At a Cubs Convention a few years ago, Don Zimmer and Ryne Sandberg spoke about one of the seminal moments of the 1989 season in which the team surprised everyone with a division title.
After praising Sandberg for making his job easy, Zimmer also said Sandberg once felt Zimmer’s wrath. The man who built a Hall of Fame career on always doing things right and following orders, failed to swing on a hit-and-run early in the season because the ball was high, outside and unhittable.
The runner got thrown out, Sandberg struck out on the next pitch, and Zimmer was waiting for Sandberg as he reached the dugout.
“He came down the stairs (in the dugout) and I said, ‘Did you miss the sign?’ Ryno said, ‘No.’ I hollered, ‘Then next time swing at the (bleeping) pitch!’ Oh, man,” Zimmer laughed. “This was Ryne Sandberg we were talking about. The dugout got real quiet.”
Sandberg also laughed while listening and nodded his approval.
“That’s right. That’s exactly what he was supposed to do, don’t you think?” Sandberg asked. “That’s perfect. First of all, I blew it. Second of all, how about the message to the team? You don’t think everybody saw that? No special treatment and we play it the right way.”
“There’s no doubt it was baseball the way it was meant to be played,” said utility man Gary Varsho. “There was some fear there about keeping your job if you didn’t abide by the rules, and that wasn’t a bad thing. The truth is, guys today, I’m not sure they have much fear about anything.”
Which brings us to Alex Rios and his recent failure to run out a double-play ball. With runners on first and third in a tie game Friday night against the Braves, shortstop Andrelton Simmons bobbled the ball, and Rios with his head down didn’t see it. Had he been running, he would have been safe and the go-ahead run would have scored.
Instead, the inning was over and Rios waited in the field for his glove and hat. Robin Ventura could have really embarrassed Rios by taking him off the field immediately, but the White Sox manager let him play the sixth inning in right field and then told him in the bottom of the inning that his night was over.
Wisely, Rios admitted his mistake.
“It’s unacceptable behavior and there’s a little bit of frustration in that behavior,” Rios said. “I’m not using that as an excuse for what happened.”
Good for Rios. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there.
“It could’ve been managed in a better way,” Rios said, explaining that rather than benching him, “It would’ve gone through better if (Ventura) put me in his office and talked to me personally.”
Such is the life of a big-league manager these days.
Ventura did Rios a favor before benching him and Rios still thought it was insulting. Guess what? It was supposed to be insulting. It was a message to Rios and the team in the first game back from the all-star break.
“If he wants to make a statement for the team, it probably worked,” Rios said. “I don’t know what his intentions were.”
Ventura shouldn’t have to explain his intentions, but this is baseball in 2013.
“You’re handling it for 25 guys,” Ventura said. “Your first thought should be running down the line. That’s it.”
Rios is hardly a dog and not a guy anyone needs to pick on, but he does wander from time to time and a veteran player making $12.5 million shouldn’t have to be reminded.
On Monday night against Detroit, it was Chris Sale frustrated that he was ordered to walk Miguel Cabrera intentionally. Sale lost his poise — and the game — in the fifth inning after errors and walks brought him down.
Sale could be seen yelling into his glove during a Don Cooper mound visit, and a dugout conversation with Cooper ended when Ventura stepped in.
“I like people to earn getting on base,” Sale said. “But at the end of the day, that’s (Ventura’s) call.”
Yes, it is.
“(Sale) does (have passion), but I’m the one making that call,” Ventura said, “and he needs to have a little more composure and get that (next) guy and not worry about what happened before.”
Sale, to his credit, apologized to Ventura on Tuesday for his behavior and remarks.
So, apparently, Ventura is more engaged than Sox fans suspected and more interested in continuing to manage than most expected.
After having his arm twisted into taking the job by Kenny Williams, Ventura had a terrific first season as the anti-Ozzie Guillen. Rios, in particular, disliked Guillen and was thrilled with the change.
But Ventura turned down a contract extension last fall, leading some to wonder if he would even finish a deal that runs through next season. Then, just 10 days ago he said he would finish his contract regardless of what happens the rest of this season or over the winter.
So while Rios is the subject of trade talks, Ventura seems the one more likely of being here in 2014.
Just one more odd twist in what has been a rather odd White Sox season.
ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.