was all in on winning. Of course, you could be all in with a different manager, but I’m not sure Jerry would see it that way. Anyway, just a thought.

karkovice squad

It’s at least a little ironic that Renteria’s postmortem dings him for being too hands off with players in their winning season after he got dinged for hustle benchings during the teardown. Maybe that was a Hinchian overcorrection and now he won’t have a chance with the Sox to show he’s found equilibrium, though that hardly seems like the only or primary reason for his dismissal.

What we’ve learned about the cheating scandals doesn’t make Hinch look better, just bad for different reasons than we might assume. I don’t really want the Sox to be the kind of org that sees that kind of situation as an arbitrage opportunity.

Those concerns aside, I just don’t know why we should trust this front office to use a good process and make a good enough hire regardless of who they choose. They still haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt. For example, with La Russa, what reason is there to be confident they can accurately evaluate his fit with the clubhouse or whether his active game management would be wasted with the kind of rosters the front office puts together?

AshnodsCoupon

LaRussa is an idiot. He goes to Glenn Beck rallies, endorses racist immigration laws, and refuses to use math to figure out which players are good or not good, or whether a hitter should bunt or not bunt. These are all things that people who are not idiots do not do.

If they hire LaRussa I’ll be so upset.

roke1960

This is baseball, not politics.

craigws

Like it or not, politics infuses everything.

karkovice squad

Anderson and Giolito have obviously found ways to be copacetic with less woke teammates, slackchat disputes between their significant others and former teammates’ aside.

Maybe they could bond over La Russa’s animal shelter support rather than his support of Arizona’s “papers, please” law.

HallofFrank

@craigws It’s true, but Roke’s point is a fair one: if you refuse to hire political conservatives, that’ll surely slice the FA pool quite a bit. And would most likely lead to parting ways with some current players. Surely there’s a line between “political conservative” and “outspoken right wing nut job.” The latter is to be avoided, but the former will comprise plenty of players and coaches in baseball who, I hope, the Sox don’t avoid for only that reason.

Maybe La Russa has crossed that line, I haven’t followed him closely enough to tell. But it’s a distinction the Sox would be wise to keep.

AdamH

If you’re going to Glenn Beck rallies that’s basically the definition of a right wing nut job.

roke1960

I don’t care if he’s a right-wing nut job or a left-wing nut job. If he knows how to manage a bullpen and can lead the Sox to a title, that’s all I care about. His political affiliation should have absolutely nothing to do with whether he is a capable manager. Just manage the White Sox- don’t pontificate about the state of politics.

HallofFrank

Roke, notice I said “outspoken” nut job. It’s true a person can hold different political positions, even extreme ones, and be a great manager. But I’m not of the camp which tells players or coaches to “stick to baseball.” They are people and people will share their opinions. And opinions can cause division.

Just imagine, for instance, if the Sox had a manager or coach who took a strong anti-BLM stance on Twitter this year. I simply can’t imagine that wouldn’t effect the on field play somehow.

roke1960

I agree with you Frank. But workplaces all over America have a mix of people with vastly different political views. Unless someone is over the top in their stating their views, people learn to coexist. As long as managers or players don’t try to force their views on their teammates, then things will be ok. I’m sure there are very conservative managers and very liberal managers, and we don’t know which ones are which. What I meant by just manage the White Sox is don’t use that as a platform to force your views on others.

HallofFrank

@AdamH It doesn’t help, but I looked it up and the rally was pitched as a celebration of military heroes and “to raise funds for the non-profit Special Operations Warrior Foundations.” And this: “attendees included Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, both of whom decided to attend after being assured by Beck that the rally would not be political.”

Whether it turned out that way or not, the Sox better come up with a better reason not to hire someone.

lil jimmy

“Goes to state of mind your honor”
“I’ll allow it.”

karkovice squad

refuses to use math to figure out which players are good or not good, or whether a hitter should bunt or not bunt.

This part isn’t accurate, tho. The criticism of his tactics is that he overmanaged lineups and games in pursuit of marginal matchup advantages shown in the data.

asinwreck

Yeah, back in the early 80s, Tony’s reputation was as the young egghead lawyer who used computer readouts when developing lineups. Really!

The team was noted as being forward-thinking, hiring Charley Lau away from the Yankees given his reputation as the best hitting coach in the business. (Ted Williams would disagree, but Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines loved Lau.) Hiring Dave Duncan away from the Mariners was part of the successful strategy to sign Floyd Bannister, and was part of the team’s attempt to use data to improve pitcher performance. (I keep linking to this paywalled Athletic article about the team collecting biomechanical data in the 1980s because it’s a fascinating look at the organization in the early Reinsdorf years.)

Tony’s always had his peculiarities, like keeping Mike Squires on the roster as a defensive 1B for years. In Oakland, this would manifest in “super” sub Scott Hemond (player of several positions, none of them well) and his pioneering use of LOOGYs. His reputation around 1982 was not too far removed to how Hinch is described now, only with a law degree instead of a psych major.

itaita

If only he was 10 years younger.

grittyiq

Really hoping for a dark horse candidate or two. Hinch just sounds like a manager that’s not very good at managing.

