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What the White Sox are looking for in their next manager

Vinnie Duber Avatar
October 12, 2022

More than a week removed from Tony La Russa’s retirement and Rick Hahn’s end-of-season press conference, the White Sox have obviously moved on to the No. 1 offseason task: finding a new manager.

Last week, Hahn laid out the criteria the White Sox are looking for in a new skipper, admitting that someone who meets every item on the team’s wish list might not actually exist.

“Jerry (Reinsdorf), Kenny (Williams) and I sat down for a couple of hours earlier today to talk through several different attributes, and I think we all realize that, in the end, the candidate that probably has all of them – all 12 or 15, or however many we list – doesn’t exist or might not be available,” he said. “So when I express these characteristics, they’re really more preferences.”

Last time the White Sox needed a new manager, after Rick Renteria was dismissed following the 2020 campaign, Hahn laid out a list of attributes that sounded almost identical to the one he relayed last week. That’s because the guy who the team ended up hiring, La Russa, didn’t meet many of those supposed qualifications.

La Russa was the choice of Reinsdorf, who attempted to right a decades-old wrong with the hire, and the process went so dramatically different from what was envisioned that Hahn even admitted his surprise in the outcome during La Russa’s introductory press conference.

That is not the expectation of the GM this time.

“I think this will be a different process than the last time around,” he said.

So with reports of interviews and leading candidates already flying around the Twittersphere, it’s a good time to recap the criteria that Hahn & Co. said they’d be eyeing for the next person to helm the field staff and, the hope is, to do what La Russa couldn’t and lead the White Sox to a World Series title.

Winning experience

“I think ideally, in the end, the right candidate is someone who has recent experience in the dugout with an organization that has contended for championships,” Hahn said. “Ultimately, we want someone who played a key role in a winning organization and was an important part of their on-field decision making.”

It should come as no surprise that the White Sox, ready to win, would prefer someone who, you know, knows how to win.

Of course, La Russa fit that description, with his three World Series rings and countless playoff appearances over a Hall-of-Fame career, so it’s not something that automatically equals the kind of success the White Sox are looking for.

But there are a lot of “contending” organizations out there, so odds are the vast majority of candidates will have some winning experience. Some of the names mentioned in various reports and speculations have won multiple championships as managers. Some have been on board with their teams for an awful lot of winning. “Contending” is broad, sure, but it’s something the White Sox haven’t done much of in recent history.

Recent experience in the dugout

“I think the ideal person to fit what we are looking for, given where this team is, does have recent experience in some role in a dugout contributing to a team that is having success,” Hahn said.

Hahn used the word “recent” in 2020, too, and the White Sox ended up with someone who’d last managed in 2011. That should be one of the very different aspects of the outcome this time around.

But “in the dugout” is just as important here, with so many managerial hires in recent years pulling someone out of the front office or out of the broadcast booth: Aaron Boone, Craig Counsell, David Ross. The decisions have worked to varying degrees. Boone has never missed the postseason. Counsell went to four consecutive Octobers. Ross, meanwhile, is leading the Cubs through their most recent rebuilding effort.

The White Sox, it seems, will eschew that strategy and opt for someone who’s been “in the dugout” before.

Manager … or close to a manager

“I think having managerial experience is a positive,” Hahn said. “That said, you can also get good experience being a bench coach or adjacent to a manager. Having experience managing in the minors, as well, can be beneficial. Ultimately, we want someone who played a key role in a winning organization and was an important part of their on-field decision making.”

Again, with the White Sox trying to win it all, it would seem helpful to have someone at the control panel who knows how to get that job done. But the team doesn’t seem to be limiting its search to only those who have sat in the manager’s chair before.

Bench coaches and other coaches, guys who have had plenty of input that has led to winning, are valuable, too. And it makes plenty of sense that someone who’s sat next to a manager through years’ worth of decisions that led to winning – not to mention offered up plenty of their own insight – would have soaked up that necessary experience.

Excellent communicator

“Ideally, it’s someone who is an excellent communicator,” Hahn said.

This one’s a little more difficult to quantify than some of the others, but it’s arguably the most important. Though fans focus on lineups and bullpen management, the off-the-field stuff is the most crucial to a manager’s job, how well he manages a clubhouse rather than how much he manages a game.

