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Charting the last White Sox managerial change doesn’t require a team of researchers. It might not even require multiple browser tabs. One whole day lapsed between the end of Robin Ventura’s tenure and the start of Rick Renteria’s back in October 2016. The entire journey is captured with consecutive posts at South Side Sox.
The circumstances surrounding the firing of Renteria reflect higher standards all around. Ventura’s Sox had just wrapped up their fourth consecutive losing season, while Renteria’s Sox had just ended that losing-season streak and postseason drought. Ventura’s presumed replacement was already on the dugout bench, while the presumed favorite to replace Renteria has been in the penalty box all year, with Rick Hahn admitting they’d been too insular in the past and saying, “Recent October experience with a championship organization would be ideal.”
It took more than a week after the season to determine Renteria’s fate, and it’ll likely take multiple more weeks for the resolution. This is all very different from how the White Sox usually act, but looking back through those stories, it’s not entirely unlike themselves.
It reminds me of this clip that the MLB Pipeline Twitter account showed of an outfielder in the 2015 Futures Game making a catch along the right siderail at Petco Park after Manny Margot’s dramatic tumble in Game 2.
The right fielder seen making a leaping catch with conviction against a wall is Eloy Jiménez, who hasn’t been or done any of those things since rising to the majors as the White Sox. There’s one similarity that gives him away. While most of his body is ironing out a plan to make the catch, Jiménez’s throwing hand is still halfheartedly trying to flag down the wait staff for his check.
Smash-cut to today, and while the White Sox are taking an unusually direct and proactive route to solve one of the problems that doesn’t require a ton of money by pursuing a better manager, you can see a couple vestigial hallmarks of their awkward style to let you know the same people are still in charge.
A tortured interpretation of “mutual”: I enjoyed the press release saying the White Sox and Renteria “agreed to part ways,” because what would that even look like?
- Hahn: I’ll make this quick. I wanted to tell you in person that we’d like to proceed with a new manager.
- Renteria: Oh, I’m so relieved. I thought you were going to offer me an extension.
- Hahn: What? Oh, no. God, no. We’re firing you.
- Renteria: That’s great! As much as you want to fire me, I want to be fired twice as much.
- Hahn: What. A. Relief. I thought this was going to be a brutal discussion.
- Renteria: No, sir. Sincerely, nothing would please me more than being fired at a time where it’ll be nearly impossible to repair my reputation.
- Hahn: Well, isn’t it ironic that we’re back on the same page now, of all times? I mean, it’s practically like we’re finishing each other’s …
- Renteria: … postseason dreams.
- Hahn: I hate you. Please leave.
- Renteria: Friend, I’m already gone.
Hahn used “mutual” to describe the dismissals of both Renteria and Don Cooper, but at least with the former, Paul Sullivan said that Renteria chose that framing in order to save a little face.
And wouldn’t you know it? Ventura did the same thing. In his final postgame media conference, Ventura said, “Because it was my decision, it was mutual … it was me that initiated it.” Only that one’s a little easier to believe, because I couldn’t blame him if he hated the work by the end of it.
Reinsdorf weirdness: On Tuesday, Bob Nightengale doubled down on his Monday claim that 76-year-old Tony La Russa is the White Sox’s No. 1 choice.
I mentioned a couple days ago that Nightengale repeatedly staked out an equally strange position during Ventura’s final week. First, he said the White Sox would sign Ventura to a new contract provided he wanted to return. Then, he overwrote the story to knock White Sox fans who hated the idea.
When Ventura’s “choice” was revealed, both he and Hahn dismissed the idea that his future was in question that late in the game. Both presented it as a decision made before the final month, and if you’re wondering how Hahn’s going to work around the La Russa angle if and when it fails to materialize, his response to the conflicting timelines with Ventura offers some clues.
Hahn reiterated that the public may have had the wrong idea over the time frame — that Ventura gave them a month’s notice and told the Sox they should move on from him. “There was no instance where we got to the point of presenting it as, ‘We want you to come back. Do you not want to come back?’ That’s not how it evolved.”
Hahn didn’t dismiss the story as false or incorrect. He started the response to the question with “All I said was…” which makes me think that it might have been a misguided attempt by somebody above him to make Ventura’s exit more dignified, when it actually made it more convoluted.
The White Sox’s history with old favorites is such that La Russa can’t be ruled out, but if it fizzles as expected, it wouldn’t be the first time Jerry Reinsdorf called Nightengale to effectively deliver a singing telegram to one of his friends, even if it drives a million White Sox fans up the wall. For now, it’s a distraction that diminishes confidence and nothing more. Just like watching Jiménez in the outfield then and now, you can overlook what the right hand’s doing as long as the left hand gets the job done.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)