In the 2013 season, the Chicago White Sox lost 22 more games than they had the previous season. It was a frustrating season: the hitters weren’t hitting, the fielders weren’t fielding, and the bullpen was blowing games. Adding to the disappointment, the 2013 team wasn’t that different from the 2012 team that had been in first place for most of the season. There were high expectations for the 2013 White Sox team and they fell short. It was a relief when September finally came to a close.
To the surprise of some White Sox fans, after losing 99 games, manager Robin Ventura got a four-year contract extension with the team. Though this extension came after a rough season, it was the right move for the organization.
Rick Hahn, the White Sox general manager, explained his decision to extend Ventura, “We saw in 2012 and 2013 two extremes in terms of being a first-place club (for most of the season) and being a club that was disappointing … and throughout each of those extremes, Robin’s leadership was unwavering. 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. And that level of stability is what we want from a leader in the dugout”.
The 2014 season will be a period of transition for the White Sox. Of the eight position players projected to start on opening day, Alexei Ramirez is the oldest, at 32 years of age. The next oldest is Gordon Beckham, who is just 27 years old. It is indeed a very young squad. Having younger guys playing every day could translate to the White Sox being more prone to hot and cold streaks, and it is at those times when the White Sox will need a good coach like Ventura to keep the team focused on the task at hand.
Ventura talked about the difference in managing a younger team; “You’re getting younger guys, talented guys, but your guys. The job doesn’t necessarily change as far as enthusiasm, but you’re looking at it maybe a little bit differently than if you had guys that were older and a little more veteran. I’m just as excited going into this year as I was the first year”.
With the team going younger, Ventura will get the additional help of a player-coach: Paul Konerko. Having a respected veteran like Konerko will be key for this team because he won’t focus as much on himself, but rather on the development of the younger guys.
Konerko has been there. He has had seasons where he was the young player looking up to veterans. “Every team has some older guys who have been through it all,” Konerko said. “I’m on the other side of that now. I’ve been wrong a lot, so I know what that’s like, too. Just be there for those guys. That’s how I see it.”
This offseason, Konerko accepted a one-year contract extension and a lesser role with the team. “If I had gone [somewhere else,] won a World Series, led the league in hitting, it really wasn’t what I was after,” explained Konerko. “It wasn’t going to make me any happier. But if I stay here and finish it up correctly — help guys get going in the right direction, help this organization move in the right way from last year – and I know I was part of that, I’ll feel better than if I would have gone with another team and rolled along with them.”
Konerko has spent nearly his entire career on the south side of Chicago. It is nice to see that he wants to finish it here, giving advice to the younger guys and sharing what he has learned over the years.
The White Sox are looking bigger picture right now. When Hahn talked about his expectations for this season, he used phrases like “show improvement” and “allowing these young guys room to grow”.
Though it’s concerning to see that the White Sox aren’t even expected to compete in the division, let alone for the World Series, I’m comfortable with their plan. This season, the AL Central is going to be strong top to bottom. The White Sox possess youth, talent, and a solid teacher focused on teamwork. It may be a tough year with all the competition, but on the other hand, maybe it won’t. Maybe our young guys could give the division leaders trouble. Maybe this team has just enough veteran leadership to win some ball games and surprise their critics. Maybe. Just maybe.