Though La Russa received nothing but positive reviews for his relationships in the clubhouse, this still remains the No. 1 thing on players’ minds when it comes to who the new manager should be.

“It’s such a tricky job because you have so many different types of personalities,” Liam Hendriks said at season’s end. “You’ve got (players) that kind of exude confidence and the bravado. And then you’ve got guys that are shy and more quiet and in the background, and they just want to do their stuff quietly. You’ve got to be a chameleon as a manager. You’ve got to be able to leech out different traits in everybody because at the end of the day some people need to be less confident, some people need to be more confident. … It’s a very difficult position to have, and I don’t envy whoever becomes the manager because I think it’s just a pain in the ass.”

“If they bring in somebody new, they have to be a good communicator,” Elvis Andrus said. “For me, that’s always the key, a manager you can rely on, a manager that can communicate with you and just keep it real. This game is so complex and so hard. The last thing you want is a manager talking to you in two different ways. Especially for this clubhouse, a very mixed clubhouse. There’s a lot of Latin guys with a lot of talent. It’s a whole mix. You need to have somebody who can relate to both sides.”

La Russa speaks Spanish and can communicate with Latino players better than those who don’t. But certainly there are plenty of people in the game – and perhaps on the White Sox’ list of potential choices – who come from the cultures of so many of these players, maybe providing a new dimension of communication.

No White Sox DNA

“Having a history with the White Sox, having some sort of connection to White Sox DNA, is by no means a requirement,” Hahn said. “Having that history with the White Sox is not necessarily a characteristic that we’re looking for this time.”

Sorry, Ozzie Guillén.

The guy who managed the White Sox to a World Series championship in 2005 was taken out of the running, by name, the last time the team embarked on a managerial search, with Hahn then citing the organization’s tendency to be too insular. Then La Russa got his second crack at the White Sox’ managerial job.

This time, as Hahn said, he expects things to go differently, and that starts with bringing an end to the streak of former White Sox people who have been hired the last four times there was a hire to be made: Guillén, Robin Ventura, Renteria and La Russa.

So take A.J. Pierzynski off your wish list, same with Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. That could even extend to someone like Cubs third-base coach Willie Harris, who has been a candidate in the past.

The exception is Miguel Cairo, who took over for La Russa as acting manager in late August. He fired up the team (for a bit) and did well under unique circumstances. That was enough to earn him an interview, according to Hahn.

But otherwise, the White Sox are expected to cast a wide net, one that will allow them not only to find a manager who can bring fresh perspective and new ideas but allow them simply to talk to people who have fresh perspectives and new ideas, potentially gleaning something from the way other teams – winning teams – do things and apply it on the South Side.

“I think we are going to use this opportunity to get different perspectives, new ways of looking at things, a little different from those who have been a little more insular to the organization,” Hahn said. “You have aspirational goals for what you are looking for, even a handful of names who might fit that mold, at least on paper. Once we get deeper into the process, maybe that changes a little bit. As we sit here (last week), we are eager to use this opportunity to get some outside perspectives on this club and ways we can get better.”

A mix of new-school and old-school

“Ideally,” Hahn said, “it’s … someone who understands the way the game has grown and evolved in the last decade or so, but at the same time, obviously, respect for old-school sensibilities is going to be important, as well.”

That’s somewhat all-encompassing, and it’d be difficult to find someone who didn’t fit into such a box. Whether you want to read into that a comment on La Russa’s tenure, go ahead. But what it is is Hahn stating a desire for someone who’s open to all ideas.

La Russa, at times, came off as someone who wasn’t going to divert from the kind of decision-making he employed during the first three stops during a Hall-of-Fame career – and it’s hard to argue with what got him to Cooperstown, right? But it didn’t always work out on the field in 2021 and 2022.

Cairo, meanwhile, praised the information he received from the front office, while also describing himself as someone who goes with his gut.

I’m not one to enhance any further the tiresome debate over analytics – a fancy word for “numbers” that for some reason causes such friction – but it obviously exists, or Joe Maddon wouldn’t have gone a post-firing tirade about the perceived deluge of information he received from the front-office folks in Anaheim.

The next White Sox manager will have to thread that needle, and putting it the way Cairo did will probably win over anyone judging. Someone with a bunch of winning experience probably already knows what they’re doing. But they should also be open to what the numbers guys have to say – and act accordingly.

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