It's always tough to be a first time manager. When you've never managed at any level before, and you're first gig is in the major leagues, it can get real tough real fast.
In Robin Ventura's case, the first time manager had to figure out how to use two of his highest paid players, who also happen to be his two worst players while simultaneously trying to compete for a division title and rebuild for the future. That's a lot to ask from a first time manager, but it's what Kenny Williams expected when he signed Ventura in the offseason.
Considering the White Sox are currently 16-18 and not too far out of first place in their division, most would say that Ventura is doing a fine job in his freshman campaign. He's somehow turned his two worst players into two of his best players. He's managing Jake Peavy on his way to another Cy Young award.
And on a note unrelated to winning, he's kept faith in players like Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham, and Brent Morel, which is key to rebuilding for the future. Overall, Ventura seems to be having success (in terms of Chicago White Sox baseball) in 2012.
However, Ventura is actually having the most non-reassuring debut to managing that I have ever seen in my short lifetime.
Now, I have not seen many managing debuts, but the point is that Robin Ventura lacks the two most important qualities that a manager should possess: control and leadership.
Back in spring training, Ventura had to make some decisions with his new team. What should he do with Alex Rios and Adam Dunn? Rios and Dunn were easily the two worst players in baseball in 2011, yet they were being paid like they were All-Stars who weren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Who was worse in 2011?
In Adam Dunn's case, Ventura made the right decision. He decided to keep him third in the batting order, giving him the nod of confidence going into the season. To put it simply, the only way the Sox were going to compete this season was if Dunn hit high in the batting order.
You might as well put him up there at the start.
In Alex Rios' case, though, Ventura's main decision was where to put him in the field. Rios was already entrenched in the lineup somewhere behind Paul Konerko at fourth, and the only way he would move up was if Dunn was hitting .159 again and Rios was on fire. With the departure of Carlos Quentin and Juan Pierre, and the addition of Alejandro De Aza (in center field) and Dayan Viciedo, Ventua had to decide where Rios and Viciedo were going to play in the outfield.
Now, Viciedo played right field in the minor leagues and was looked at the replacement to Carlos Quentin whenever he was traded or suffered a career-ending injury.
With De Aza in center, though, Rios was a more viable candidate than Viciedo to take over right field, considering Rios is a natural (and Gold Glove talented) right fielder. Ventura's early decision to place Rios in left and Viciedo in right shows a lack of the third most important trait a manager should possess: intelligence.
But then again, no one makes the right decision every time.
Where is his control and leadership in this situation, though?
When Ventura announced his decision, Rios understandably made a huge fit about it because moving to left is idiotic. In a matter of days, Ventura announces his decision to place Rios in right and Viciedo in left.
For one reason or another, Ventura thought it was the right thing to do to put Rios in left. You would assume he would have talked to his veteran outfielder about this decision, but considering all it took was a couple complaints by Rios for Ventura to change his mind, he clearly had no control over this early decision.
He's letting his players call the shots early on, and that's something that, unfortunately, has still been going on during the short start to the season.
The Chris Sale saga has (hopefully) ended just recently when Kenny Williams came out and said Sale was being reinserted back into the starting rotation.
Sale was drafted to be a starter for this team. There are many questions regarding his ability to hold up as a starter, but the Sox ultimately decided to put him in the rotation when Ventura was given the managing job. Sale was doing a great job, too, but at the first sign of poor health, Ventura announced he would be moving him to the bullpen.
Besides talking about the ridiculous notion that moving a pitcher with arm problems to the bullpen will suddenly make him okay, Ventura had this to say about the decision: "There were a lot of people discussing it, so it's not like we were winging it."
So let's recap: you proclaim a young pitcher a starter. Then, when he says his arm is sore, you announce that he's going to the bullpen. Then, after he complains about the situation to the general manager, you put him back into the rotation.
Was Robin Ventura winging it with Chris Sale?
I would hate to see Ventura when he actually is winging it.
Ventura claims he had a plan with Sale all along, and I believe that he's telling the truth. The problem is, I think Kenny Williams knew about Ventura's plan and didn't like it. When Sale's elbow got tender, that was enough for Ventura and Williams got nervous about his prized pitcher being stuck in the bullpen. All it took then was William's golden boy to have a one on one talk with him and Williams told Ventura to start Sale and forget about your plan.
I am happy to see Sale back in the rotation because he is a good starter. However, this fiasco reflects terribly on Sox management, and especially on Ventura.
Kenny Williams hired Robin Ventura, so Williams should let him implement his plans and strategies to his liking. And Ventura should not be so quick to back off on his plans whenever a player or GM tells him he needs to do things differently.
That's where his leadership needs to step up. He's the boss, and it shouldn't matter that he's a first time manager. What he says goes, and if Rios needs to be in left and if Sale needs to go to the bullpen or skip a start, then that's the way it needs to be. Ventura simply had zero control over this Sale situation and considering there were "discussions" before the initial decision to move him to the bullpen, I'm questioning whether Sale looks up to Ventura as the leader of this team.
Sale simply listened to Ventura, shrugged him off, and complained to Kenny Williams until he overruled Ventura's decision. It's almost as if Sale's a little kid who got denied by his dad and then goes complaining to his mom. It's absolutely ridiculous.
As I said before, it's hard being a first time manager. Ventura is completely inexperienced and he shouldn't be overly criticized for mistakes he makes along the way in his first year. However, the lack of control he's shown over his team is disturbing.
There's no way he can develop into a successful manager with this kind of behavior, especially considering Chris Sale is the future of this White Sox rotation. He can't be letting his 23-year-old pitcher call the shots or he'll never become a successful leader of this team.
I truly hope this Chris Sale saga is simply a huge mistake in Ventura's first season and not a sign of his deficiencies as a manager.
Of course, if Ventura can find a way to get the White Sox in the playoffs this season, I'm sure we will all forget about this in due time.