So much for the long-held theory that you need to ride the buses and manage in the minor leagues before making the jump to the majors.
There were no shortage of chuckles before the 2012 season when the White Sox hired Robin Ventura as manager despite his lack of experience — even as a coach or a roving instructor — at any level.
And similar guffaws could be heard after the St. Louis Cardinals followed suit and hired Mike Matheny, another popular hometown player who never climbed any coaching ladder.
As the 2013 season comes into view, Ventura returns for his second year in the dugout after leading the Sox to a surprising 85-77 record and second-place finish in the AL Central.
Matheny also guided the Cardinals to a second-place finish (88-74) in the NL Central, good enough for a wild-card berth. The defending World Series winners rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the NL division series to beat the Washington Nationals before succumbing to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants in the championship series.
Keeping the focus on Ventura, who is officially back on the job Tuesday when pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Glendale, Ariz., he was positioned to win AL Manager of the Year honors last season before the White Sox finished with 11 losses in their last 15 games while falling out of first place and missing the playoffs.
It’s a new year, but the untimely collapse still weighs on Ventura, a star third baseman for the Sox from 1989-98.
“I played for 16 years and it’s not that easy; it never was,” Ventura said. “You never want to go home not making the playoffs. We’re just as disappointed as anybody else.
“Anytime you’re knocked down you have to get back up and go. I’m not going to quit. I’m not quitting. I’m getting everybody ready to win this year, not worry about just falling down.”
Ventura was always calm and cool while playing the hot corner, and the demeanor hasn’t changed now that he’s in the dugout.
“There’s always a lot of talk about chemistry in the clubhouse, and it’s important,” starting pitcher Jake Peavy said. “And losing A.J. (Pierzynski), he was a great player and he was really good in the clubhouse, so he’s going to be tough to replace.
“But having Robin as manager, he really sets the tone. He gets us ready to go out there and play, and he always sets a positive tone.”
There’s little doubt the White Sox reacted positively to Ventura’s low-key style last season after a tumultuous 2011 season under Ozzie Guillen.
As for actually managing the game, Ventura has plenty of room to improve. And with a full year of experience, he has a much better idea of what to expect.
“I think last year was different because it was unknown,” said Ventura, who finished third in AL Manager of the Year voting behind Oakland’s Bob Melvin and Baltimore’s Buck Showalter.
“This year, at least for me, I’m a lot more familiar going into this. Just the pitchers, watching guys throw, I’m familiar with them now and what their strengths are and their personality and what they’re willing to take on and things like that.
“It’s different for me now, just because I’ve actually seen them and been around them. Last year it was getting familiar with them and going by other people’s opinions where now it’s more I probably have a little more say of what I’m seeing and what I think I’m seeing.”
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