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April 13, 2012

Inside The Park Blog

Robin Ventura, Ace Manager

by Bradford Doolittle

CHICAGO -- Friday marked Robin Ventura's first home game in uniform as a member of the White Sox since Sept. 20, 1998. He was asked if he remembered his last game at then-Comiskey Park. He didn't. But of course, we can look it up. He went 1 for 3 with a walk against the Red Sox, batting behind Frank Thomas and Albert Belle.

One thing is for sure: The manager's chats with the media are going to be much more subdued than those of his predecessor. Ozzie Guillen is in some ways a reporter's dream; he's willing to offer an opinion on everything, whereas more and more managers and players strive to say less and less. Unfortunately, you got the feeling that Guillen didn't always mean those "honest" barbs he'd fire all over the place. Like a bad newspaper columnist, he was just trying to stir the pot for his own glorification. And while those post-presser stand-up routines were funny at first, they eventually felt mean-spirited. Heck, they were mean-spirited. By the time Guillen left, I can honestly say I didn't really like him.

"I'm just worried about baseball," Ventura said. "I'm not worried about anything with me. I want to see a good baseball team first. I respect what (the previous regime) did. They got a World Series. But I'm not here to create my own identity."

No one asked Ventura about Fidel Castro. I didn't have the balls to do it, but I'm surprised someone else didn't go fishing for a comment.

KENNY TALKS: Handsome, stylish White Sox general manager Kenny Williams addressed the media before the game. He was asked about the Guillen controversy unfolding in Miami. Specifically, he was asked if he had compassion for his former skipper, with whom he butted heads innumerable times over the years.

"That's probably the only way somebody could get me to answer a question about that," Williams said. "My standard answer is no comment and I'd rather focus on this ballclub. You used the word compassion, and I cannot help but have a little bit for somebody that has meant so much to the organization, meant so much to me personally. The answer to that question is yeah, I do have some compassion for what's going on there."

Williams also had some interesting comments that offered a glimpse into his rationale for investing heavily in his big-league club over the years, usually at the expense of bringing top-shelf amateur talent into the organization, a trend which ended with the last offseason.

"To not be in the free agent market, or even the trade market to the degree we usually are, it was just a strange offseason," Williams said. "At the same time, we are confident in our young players that are still kind of feeling around for that veteran feel that can bring it all together. It was just different. My phone bill was lower.

"Ideally, you don't like to go into the free-agent market. You build a foundation and build from within. What people don't understand about the difficulty in that is that we are what we are. We're an organization that has tried to build our brand up to the point that people can count on our aggressiveness. They can count our competitiveness (as a team) that will sustain a $100 million payroll.

"If you take a little different focus, for instance, let's say you're going to take a couple of years and  overspend in the draft, overspend on the Latin American front, overspend anywhere other than on the major-league team, trying to be competitive. We run the risk potentially of not even being able to support a $100 million payroll, because our situation is different. We have to compete for our attendance to sufficiently warrant that $100 million payroll.

"Now you're talking about killing yourself on the back end and the front end. We always have to be in the mode that if we're going young, when we identify young players we have to be right. We have to market the major-league club as well and blend in some youth at the same time."

CRUSTY OLD RASCAL: My new favorite garment is a suede sports coat, which I wore on Friday. I bring that up because as soon as I walked into the Tigers' clubhouse, I smelled the cigarette smoke wafting out of the manager's office. The last thing I wanted was for my favorite coat to be smelling like a 1970s teacher's lounge.

We were waved in to talk to Jim Leyland, who sat at his desk looking at reports, his head swimming in a cloud of smoke. He didn't look up or acknowledge us when we came in. He gets that way sometimes. I took a spot in the doorway, so I'd only be half-way submerged in the haze.

Leyland gets pensive, and Friday was one of those days. I'd like to report an interesting word or two about his club, but there was really nothing worth sharing. A lot of one word answers. Even a couple of shakes of the head, which I'm sure plays well on the radio. Of course, that's what you get if you ask yes or no questions. Sports Writing 101.

Nevertheless, Leyland remains one of my favorite personalities in the game.

BOX GATE: After Jake Peavy mowed through the first two batters of the game, Leyland came out of the dugout to confer with home plate umpire Adrian Johnson and crew chief Gary Sederstrom. After a few minutes, we realized they were discussed something askew with the way the batter's boxes had been chalked.

After an interminable wait, they erased the boxes and a guy trotted in from behind the center field fence with the wooden stencil used to lay the new ones. Finally, Leyland was satisfied and the game resumed.

Afterwards, Leyland said, "The box was up too far. No big deal."

Leyland seemed annoyed that I asked about the incident, but those little oddities fascinate me to no end. "That's silly stuff," he said. "Next question." 

That's okay. I'm not sensitive. I've dealt with Gregg Popovich. Anyway, the interruption didn't deter Peavy, who went on to throw an outstanding game.

PRESS NOTES TIDBIT OF THE DAY: Ventura joined the Yankees' Joe Girardi as the only current managers guiding a franchise for which they played. He's the 39th manger in club history, and the 18th former White Sox player to take the reins.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bradford's other articles. You can contact Bradford by clicking here

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