- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Two years ago, as I got off the train with another reporter, both of us headed to SoxFest and we began talking about new manager Robin Ventura.
Would he last a year, we wondered, half in jest. Yes, definitely, we both agreed, but we also both doubted he'd be around the life of his three-year contract.
There wasn't a question of whether Ventura would be a good manager. He had all the requisite skills to be successful at it.
The question was why would he want the job and why would he want to keep it?
These were different times, mind you, in the wake of the ugly Kenny Williams-Ozzie Guillen feud that ended with Guillen being traded to the Florida Marlins.
How fractured was this organization? No one could say for sure. How bad was this team? No one knew.
Two years later, on the cusp of SoxFest, the White Sox announced Ventura had signed a "multiyear extension." No years or money were disclosed.
All it means is Ventura is in it for the long haul. However long that may be. Two more years, three?
When Ventura turned down an extension last spring, it raised eyebrows about his future here.
"For me, it's misconstrued that I didn't want to do this," Ventura said Friday on "The Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "I think last year going into it with Rick [Hahn] going into it as his first year as GM, I just wanted him to have a full year to go through it, his first time going through it as a GM and make sure he felt comfortable that I was the right guy for the job. We had time to do that."
Still, it was no secret Ventura had to be recruited for the job from his gorgeous home in California, which is what has always made his tenure seem tenuous. Months before he was hired, he had just stepped his toes back into professional baseball by taking a low-level advisory role.
In his first season, the White Sox won 85 games and he was a candidate for manager of the year.
In his second, they lost 99 and he got an extension.
Has anyone ever received an extension after a 99-loss season? Someone call Elias.
Given that this is a Jerry Reinsdorf operation, it's not surprising the team is opting for continuity and loyalty over a short-term snap judgments based on wins and losses. Robin is a Jerry guy in a Jerry World. A handshake and a past with the chairman equals a job for life.
"Robin's leadership was unwavering during the highest highs and lowest lows the last two years," Hahn said during a press conference at SoxFest on Friday.
Despite the organizational good feelings about Ventura -- everyone vouches for him -- you have to question the way the Sox lost last year. It was like that Hemingway quote, gradually, then all at once.
What did Ventura learn from last season?
"I know I don't like to lose," he said to reporters Friday.
So how will that knowledge translate into a better season?
The White Sox had the second-most errors and the second-worst fielding percentage. They were a bottom-five hitting team, which led to -- surprise, surprise -- hitting coach Jeff Manto's firing. When you can't figure it out, fire the hitting coach.
But aside from Don Cooper's pitching fiefdom, the Sox, under Ventura, were an unmitigated disaster.
After all, Chris Sale was a Cy Young candidate. He was 11-14 for a reason.
As most right-thinking baseball observers know, a pitcher's win/loss record and a manager's record are both byproducts of other people's labor. The players booted those balls and missed on those fastballs (Jeff Keppinger did both). Blaming the manager is most often a crutch. But a manager does have to take responsibility. Ventura did just that. At least, I think he did. I stopped paying attention to the Sox in May, I mean August.
But internally, the baseball higher-ups see what's going on and mostly know how to judge a manager for the things he can control.
The Sox are basically giving credit to Ventura for the post-Ozzie bounce and absolving him for the sophomore slump.
I think it's the right move. There's no risk in the extension. Ventura is the kind of guy who would quit before getting fired, making the length of the contract unimportant. He's also heading into the contract year, which would've brought unnecessary questions during the season.
We know the Sox like the stability and communicative skills Ventura provides, not to mention the expected baseball acumen.
But why is this job a good fit for Ventura? That's always been the question.
Last season, the Sox looked as low as any team in baseball. At least the Cubs could promise a bountiful farm system.
For one thing, Hahn, like his predecessor Williams, who is now an executive vice president of something or other, has shown he can rebuild in a hurry.
Last season, in his first year since taking the GM reins from Williams, Hahn got maximum value of Jake Peavy by taking part in a three-way deal that landed a young, slugging outfielder in Avisail Garcia from Detroit.
Aside from Sale's season and Hawk Harrelson's masterful introduction of the phrase "TWTW" in the Chicago sports lexicon, that was one of the few highlights.
Then, in the offseason he signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a $68 million deal, got into another three-way deal to get leadoff-type Adam Eaton from Arizona, before trading again with Arizona five days later, sending closer Addison Reed for third baseman Matt Davidson.
This isn't going to be a Cubs situation, where a major league rebuilding job lasts longer than a presidential term.
Under Hahn, the Sox look primed for another bounceback season. Maybe we'll learn more about Ventura the manager.
One thing is for sure, he wants to be here and the Sox want him. For now, that's a good thing for both sides.
Robin Ventura's deal shows he's in it for the long haul and the White Sox are happy to have him.