By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) (Pours drink, raises glass)
To Rick Renteria, a guy few envy right now.
But he’s also someone you can’t resist pulling for. I still feel bad that he, an otherwise competent manager, got dumped by the Chicago Cubs after the 2014 season for the crime of not being as sexy as Joe Maddon. Now Renteria is back in the saddle and skippering the White Sox, a job so toxic that President Trump has ordered no government personnel to tweet about it.
The White Sox are going to be … bad. For a while.
But bad is a glass-half-full situation for once on the South Side. It’s finally rebuild time. General manager Rick Hahn has a “process.” There’s no more ace Chris Sale and his petulance, no more Adam Eaton and the lack of melanin that kept him from being called what he should have been here — an annoying ass.
And now Renteria has to drive this rickety jalopy while it gradually gets a makeover. Good thing he’s been there before. His Cubs stint showed that not only was he a capable game manager, but players improved under him even if the win-loss record wasn’t special (and wasn’t expected to be). Players seemed to like him, too, and he never seemed to get salty with media all that much, a valuable asset in what should be some frustrating times this year and at least the next.
So I’ll also forgive Renteria for the odd high-schooly approach he seems to be taking in regards to rallying what will eventually be — with Hahn continuing to work on trades for left-hander Jose Quintana and probably third baseman Todd Frazier — a roster of prospects and veteran placeholders. Yes, Sox PR fancies slogans. Recall “Good guys wear black” and “The kids can play” and “Hey look, it’s Jimmy Rollins for some rReason.”
I don’t know if this is Renteria-organic or not, but it sure sounds like it’ll lend itself to locker room signs for slapping on the way out to the field and promotional T-shirt giveaways. Ladies and gentlemen, (sips, gulps) behold the “White Sox Way.”
“The ‘White Sox Way’ is everybody comes in and the name on the back of the uniform is going to be secondary to the name on the front of the uniform,” Renteria told the Mully & Hanley Show on 670 The Score on Wednesday. “If people truly believe in purpose and the big picture, if you’re truly looking for championships, you’re self-less. You’re not selfish. You’re self-less, and you’re willing to go ahead and give yourself to this idea that it takes a lot of people to win a championship. You’re not just going to win with 25 people on the field. It takes everybody. It takes the front office. It takes everybody from sales, ticket people to the fans to the other kids in the minor leagues who are going to help when something happens, when somebody goes down. You need to buy in.
“That’s going to be playing the ‘White Sox Way’ — which is just playing the game for each other and playing for the organization.”
Fine, whatever. So long as it’s a change from the inmates running the asylum that was the Robin Ventura tenure, I’ll take whatever sports drink commercial cheesiness Renteria wants in his locker room. And it is his, which he was sure to note on Mully & Hanley without bus-tossing Ventura but not-so-subtly distancing himself from that era.
“It’s my lot,” Renteria said. “That clubhouse is mine as a manager. But it’s ours as a team, so you got to be able to connect with all the people. Again, they’re not robots. They’re human beings. I think you have to have order. You have to have people who are going to be able to handle their teammates, especially some of the veteran guys who are still here, but in the end, it’s my responsibility to make sure that clubhouse stays in order. Otherwise you have chaos.”
For the White Sox, 2016 sure was some chaos, when it wasn’t just numbingly awful.
Now the subpar baseball will at least be baby steps toward something. And Renteria seems an apt choice to accompany the inching toward contention over the next few years, as he doesn’t come off like he just popped a valium but also isn’t the ray of sunshine (through a magnifying glass sizzling your nipple) that is Don Cooper.
“My personality is a little different than others, but I can be a little firm when I need to be and as relaxed as I need to be,” Renteria was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune after cooking with high schoolers at Benito Juarez Community Academy on Wednesday.
And he seems to know the White Sox will suck for a while, even if he can’t say that. There’s not much Pollyanna to the guy, nor was there when he managed the Cubs, and that should lend itself to weathering what will be — despite excitement over watching growth of individuals like Yoan Moncada — a collective tough watch for a while.
“We as an organization have to be steadfast and make sure all the checks and balances are met, that everybody feels very comfortable with where he is in his progress as far as developing as a player,” Renteria told Mully and Hanley, which translates to keeping group sanity while going through serious growing pains. “The one thing we as coaches and staff have to do is make sure we stay positive and allow them to understand we’ve all lived this.”
Nobody more than Renteria, who finds himself in familiar territory in the same city where he was tasked a few years ago with holding down the fort of budding youngsters. Good for him.
Even if he’s going to take a page out of the book of an inferior college program that needs to jack itself up instead of using superior talent and say stuff like this: “We have to be White Sox first … We have to motivate, encourage and inspire people to be the best they can be.”
Cheers, Rick. Happy for you.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.