By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — SoxFest always gives the media and fan base a chance to ask the hard questions, and the seminars that are held over three days give you an inside look at the team’s perspective rolling into spring training.READ MORE: Alphonso Joyner, 23, Charged With Shooting And Killing 71-Year-Old Woom Sing Tse In Broad Daylight In Chinatown
One constant remains for Chicago. Regardless of the results, manager Robin Ventura will go down fighting as the leader on the field. Entering his fifth and possibly last year as the manager, Ventura’s working in the last year of a two-year extension.
A lot has happened since Ventura’s name was on the same list of then-general manager Ken Williams and adviser Dennis Gilbert when they looked to find a replacement for Ozzie Guillen in the fall of 2011.
The two trusted associates of owner Jerry Reinsdorf both pointed the owner toward Ventura. They were convinced that the former All-Star third baseman would be a calming influence after the chaotic Guillen run came to a crashing halt (Guillen had a four-year, $10.8-million deal with the Marlins in hand when he resigned the last week of the 2011 season). Ventura was taken by surprise by the offer but after some thought and consultation with his family, he signed a three-year, $3-million deal.
Ventura had a run of 117 days in first place during 2012. The team played hard for him before blowing a three-game division lead with just a couple of weeks left in the season. Since 2012, the White Sox have finished 62 games under.500. In 2015, the club was at .500 for only three days and spent only one day over .500. That 2015 White Sox were built to win, but due to a bad first half by the entire offense this side of Jose Abreu, they underachieved all year. Many were surprised when Ventura was retained for 2016.
The unflappable Ventura is as tough as they come. He will get a final opportunity to get his team into a playoff run this season. Managing as a lame duck in the last year of a contract would consume some baseball men. In the case of Ventura, it won’t change his approach or preparation.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Increasing Clouds Wednesday Night, Snow Flurries Possible Thursday Morning
After the White Sox went 76-86 last season, Ventura’s career winning percentage checks in at .458. He knows he must continue to adjust on the fly, and this season he and general manager Rick Hahn have talked about getting the position players ready earlier in spring training.
“You learn different things every year,” Ventura said about his cumulative managing record. “Going into to every year you have a different group of players. They help you change as well. This year we have four new guys, and they help you change the way you approach a game by what their skills are. There becomes a little learning period in spring training where we learn how to put them in the best positions possible to succeed.”
Ventura learned to love the challenge of managing in his second season. After that 99-loss campaign, he dug his heels in and told White Sox management he was in for the long haul. Winning is everything in sports, and Ventura knows he must produce a winner this season. That said, you will see the same consistent guy run the club win or lose.
“Regardless of outside pressures, you want your team to win,” Ventura said. “I have one year on a contract. That is not a secret. Regardless, I would want to win all the games if I had 10 years. The (contract) doesn’t matter. The competitive part for everybody is we all want to get off to a good start. That much is for sure.”
Mets manager Terry Collins won the NL pennant as a lame-duck manager on a one-year deal last season. Ventura would love to replicate that out-of-nowhere championship run in Chicago this season.
“Robin has had a lot of pressures through his life,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “I don’t think he is too worried about it. Robin has a huge influence on how we play. At the end of the day, it’s up to us. The last two years I have been here, it was our fault. When we put our big boy pants on and get ready to play and get the job done, you all will see then what a great manager Robin is. It’s our job to make him look good.”MORE NEWS: View Live Radar
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.