By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — It’s not an easy presentation, trying to get fans excited for both change and the lack thereof.
The Bears tried to do it once, comically, using a postseason press conference in 2010 to argue against themselves. As it was described in this space a year later, “In speeches that seemed prepared by some collaboration of George Orwell and the Marx Brothers, the troika of Ted Phillips, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith told us that ‘massive change’ was needed, but the most important thing they had going was ‘continuity.’”
There’s a similarly twofold message coming from the White Sox, now, after a busy off-season of creative remodeling was capped by the multi-year contract extension for manager Robin Ventura.
Rick Hahn has done a far better job than his Bears counterparts did at explaining as lucidly and directly as possible how these moves can work in complementary fashion. He has rhetorical skill those others lack, causing heads to nod even as fair questions are raised about Ventura’s managerial chops.
“His communication, his ability to teach at the big-league level, his enthusiasm, his baseball intellect – all the things we were looking for in a manager – were the same at our highest highs and our lowest lows,” Hahn said. “And that level of stability is what we want from a leader in the dugout.”
“Stability” in this case, however, is open to interpretation. On one hand it can mean the same as “continuity,” in that there is inherent value in avoiding disruption and upheaval in the middle of a delicate, rare, on-the-fly rebuild. Something to be said for fewer moving parts – especially at the top — which makes perfect sense.
On the other, it’s merely another way of describing Ventura’s placid demeanor. He has been tabula rasa since he’s had the job, allowing us to project on him whatever we choose depending on the scoreboard and standings. Doing well, he’s an unflappable stoic whose dugout gravitas provides direction and strength. Doing poorly, he’s an ineffectual cipher, with deficient personality to connect and inspire.
So Hahn is saying, correctly, that he was Robin Ventura when the Sox were good and Robin Ventura when the Sox were bad. While inarguable, it avoids entirely the question of whether or not he’s any good at managing.
And last year was beyond just bad. The Sox were sloppy and dumb, and rather than fixing their problems they only got sloppier and dumber in the field, on the basepaths and in the batter’s box. Some of the culprits in the wheels-off failure are gone, replaced by those ostensibly more sensible, athletic and professional. Other guilty parties remain.
Fans have been buoyed by Hahn’s recognition of the shortcomings, and that it didn’t take long for his baseball sensibilities to be as offended as theirs. The in-season deals that netted Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia were hailed, as were the blockbuster signing of Jose Abreu and recent trades for Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson. The resourceful improvements have been consistent with the idea of fielding a team that gives away fewer outs, both on offense and defense.
In other words, something new and different. Anything new and different.
Yet we also have been told the value of some things remaining the same. Paul Konerko still merits a roster spot for a farewell season as a low-paid player/coach amalgam. He’s a hood ornament, only slower and significantly more self-critical. And this effort at reinvention will be led by Ventura, despite the fact that we have no idea the true extent of his responsibility for all that went wrong in a dispiriting, 99-loss season.
What Hahn appears to have decided, clearly, is that Ventura will be capable of evolving and improving concurrently with the White Sox new roster.
Stability on the move.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM (or you can listen online).
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