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By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) New managers usually take over for a reason.
The previous one stunk.
Now, sure, every once in a while you’ll see a Major League Baseball skipper who retires after going out on top (see: Tony LaRussa). Or, on occasion, you’ll watch one bolt for greener pastures (see: Ozzie Guillen).
But most of the time, when you see a new manager grab the reins of a ball club, it’s because his predecessor was trampled by it during the previous season (see: Mike Quade).
Over the years, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox have had more than their fair share of managers. They’ve had more than their fair share of first-year managers, too. And, this spring, that includes both Dale Sveum and Robin Ventura who are the first pair of Windy City skippers to debut in the same season since Jim Lefebvre and Gene Lamont respectively turned that trick for the Cubs and Sox in 1992.
That summer, Lefebvre went 78-84 on the North Side, good for a fourth-place finish that left the Cubs 18 games out of first place. Meanwhile, on Chicago’s South Side, Lamont guided the White Sox to an 86-76 third-place finish that left the team 10 games out of the playoffs.
Today, in honor – or at least recognition – of Sveum (who’s already 0-1 … thanks a lot, bullpen) and Ventura (whose Opening Day record is TBD) debuts, I thought I’d delve a bit into the history of Chicago’s first-year managers to see what kind of historical hill the new skippers are facing.
Not surprisingly, it’s a pretty steep one.
Rather than going back to the dawn of Chicago’s baseball time, I decided to begin my examination of first-year managers with 1945, which was the year that Charlie Grimm took over for the Cubs and promptly piled up a 98-56 record en route to an appearance in the World Series.
Which the Cubs, of course, haven’t returned to since.
Excluding the ridiculous College of Coaches experiment in 1961-62, the Cubs have had 22 men start a baseball season as a first-year manager since 1945 (some of them first took over midway or late in the previous campaign, before then starting their first full year anew).
In those 22 debut campaigns, the Cubs have enjoyed only four winning ones – 1963 (82-80 under Bob Kennedy), ’84 (96-65 under Jim Frey), 2003 (88-74 under Dusty Baker) and ’07 (88-76 under Lou Piniella) – although the last three have resulted in surprising playoff berths.
Meanwhile, White Sox have welcomed 17 rookie managers to their ranks since 1945. In their first full seasons at the helm, those men have produced seven winning campaigns – 1951 (81-73 under Paul Richards), ’55 (91-63 under Marty Marion), ’57 (90-64 under Al Lopez), ’66 (83-79 under Eddie Stanky), ’92 (86-76 under Lamont), ’96 (85-77 under Terry Bevington) and 2004 (83-79 under Ozzie Guillen) – but none of them have resulted in playoff appearances.
Overall, the combined winning percentage of the Cubs’ first-year managers since World War II is a meager .466, while the cumulative mark of the White Sox’s rookie skippers over that time isn’t much better at .486.
When you consider how far those numbers are below the Cubs’ all-time winning percentage of .513 (yes, it is that good at 10,311-9,780) and the White Sox’s historical clip of .506 (8,707-8,496), it’s probably wise to not count on Sveum or Ventura working any Windy City miracles this season.
But here on Good Friday, that doesn’t mean you can’t pray for them.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.