- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox stayed in the family Thursday, naming Robin Ventura as their manager.
Ventura, 44, agreed to a multiyear deal with the club after working the past season as a special advisor to director of player development Buddy Bell.
"When I met with the media as our season ended, I identified one person at the very top of my managerial list," general manager Ken Williams said in a statement. "I wanted someone who met very specific criteria centered around his leadership abilities. Robin Ventura was that man. His baseball knowledge and expertise, his professionalism, his familiarity with the White Sox and Chicago and his outstanding character make him absolutely the right person to lead our clubhouse and this organization into the seasons ahead."
The news was not only a surprise to the baseball community, but to Ventura himself when Williams approached him with the idea once former manager Ozzie Guillen left to join the Florida Marlins last week.
"We had to explain what the support system would be and what our expectation would be," Williams said. "I was very clear. I don't expect him to be Tony La Russa on day one, but in our estimation the fit is that it can come together and we will be better off down the line."
Ventura said he wasn't completely sold on the plan until he met face to face with Williams before the weekend.
"There was a lot of (apprehension) when I first went home to talk to my wife about it," Ventura said. "It turned us upside down. I have a good thing going and it was easy getting back into the game doing what I was doing. I had the freedom to coach and come back home. I think there was a lot of comfort in talking to the family that this was the White Sox, which for us is an extended family."
Ventura played for 16 major league seasons and was with the White Sox from 1989-98. He was with the New York Mets from 1999 to 2001, playing on the Mets' 2000 World Series team that lost to the Yankees. He then crossed town to the Yankees for a season and a half before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004.
"When I rejoined the White Sox this June, I said this was my baseball home and that part of me never left the White Sox organization," Ventura said in a statement. "My family and I are thrilled to be returning to Chicago. Managing a Major League Baseball team is a tremendous honor. It's also an opportunity and a challenge.
"I am excited to begin my career as a manager surrounded by former teammates, staff, media and White Sox fans I know very well. I already am looking forward to talking to our players, to this offseason and to getting things underway at spring training next February."
Multiple reports on Thursday said that the White Sox had received permission to speak to Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, who also played for the White Sox. Former White Sox catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. was also rumored to be a candidate.
The personalities of Guillen and Ventura are drastically different, but they do have the same playing era in common. Ventura and Guillen played on the left side of the White Sox's infield from 1989-97.
When Ventura returned to the White Sox organization last year he said he believed that Guillen would be the manager for the long haul.
"After what went down with Ozzie, that surprised me as much as anybody," Ventura said.
Conversations progressed quickly. There was no indication that either of the White Sox's top manager candidates -- Martinez and Alomar Jr. -- were even contacted to set up an interview.
"The conversation with Kenny, it took me back," Ventura said. "I was not expecting that conversation. Having a day or two to think about it and peel away that initial reaction, I think there is a challenge there, getting back in the game. I have a passion for it and have a passion for the team and city.
"I'm not really one to back away from things if I feel conviction to do it. The passion is there. I was asked to do it and I am honored to have the opportunity to do it."
Ventura will take over a roster that will be a mix of players trying to gain some traction in the major leagues like Dayan Viciedo, proven veterans like Paul Konerko and established players looking to rebound from a down year like Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
"It's always interesting when your manager is someone you know and you've played with and against," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who played with Ventura on the 2002 American League All-Star team, said on "Carmen, Jurko & Harry" on ESPN 1000. "He's always been a great guy. He's always been fun to talk to, he's always known the game, so that's a good start."
Despite a payroll in excess of $120 million, the White Sox finished 79-83 this season, 16 games behind AL Central winner Detroit. Guillen had said he did not want to return for his ninth season as manager unless he was given a contract extension. The sides decided to part ways.
Guillen led the White Sox to a World Series title in 2005.
Ventura was a two-time All-Star (1992, 2002) who finished with a .267 lifetime batting average with 294 home runs. He was a six-time Gold Glove winner.
Ventura had 1,182 RBIs over his career. His 18 career grand slams are tied for fifth in major league history.
He appeared in 1,254 games over 10 seasons with the White Sox, hitting .274 with 171 home runs and 741 RBIs. He ranks among the White Sox career leaders in grand slams, walks, homers, RBIs, extra-base hits and runs scored.
"You will not find a better teammate, leader and friend," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said about Ventura in a release from the club. "His ability to motivate and lead others will be a terrific attribute as manager. I loved him as a player, from his baseball knowledge, to his professionalism, to how he went about his business in the clubhouse and on the diamond. Robin exudes class in everything he does."
He is also known for a couple of strange incidents on the field. In 1993, he was hit by a pitch from Rangers legend Nolan Ryan and charged the mound. The right-hander put Ventura in a headlock and landed a number of blows to his head.
In 1997, Ventura caught his spikes on the ground while sliding into home plate during a spring training game and broke and dislocated his ankle. The gruesome injury made highlight reels for years.
Ventura, who holds the Division I mark for his 58-game hitting streak in 1987 while with Oklahoma State, has covered college baseball for ESPNU.
Ventura is the 39th White Sox manager overall, including 17 who played for the team. Pitching coach Don Cooper and first-base coach Harold Baines were already re-signed to multiyear contract extensions before the season ended. Hitting coach Greg Walker is not returning. Other staff additions will be announced by Tuesday when Ventura will have his first news conference at U.S. Cellular Field.
Ventura played for a host of managers who could
influence his style -- Jeff Torborg, Gene Lamont, Jerry Manuel,
Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre and Jim Tracy.
"I ran the gamut on different styles and smart baseball men,"
His style? Yet to be determined. He said he wants players
who care and are accountable.
Ventura said he's familiar with what transpired last season, adding that once spring training gets under way in Glendale, Ariz., everything will be in the past and it will be a fresh start.
For him, too.
"I started to put my foot in the water with Buddy. I was easing my way back in," Ventura said. "Now it seems I've jumped all the way back in. I jumped right in the deep end. I can swim, though."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
15hJesse Rogers and Jerry Crasnick
15hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com