LoveLittleLouie

Is Bruce Bochy too obvious to be a dark horse?

grittyiq

Haven’t seen that he’s been seriously considered, but I do think Bochy would be a good fit

Yolmer

I really can’t see Jerry hiring a cheater. He is weird yes, but he is moral and even chooses morality over profits. I am thinking the pick up a bench coach from the Reys, Dodgers, Nats, or maybe Astros.

asinwreck

He did sign Albert Belle a couple years after Belle got caught with a doctored bat against the Sox. He also OK’d signing the battered remains of Jose Canseco and Manny Ramirez during the PED era (and about 12 years after widespread steroid allegations against Canseco).

Mostly I just wanted to mention the ridiculous lengths Cleveland went to to try to keep Belle from getting suspended.

Unbeknownst to the 38,686 in attendance at the ballpark, as well as the players, umpires, and ground crew, the real drama was unfolding beyond the action on the diamond. Hargrove was in the dugout with his head in his hands, and Indians relief pitcher Jason Grimsley asked bench coach Buddy Bell what was wrong. Bell told Grimsley there was a good chance that the bat was corked. Grimsley told Bell he thought he could climb through the duct work at Comiskey Park, and get the bat back. Bell mentioned to Hargrove who gave Grimsley the “thumbs up.”

It was a good possibility that all of Belle’s bats were corked. So Grimsley took with him a Paul Sorrento model to switch with the confiscated bat. Grimsley entered through the ceiling of the visiting manager’s office and crawled through the duct work to get to the umpires dressing room. It was not an easy venture for the 6-foot-3 pitcher to manage in an enclosed area. “It was pretty hairy up there,” Grimsley said.

Eventually he crawled to where he thought the umpires’ room was. “There was a groundskeeper in there, sitting in there on a couch,” Grimsley said. “I put the tile back down, but he had to know. Thank goodness he didn’t say anything.” When he found his destination, Grimsley dropped into the room and made the switch. ‘”My heart was going 1,000 miles an hour,” he said. “And in I went. I just rolled the dice. A crapshoot.”

Yolmer

Lol, I’m too young to remember that. Poor Grimley. Ramirez was a husk and Canseco was not far from huskdom. I remember Canseco hitting a home run almost to the concourse in left field though.

asinwreck

In the Brett Myers category.

Michael Kenny

That still makes me mad. If you’re gonna trade for a POS, he should at least be good at baseball.

Yolmer

Yeah good call. I’m still skeptical that Hinch or Cora are the favorites or have any kind of inside track.

karkovice squad

Drug suspensions didn’t stop them from adding Q, Cabrera, Santana, or Delmonico, either.

carbiner

Grimsley deserves at least 0.2 WAR for that effort

dwjm3

According to some of the reporting I’ve seen locally. It is Hahn’s decision to make and it doesn’t sound like Jerry will overrule him.

carbiner

The key to being a good businessman is being just moral enough to convince stupid people that you’re moral and to make sure your profits are not compromised thusly.

To Err is Herrmann

Apart from his inability or unwillingness to stop the cheating in Houston, I am curious to see a thorough analysis of what makes AJ Hinch the #1 managerial prospect in all of baseball. The conversation around Hinch has been 90% around his ineffectual response to the cheating. Apparently he never even convened a team meeting about it.

On a side note, as the Houston Astros might return to the World Series, I am wondering if anyone else feels it is well past time that major league baseball lift the century-old penalty on Joe Jackson (and maybe others but not Chick Gandil of course), which has followed him beyond the grave, and Pete Rose, who has served several decades of his lifelong punishment. Meanwhile, a group of largely unrepentant and completely unpunished Astros may be celebrating a return to the world championship. I think the continued punishment of Pete Rose is completely egregious in the light of the non-punishment of the Astros.

AJ Hinch said in an interview that he hoped the 2017 title was not tainted,. It’s tainted.

joewho112

Cheating to win impacts the integrity of the game less than gambling or throwing games. The game completely falls apart if there is even the perception that some individuals are losing on purpose.

karkovice squad

And yet spending 3 years losing on purpose doesn’t disqualify Someone from winning Executive of the Year. Conundrum!

texag10

Yeah, no. Keep Rose out of the HOF. I don’t care as much about the gambling but the pedophilia is a pretty big deal breaker for me.

lil jimmy

should he become available, should Dave Roberts be considered?

GrinnellSteve

Absolutely!

asinwreck

He’s my #1 choice. I like how he’s tried to adjust around Kenley Jansen’s struggles this season while not throwing the player under the bus. Andrew Friedman’s known for stability with his managers, so I don’t know that they fire Roberts with a couple years left on his deal.

asinwreck

His handling of Jansen paid off in Game 6. I suspect, regardless of what happens in Game 7, that Roberts will continue to be the Dodgers’ manager in 2021.

dwjm3

I’d say yes…Seems like a good leader …I can’t quite put my thumb on why he can’t get over the hump with the Dodgers

dwjm3

Do you view that is something that should be held against his candidacy for other jobs including possibly our job? Is that weakness mitigated in your view if he is away from the Dodgers?

welcome-to-the-machine

Do you guys think that if we hire Hinch, that takes us out of the running for Trevor Bauer? Anyways I’ll be rooting for the Braves tonight so we can potentially get Dave Roberts.