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As the White Sox embark on what we hope will be their first genuine managerial search of the millennium, I’m hesitant to approach the topic with any granularity because precedent says it’s a worthless exercise.
When the White Sox fired Ozzie Guillen in 2011, I began arranging profiles of potential replacements starting with Dave Martinez, only to scrap the plan when the White Sox hired Robin Ventura after running the idea past Dr. Spaceman. When it came time to replace Ventura, we didn’t even get time to start thinking about it because the Sox immediately announced Rick Renteria as his replacement. Renteria was then fired like a normal manager four years later, only to be replaced with a sequence that stunned the White Sox’s marketing department into announcing Tony La Russa with A.J. Hinch’s signature.
The same people are still in charge, Rick Hahn says everybody from Jerry Reinsdorf to Southpaw has a say, and the search wasted no times showing signs of crossed wires. In Bob Nightengale’s Sunday column, he outlined a profile for Tony La Russa’s successor …
The Chicago White Sox want to hire a veteran manager to replace Tony La Russa, not wanting to take a chance on someone with no experience.
Some managers who fit the bill: Bruce Bochy, Mike Shildt, Ron Washington, John Gibbons, Bo Porter, Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon.
Bochy, Washington and Shildt are considered the leading candidates.
… which is understandable/fine, except then the White Sox are supposedly lining up interviews with guys who don’t fit that description, like Astros bench coach Joe Espada …
… and Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol.
Both Espada and Grifol are current bench coaches without MLB playing or coaching experience, but they cover the edges of the spectrum when it comes to the teams for which they’re employed. On one hand, you have the bench coach of the American League’s best team, On the other, you have the bench coach of the worst team in the worst division. (For what it’s worth, Grifol was the favorite internal candidate of analytically inclined Royals fans before Dayton Moore hired Mike Matheny with his own sham process.)
If the White Sox interview two candidates, then the search will officially be wider-ranging than the last three they’ve conducted, and that represents progress. It’d just be more encouraging if the initial reporting didn’t immediately establish potential battleground between Hahn’s preferences and Reinsdorf’s, because we know who gets the last say.
Until the White Sox actually announce a known and credible candidate amid a field full of qualified possibilities, you have to keep your head on a swivel, and you have to believe that Lucy will pull the football. Minimizing disappointment is the only thing you can control, because being a White Sox fan isn’t your fault, but there’s also nobody to blame but yourself.
Getting back to the idea that the White Sox are primarily interested in managers with experience, I saw some disappointment at the idea of hiring a retread, but the idea itself doesn’t strike me as controversial. In some ways, the Sox would be turning over a new leaf.
Renteria was the first White Sox manager who had prior experience managing a major-league team since Jeff Torborg. In between, Gene Lamont, Terry Bevington, Jerry Manuel, Guillen and Ventura were all freshly minted at Comiskey/U.S. Cellular Field/Guaranteed Rate Field.
Those inclined to knock Reinsdorf would say those were the managers willing to work for cheap, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to identify ascendant talent, even if the motives are less than pure. That list had more hits than misses, at least with the initial task at hand. You only have to look at Joe Girardi with the Phillies or Joe Maddon with the Angels to understand that you don’t always get what you pay for.
On the other hand, the misses were pretty spectacular, so it’s understandable if the Sox want to go with somebody who has already proven that the job won’t overwhelm him, even if an underwhelming return is still possible. The White Sox previously budgeted $4 million(!) for La Russa as Nightengale reported, so Hahn, Williams, Roger Bossard and the rest of the search committee may as well use that budget room to explore every potential candidate, lest they lose it.
The more uncomfortable aspect of limiting the search to an experienced manager is knowing that the Sox blundered their way into making this such a high-leverage decision. When they fired Renteria back in 2020, the Sox had a much greater margin for error for what constituted a successful hire because there would’ve been some time to grow into the role.
For example, Dave Martinez originally looked like a mistake on the Washington Nationals’ part when they fired Dusty Baker and lost 15 wins from 2017 to 2018. The next year, Martinez helped engineer a memorable midseason turnaround and won the World Series. Brian Snitker almost quit as manager of the Atlanta Braves after losing 90 games in his first full season due to friction with the front office, but he survived an overhaul at the executive level, and he has a 411-296 record with a World Series ring in the five seasons since.
The White Sox squandered that adjustment period with the two-year detour to La Russa, and they didn’t even benefit from the experience. Instead, La Russa delivered moments that would’ve fit neatly into Bevington’s personnel file, like “defending the other pitcher for plunking your player,” or “a closer running for himself in extras,” or “multiple intentional walks on 1-2 counts.”
Perhaps the White Sox’s problems are so organizationally deep-seated that any manager hired after the 2020 season would be staring at a .500ish record and a missed postseason entering Year Three, but “it doesn’t matter” is only useful conclusion when thought and care went into the process. Because the Sox didn’t try to hire the best possible manager the last time around and wasted the most forgiving conditions of their contention window, this next decision matters way more than it should.