TEMPE, Ariz. – The change at the helm of the Chicago White Sox is overt and obvious. Going from Ozzie Guillen to Robin Ventura is like jumping from the front seat of the world's wildest roller coaster to a pink pony on the kiddie merry-go-round.
"It's a lot quieter around here," pitcher John Danks said.
Ventura is as calm and unruffled as Guillen is turbulent and boisterous. In eight years as manager, Guillen won 678 games and probably frayed as many nerves. In three weeks as manager, Ventura is 0-2 in exhibitions and hasn't agitated a soul.
During a 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, Ventura sat quietly on a foldout chair a few feet from the dugout, occasionally speaking in a low tone to bench coach Mark Parent and pitching coach Don Cooper. He jotted notes as if the game was an MBA lecture. He never raised his voice or made an Ozzie-face for the camera.
Guillen, now manager of the Miami Marlins, was a regular on Twitter. Ventura rarely utters a peep, let alone a tweet. He spent about two minutes with reporters after the game, congenially answering questions with short answers before saying, "Have a good day, guys. Good luck with traffic." Then he wandered off to say hello to Angels coaches he's known forever.
Yet despite their differences in demeanor and style, Ventura and Guillen view the game through the same lens. They played next to each other with the White Sox from 1990 to 1997, Guillen at shorstop, Ventura at third base. The team finished second and third a lot, making the playoffs only in 1993.
They learned from the likes of Jeff Torborg and Gene Lamont and Terry Bevington, then graduated to finer managerial minds when they left Chicago; Guillen to Bobby Cox in Atlanta and Ventura to Bobby Valentine and Joe Torre in New York, Jim Tracy in Los Angeles.
"I've always had a lot of respect for Ozzie and for his knowledge of the game," Ventura said. "He understands how to get a lot out of people. His personality is different than mine but I enjoy him."
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Ventura has lived through the ups and downs of baseball same as Guillen, he just doesn't feel the need to revisit them every day. He vividly remembers suffering through a paralyzing 0-for-41 slump as a White Sox rookie in 1990. He also can recall setting a collegiate record by hitting in 58 consecutive games for Oklahoma State.
He might cringe at ahumiliating incident in 1993 when he charged the mound after getting hit with a pitch by Nolan Ryan, only to have the 46-year-old pitcher put him in a headlock and pummel him.
But Ventura won't forget becoming the first big leaguer to hit two grand slams in a doubleheader for the New York Mets in 1999. He's tied for fifth all-time with 18 career grand slams, trailing only Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Eddie Murray.
Such a wide range of experience infused Ventura with a noticeable tranquility. Always the consummate teammate, by his last season – with the Dodgers in 2004 – he was basically a coach in the clubhouse and someone Tracy confided in.
"He was a gem, as good as I've ever managed," said Tracy, currently the Colorado Rockies manager. "When you are helping me put out fires, that breeds respect. He knew then what being a manager is about."
Ventura, out of baseball since he retired except to work with hitters at his son's Central California high school, has taken the helm with confidence, by all accounts.
As stoic as he tries to be, a knowing grin escapes when he talks about the events of the day. He's loose. Quiet, but loose.
His first speech to the team was short and to the point, players said. Nothing long-winded and no non sequiturs – Robin in spring a softer song than Ozzie in heat.
Team rules begin with punctuality and encompass respecting the team, respecting the game and representing the organization with class. It's going over well.
"I liked Ozzie and I like the way Robin is running things, too," Danks said. "It's a nice change. Someone else running the show is refreshing. So far, so good."
In another day or so Ventura will get his first Cactus League win. Regular-season wins will follow. So will losses, maybe a whole lot of them. The White Sox are full of holes and question marks. They might not be very good.
Expect Ventura to handle adversity without blowing his stack, without launching into Ozzie-like postgame monologues that cover more ground than Willie Mays in his prime.
Ventura broke his right ankle in 1997, and he played seven more seasons with a limp and in constant pain. When he retired he walked with a cane. He had ankle transplant surgery in 2005 – a piece from a cadaver was screwed into the joint – and now he is nearly pain-free.
Yes, Robin Ventura has known highs and lows. He'll handle whatever his first season as a manager brings with grace. Ozzie Guillen has moved on but a White Sox pedigree remains, fluctuation replaced by sameness, bluster by stillness. How the baseball changes will be worth noting.
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- Ozzie Guillen
- Robin Ventura