Hoge: Even With Success, Kenny Williams Struggling To Enjoy Job
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By Adam Hoge-
U.S. CELLULAR FIELD (CBS) White Sox fans have a reputation for being miserable. They’re angry when they lose and their happiness after a win doesn’t last very long.
As it turns out, they take after their general manager.
“I still haven’t learned how to do this job in a way that it brings satisfaction or enjoyment,” White Sox GM Kenny Williams said Monday before his team took on the Yankees. “When we lose, I agonize way more than there’s any celebration when we win. I’m happy when we win and I immediately focus on the next game and how are we going to win the next game.”
Williams’ team has been in first place for most of the season and while that certainly beats the alternative, it doesn’t mean he’s happy.
“I’ve not enjoyed any season,” Williams said when asked if he’s found enjoyment in this season. “Well, I enjoyed one season, but that was at the end for about a couple days and then I had to get right back to work.”
The general manager is likely being a little hyperbolic, but he’s dead serious about his struggle to enjoy the job of a Major League Baseball GM on a daily basis.
So why does he keep coming back every year?
“This is what I do,” he said. “And I take great pride in what we’ve managed to do here in keeping competitive over the years consistently, but there’s still work to do. When I sat down in my first press conference when I was appointed this position I didn’t talk about one championship, I said multiple championships and I meant that. People laughed, but I meant that. So that’s what keeps driving me.”
And here Williams is, with his team in position to make a second run at a World Series title under his watch.
A year ago at this time, many wondered if Williams would get another chance to fulfill his desire for “multiple championships.” The reality that either Williams or Ozzie Guillen would be leaving was starting to settle in and there were plenty of voices in the former manager’s corner. Ozzie ended up leaving and Williams stayed, but the general manager was bashed all offseason for having a horrible farm system and his team was given no shot in 2012.
What was ignored in all the drama, is that Williams has been a pretty damn good GM since 2000. He’s kept the team competitive in almost every season and most fans around the country would kill for a general manager as proactive as he is.
Now the fruits of his longterm labor are starting to pay off and the offseason critics are looking pretty silly. The team has had 11 rookies contribute to a first place team this season. So how were the scouts so wrong about the White Sox’s system?
“We have a different way of developing players,” Williams said. “We have a different method to our minor league system in terms of scouting and in terms of how we are going to promote and develop our young players so that they are ready for this ballpark — which is key — and the situation to play at the big league level, to hit the ground running at the big league level.”
The GM thinks that prospect lists focus too much on statistics and “it’s counterproductive to inflate stats” in the minor leagues.
Williams pointed directly to cases of reliever Nate Jones and outfielder Dayan Viciedo. In Jones’ case, he snuck up on people because the White Sox had him starting in Double-A to develop his breaking ball, even though they thought of him as a setup man or closer at the big league level.
“Could he have taken that 100 mph fastball and blown everybody away in the minor leagues and been put at the top of that prospect list? Absolutely,” Williams said. “But he wouldn’t have been able to compete here to the fashion he’s been able to compete.”
In Viciedo’s case, scouts started to sour on the Cuban prospect because he wasn’t putting up huge numbers in the minors. Williams said they had Viciedo concentrating on hitting the ball to right-center field and while the statistics suffered, “he wasn’t a disappointment to us.”
“If we would have let him go and swing as hard as he wanted to on every pitch, he could have hit 30 home runs down in Triple-A,” Williams said. “But when he got here, we would have had to send him back twice already because he wouldn’t have been prepared.”
Viciedo is still a work in progress, but he is by no means a bust. He’s provided key contributions to White Sox this season, most notably a game-winning home run in New York in June.
“I’d rather have a lot of players that can come up and help immediately than have a lot of players that are highly publicized down in the minor leagues and then when they get here they aren’t ready,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, while the GM’s minor league system looks much better than it was given credit for, he’s still made the key mid-season moves he is known for. With enormous payroll limitations, he got creative in adding Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano. He gave up no major prospects and no major league players that project to be more than a bench player.
Now many think Kenny Williams is deserving of the Executive of the Year Award. Of course, he’s quick to point out that he didn’t even win the award when the White Sox won the World Series.
“Here’s what I know, especially around here. One bad week, I’ll be back to being the village idiot pretty quickly,” he said.
But this year, given the expectations, that’s doubtful — even if the White Sox don’t win the A.L. Central.
Of course that won’t be acceptable to the general manager. He’s got his sights firmly set on winning a second world title. And if he does, the questions about him possibly leaving the daily grind of the GM position could be come very real.
“At the end of every year you sit down and you evaluate where you are and your effectiveness as it relates to the organization and you have that conversation with the owner whether he even wants you around at the end of it,” he said.
It’s pretty obvious Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf wants Williams around. Although he probably would like his GM to enjoy the job a little more.
“I’m working on it,” Williams said. “I’m working on it.”
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.