By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) After sitting perched atop the American League Central for 117 days – including a stretch of 63 in a row – there’s one thing for certain after the Chicago White Sox’s 2012 season officially came crashing down around them on Monday night.
It ended in disappointment.
But for Robin Ventura, did this season also end up as a failure? Or was the Sox manager’s rookie season still a success considering that his team far exceeded the 95-loss expectation set by Sports Illustrated back during an highly uncertain spring?
On Monday, after the White Sox’s 11-0 victory over Cleveland went for naught thanks to Detroit’s division-clinching win vs. Kansas City, Ventura said, “It’s disappointing because you wish you could have done better. But I’m not disappointed in these guys. You end up where you’re supposed to end up. The effort was there. Just came up short.”
By coming up short in the race for the playoffs, Ventura was simply following the trend set by his managerial predecessors on the South Side.
Back in June, when the Sox were leading the AL Central with a 33-27 record, I did a little digging into the records of the first-year Pale Hose managers and discovered that since 1945, the Sox have welcomed 15 rookie skippers into their ranks. During their first seasons at the helm, seven of the produced a winning campaign, but none of them also led his inaugural team to a playoff berth, too.
In 1951, Paul Richards posted an 81-73 record and finished in fourth place, 17 games behind the Yankees in battle for the American League pennant. Four years later, Marty Marion went 91-63 but still ended up in third place, five games behind New York.
In 1957, Al Lopez took over and ripped off a 90-64 record, but again finished in second place behind, yes, the Yankees. In 1966, Eddie Stanky guided the Sox to an 83-79 record and a fourth-place finish behind Baltimore.
The Sox then didn’t have another rookie manager finish with a winning record for 26 years when Gene Lamont led the 1992 club to an 86-76 mark and a third-place finish behind Oakland in the AL West.
Four years later, in 1996, Terry Bevington took over the reins and posted an 85-77 record that was good for second place, but still trailed the Indians by 14.5 games. And finally in 2004, Ozzie Guillen kicked off Sox career off with an 83-79 record and a second-place finish behind Minnesota, which won the AL Central by nine games.
On June 12, when I completed my research, the White Sox were winning at a .550 clip and on pace for 89 victories. As of today, the team’s winning percentage has dropped to .525 – the reason why Detroit was able to catch the Sox with just a .544 percentage.
However, Ventura’s team currently has 84 wins, which already gives him more victories than all but four rookie White Sox managers in the past 67 years (Marion, Lopez, Lamont and Bevington). And with two games still remaining, Ventura still has a chance to tie Bevington (85 wins) and Lamont (86) for third or fourth on that list.
Third or fourth place on a managerial list during a heartbreaking second-place season might not sound like much. But considering where the Sox and their inexperienced manager were coming from, Ventura’s inaugural campaign has smacks more of success than it does of failure.
Even if right now, for White Sox fans, it smarts too.
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.