A tale of 2 Chicago Managers - New York News

A tale of 2 Chicago Managers

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CHICAGO (AP) -- Dave Sveum was patient and ready as he waited for that first full-time, big-league manager's job. There had been a short interim stint running the Milwaukee Brewers after years spent as a player and a coach.
 
   Robin Ventura? He was about to dabble in baseball again as an adviser, but managing for the first time wasn't on his radar at all.
 
   Now, here they are on opposite sides of a city that takes its baseball seriously, making daily decisions that are critiqued and dissected by thousands if not millions of fans while dealing with young players, multimillion-dollar stars and the grind of a season where fortunes change rapidly.
 
   So far, Ventura's ride has been a lot less bumpy. He has guided the White Sox to first place in the AL Central, thanks to an earlier nine-game winning streak, and he has done it with a laid-back style and dry humor.
 
   Sveum's assignment has been much rougher, running a Cubs team in rebuilding mode and enduring a 12-game losing streak that has the Cubs sitting firmly in last place. As of mid-week, they had the worst record in the majors.
 
   "You've been around long enough, you pretty much know the challenges you're going to face," Sveum said. "Being a bench coach, just being around the game, you understand all the challenges, the communication things you have to deal with. You can't miss out on the importance of communication."
 
   Here's just a few things Sveum has dealt with during his first 2 1/2 tumultuous months on the job: the demotions of reliever Carlos Marmol (out of the closer's role) and starter Chris Volstad (to the minors;) the retirement of struggling fan favorite Kerry Wood; the firing of well-respected hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo; and that losing streak that has the Cubs pointed toward a 100-loss season as they build for the future at the dawn of the Theo Epstein regime.
 
   Sveum was one of several candidates to be put through an intensive screening process late last year that required quick-thinking, game-like responses and then a news conference to see how he would handle the media. The talk around the Cubs, as always, is about ending the World Series drought that dates back more than a century, though everyone figures that the rebuilding on the North Side will take time.
 
   By contrast, Ventura was pretty much the only candidate pinpointed by general manager Ken Williams, who gave some consideration to Paul Konerko as a player-manager.
 
   Ventura had eased back in the game as an adviser to White Sox's vice president of player development Buddy Bell when Williams steered a dinner conversation in a startling direction: Would Ventura be interested in managing the major league team?
 
   Say what?
 
   Ventura had never managed at any level and he would be following his friend and former teammate Ozzie Guillen, the outspoken and often outrageous skipper who had taken the White Sox to their first World Series title in 88 years in 2005 before leaving near the end of last season and becoming manager of the Marlins.
 
   Ventura was apprehensive but after taking time to mull it over and discuss it with his family, he accepted, partly because of his feelings for the White Sox. He would be rejoining the team that had given him his start and where he spent the first 10 of his 16 major league seasons as a slick-fielding third baseman who finished his career with 294 homers.
 
   "It's challenging and everything else," Ventura said of his first taste of managing. "It's more or less what I thought it would be. I think having played as long as I did that stuff is pretty normal, the mentality of showing up every day and doing it."
 
   And there's more to it than in-game managing, making out the lineup and keeping the troops ready and happy.
 
   "There are little things here and there, more decisions beside just the baseball stuff -- what guys are wearing on the road -- just simple stuff. Not even the big stuff. That has been different. But it's not overwhelming," he said.
 
   Epstein, the Cubs president who hired Sveum, won two World Series in Boston, relying on new baseball math, numbers and stats to concoct an advantage. Sveum is a proponent of that philosophy -- he is a believer in using shifts on defenses based on tendencies -- although he doesn't rely solely on numbers to make his decisions.
 
   Ventura certainly doesn't either.
 
   "You get all this information. It's just how you apply it," Ventura said. "I mean the numbers don't lie, they are there for a reason. A lot of it is valid, but sometimes it's what you feel your guys are capable of and who you got."
 
   Ventura has been able to get a great deal out Adam Dunn, who has already nearly doubled his home run output of a year ago, while Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham have also been hitting the ball much better. