How the White Sox Polarized Their Entire Fanbase
Fandom is not unlike modern day relationships in that it is a two-way street, in which both parties need to make calculated concessions to one another in order to sustain a viable relationship.
Obviously an employee is not going to be pleased with their boss if they’re skipped over for the latest promotion, and a significant other isn’t going to stay with their partner if they’re consistently unfaithful.
Yet, the Chicago White Sox seem to have a flawed understanding of this construct because at the end of the 2015 season they saw no reason to appease their fanbase by firing ineffective manager Robin Ventura.
Rick Hahn telling fans that the White Sox would be retaining Ventura for 2016 was like your building’s superintendent saying they weren’t going to fix the broken plumbing that’s been flooding your apartment for the last four years.
If this were the case, you would just start looking for another apartment, but fan avidity is much more complicated. If you’re a die hard fan, you simply don’t jump ship, even if that ship appears to be sinking.
Instead you’re left in a polarized state, fundamentally divided from your organization’s brain trust.
Right now, it is basically the White Sox front office against the majority of a jaded fanbase and worse ramifications could come out of this as the saga continues to unfold.
Just ask Sandy Alomar Jr.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Alomar rejected the White Sox’s offer to become their next bench coach out of respect for Robin Ventura.
Like White Sox fans, Alomar saw the writing on the wall: Ventura is an ill-equipped manager who is on extremely thin ice and this bench coach search is more about finding a managerial replacement in the likely event that the team scuffles out of the gate.
Alomar even outed the White Sox with this little quote.
"“‘I want no hidden agendas.'”"
The situation unfolding is shaping up to be an extremely strange one. There is clearly a hidden agenda, yet no rationale for why it even has to be hidden and for why Ventura is still even here. How can the White Sox look for a qualified bench coach without asking themselves why said candidate shouldn’t just become the manager.
Furthermore, what decent candidate would want to be the batman to Robin, when they have to work below their less qualified sidekick.
Also, who takes a multi-year bench coach deal that outlasts the contract of the manager. Seriously, who takes that deal. That doesn’t bode well for job security when a new manager might just bring in his own guy.
It’s just not an attractive job opportunity, and I think that’s why the White Sox are having such a hard time filling the vacancy.
Speaking of the vacancy, let’s talk about why there’s even one in the first place. To appease fans, Rick Hahn and company fired bench coach Mark Parent three days before the season ended. This is like receiving the worst consolation prize.
In fact, I think the White Sox social media coordinator is probably undergoing PSTD treatment from the Twitter backlash following the announcement.
More so than the actual principle of firing the bench coach, Rick Hahn’s comments during the press conference were more eye-opening for me.
Here’s the defining quote from Hahn, per CSN Chicago.
"“’Robin’s strengths is in that communication and in the environment he creates with those players, to allow them to maximize their abilities,” Hahn said. “Again, there is room for improvement, both from a tactical standpoint as well as from even off the field standpoint, and Robin’s aware of that and he’s embracing the opportunity to show that improvement, just as the rest of us who need to improve, myself included.’”"
*There is no evidence that Rick Hahn was connected to a polygraph during this press conference, although I think he would have failed.
Robin can “Maximize their abilities.” Yes that was truly said. You just cannot make this stuff up.
So what is the true talent value of a 76-86 club that has been maximized by its manager. Is it the worst team in the league?
Under Robin Ventura’s maximized environment:
Adam LaRoche hit .207/.293/.340 with just 12 home runs. That is substantially below his career .260/.336/.462 line.
Melky Cabrera, coming of a solid 2014, had a .620 OPS and .518 OPS in April and May respectively.
Alexei Ramirez, the defending Silver Slugger winner, had a first half line of .224/.249/.313.
Adam Eaton‘s April looked like this: .192/.241/.256.
Emilio Bonifacio (Ventura’s favorite pinch-hitter) had a .167/.198/.192 line before he was DFA’d in August.
Connor Gillaspie had a .276 OBP to go along with atrocious defense before also being DFA’d and subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Angels.
Avisail Garcia (Thought to be a potential cornerstone player) was good for a .675 OPS, shoddy defense, and limited power.
Jeff Samardzija (expected to be a co-ace and coming off a 2.99 ERA in 2014) was one of the worst pitchers in baseball with an ERA of 4.96.
The White Sox had a bottom third fielding percentage and committed the 7th most errors. This is after being bottom five in fielding percentage in both 2013 and 2014, per ESPN.
The White Sox made 74 outs on the base paths, more than any other club, and had the 3rd worst stolen base percentage, per Baseball Reference.
Hmm. I’m extremely thankful that Robin provided an environment in which players could truly thrive and play beyond their potential, because after all that’s what maximized means. If the above players played beyond their potential, then I’m surprised they ever made it out of A-ball.
The Mark Parent firing was the worst consolation prize.
It’s also important to note that it must have taken bribing for Ventura to play Trayce Thompson more, despite the fact that he was actually the only player who “maximized” his talent in ’15.
I’m not sure if Rick Hahn was moonlighting as a comedian during this interview, but the rest of the quote might be even more comical.
Hahn went on to say that there was room for tactical improvement. No kidding.
