October 31, 2012
Inside The Park
What Rick Hahn's Ascension Means for the White Sox
In the midst of the World Series, the Chicago White Sox stole a sliver of spotlight for one fall afternoon with a front office shakeup that apparently actually happened a couple of weeks ago. The press release from the team announced the "promotions" of Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn, though in the former case the use of the term is questionable.
After the news hit, the White Sox held a press conference in the small auditorium where they have most of their notable events. Sports talkers in Chicago discussed the move on the radio. Bloggers weighed in en masse. The front page of the local sports sections had articles and pictures. On the national stage, the move was but a whisper relative to the Cubs' hiring of Theo Epstein last year, and by Saturday even in Chicago the whisper had faded and the spotlight had returned to the next Bears game. That's the reality of the White Sox in the local sports pecking order.
Officially, Hahn was given Williams' former titles as general manager and senior vice president of baseball operations. Williams was named executive vice president, and it's perhaps telling that he replaces no one—his job is a newly-created position overseeing "macro-level issues" regarding all facets of the White Sox operation.
As with most things related to White Sox management, the move was a long time coming. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf—whom Williams referred to as the "grand poobah"—is a doggedly loyal individual, and once a person enters the organization, it's generally for the long haul. Williams had been the team's general manager for 12 years, the fourth-longest continually active tenure in baseball. Hahn, who was one of Williams' first hires, has also been with the club for 12 years. Dan Fabian, who has assisted Hahn with contract negotiations and oversees Chicago's information management system, has been with the team for 27 years. Director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann got his first job with the Sox in 1990. Player development boss Nick Capra has been on board for 17 seasons. You get the idea.
Hahn has a tough act to follow. Williams is an iconic personality who will forever be known as the person who delivered the first World Series title in generations to Chicago, ending an 88-year championship drought in 2005. In terms of winning percentage, Williams came up just short of his predecessor, Ron Schueler, finishing six points shy of Schueler's .527 mark. Schueler also led the Sox to three postseason berths in his 12 seasons; Chicago made the playoffs twice under Williams, with late-season fades costing the team division titles in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012.
But that World Series title is what will be most remembered from Williams' tenure, and that's the legacy that Hahn has to live up to. The extent to which that is fair is debatable. No one really knows who does what in a team's front office, but with Hahn annually ranking at the top of "best GM candidate in the game" listings and fielding a number of overtures from other teams, his leverage meant that recent White Sox teams in particular bore his stamp. The biggest difference now for Hahn may be that instead of being the quiet guy standing at the end of the dugout, he's now going to be the guy whom everyone bearing a camera, microphone, or recorder chases after every time he makes an appearance. Hahn is now the face of the franchise.