CHICAGO – The 2014 version of SoxFest grew far more intense Saturday with fans not only questioning some of the moves made by general manager Rick Hahn, but the fire of manager Robin Ventura.
Hahn said the discourse was welcome and completely expected.
“Look, we lost 99 games last year and these people have come out in the dead of winter to show their support for the team, but at the same time have some questions on their mind,” Hahn said. “It’s completely understandable.
“Certainly it’s not a surprise we heard about the catching situation. There are going to be questions about A.J. (Pierzynski) when you get a group like this together. It’s not a surprise.”
Friday was far less intense, but the audience for that session was limited to fans that purchased packages to stay in the Palmer House Hilton all weekend. Saturday’s session was a packed house with many fans who purchased one-day passes.
The first two fans who took the open microphone for questions asked why Pierzynski was never re-signed after the 2012 season and why Adam Dunn is still a member of the club.
Hahn and executive vice present Kenny Williams have answered those questions repeatedly in the media, but Saturday’s seminar gave Hahn a chance to express himself directly.
“Absolutely, I think this is a great opportunity,” Hahn said. “Obviously people who are willing to spend their time and money in January to come out to something like this are extraordinarily passionate about the club, extraordinarily invested in the club. And the ability to sit there and answer their questions until there are no more is a nice opportunity for us to make sure we get our message to the people who care the most.”
In Pierzynski’s case, Hahn reiterated that the idea has been to go with a younger catcher who can grow with the team’s new youthful core. Unsaid is that Pierzynski would have cost 14 times more than an internal option, all while he heads toward the downside of his career.
“I understand since you have arguably an iconic type who had a lot of success for a long time,” Hahn said. “Then you follow that up with a performance that was subpar at that position with his replacements, it’s understandable people are going to have questions about that. It’s fine. It’s part of the job to make sure that we are as transparent as we can be and explain the rationale behind our decision.”
The Ventura criticism seemed to be born out of a sense that after a 99-loss season he would somehow lose the credibility from his players. Ventura, who as low-key as they come, said the criticism isn’t painful to hear.
“Just because you don’t do it so they can get the satisfaction of seeing me jump somebody doesn’t mean it always happens,” Ventura said. “But everybody has an opinion, everybody has a preference, and when you get a forum like this you get all of it.”
Ventura, who just received a multiyear extension Friday, said he is not about to change his style.
“I think people like to see it on TV, and I don’t like to do that,” Ventura said. “I would rather get them one-on-one. That’s just the way I do it. I’d rather bring them in and do it inside the clubhouse. I played for managers that did it both ways, and I seemed to think it makes more of an effective approach to do it inside and not let people see it.”