I’m just not sure how a manager can improve tactically in their fifth year at the helm.
At the very least, I’m glad Rick Hahn acknowledged the need for improvement from a tactical standpoint because I had a gut feeling that the Harvard Law School and Northwestern Business School grad couldn’t possibly have been content with the strategic in-game management.
According to ESPN’s Doug Padilla, part of Parent’s firing was an attempt to usher in a greater use of analytics.
"While Hahn declined to get specific on why Parent was no longer a good fit, he did say the White Sox are looking to get better with in-game tactical decisions and to incorporate analytical data to a greater extent."
I must admit that when cameras panned to Robin Ventura in the dugout holding a laminated stat sheet, I was very skeptical as to what he was actually reading.
Ventura seemed to be a slave to handedness, and he had no conception of what a reverse-split was.
For example, reliever Dan Jennings held right-handed hitters to a lower avg. and OBP than left-handed hitters, yet he was deployed as a lefty specialist (Except for the time Robin inexplicably used him for 3.2 innings in an extra-inning game the White Sox would go on to lose).
Ventura would also consistently deploy lefties like LaRoche, J.B. Shuck, or the switch-hitting Bonifacio against right-handers who actually had better splits against lefties. Maybe Parent was fired for producing misprinted stat sheets?
Another question is why this issue of absent analytics wasn’t addressed midseason, or better yet three years ago.
These quotes from Hahn and the hesitance of Alomar regarding the bench coach job are simply throwing salt into already deep wounds.
The front office lost its credibility during this press conference and the confirmation of that credibility loss from someone outside of the organization like Alomar is a hard pill to swallow.
The problem with a polarized and jaded fanbase is that even the addition of a big name like Jason Heyward will be met with skepticism and paranoia. Would it be outlandish for Heyward to become a shell of himself in a White Sox uniform.
We’ve now seen it happen to Adam Dunn, Jeff Keppinger, Adam LaRoche, and Jeff Samardzija, and it’s all happened under the “right environment” that Ventura cultivates.
No decent bench coach candidate would want to be the batman to Robin, when they have to work below their less qualified sidekick.
Barring a sensational offseason, it will be difficult for the White Sox to get fans to buy in to the 2016 team when the common denominator still resides in the dugout.
Despite a vast range of player personnel between 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, Robin Ventura oversaw an awful collapse in 2012, a 99-loss season in 2013, and 89 and 86 loss seasons to follow.
Since August 2012, the White Sox have played a foreign brand of baseball that trumpets some of the worst fundamentals in the game and reflects a shell of an offensive approach.
With likely modest upgrades this offseason, the White Sox could have a mean projection of 81-81. Despite the belief of some pundits that a manager has little effect, I think team culture, bullpen management, player deployment, and line up construction should conservatively have a five game impact.
If a single player can have a five WAR season, then a coaching staff can certainly have a similar ramification in the aggregate.
Unless you’re a juggernaut, 100-win team, it is very hard to offset negatives on the margin. The coaching staff in 2016 could be the difference between an 86-76 season (right in the wildcard mix) and a 76-86 season (another lost year).
We’re talking about a ten game swing in the record based on the outcome of five contests.
The White Sox have so many holes in the line up that they can’t afford a negative catalyst of this proportion.
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All of this really grows out of the flawed managerial vetting process after 2011. There was clearly organizational tunnel vision during the search. For whatever reason, Ventura was a top target while candidates like Terry Francona and Dave Martinez stood on the sidelines.
When Robin Ventura was hired, Kenny Williams liked to tell the story of a psychologist who had done personality tests for corporations and the U.S. military.
"“”This psychologist was asked, ‘Of all the people you’ve tested, who impressed you the most in terms of their capabilities to lead?'” Williams said. “And his reply was, ‘There’s one guy who’s capable of being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And if he were in the military, he would achieve four-star general status.’ I’ll give you one guess who the person was.””"
The person was obviously Robin Ventura. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the name of this psychologist has never been publicly released. My guess is that this psychologist was less qualified for his job than Ventura was for his. Maybe he was even a figment of Williams’ imagination.
The point is, despite glowing reviews I’m confident in saying head hunters for Fortune 500 companies and vetting personnel in the U.S. military didn’t have Robin Ventura on their radar.
When you look at Hahn’s quotes and the above anecdote, this really all feels like a scripted comedy set to hit theaters this Spring. But this is reality, and White Sox fans aren’t laughing.
The White Sox broke a long-standing trust with their fanbase when they committed to Ventura for 2016, and it’s clear that ownership is more loyal to a lame duck manager than the people who actually drive the revenue streams.
Reconciliation will be very difficult going forward. I also think there is likely a rift forming in the front office as Ventura was not Rick Hahn’s hire and it is becoming abundantly clear that Kenny Williams is refusing to live down the fact that his hand-picked manager was a bust.
For most White Sox fans, Ventura in the dugout in 2016 is viewed as just the beginning of a blueprint to further organizational apathy and competitive irrelevance.
I could see Robin Ventura being the type of epicenter force that could divide the front office, drive away segments of the fanbase, and ultimately drive this franchise into rock bottom.
It sounds harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts.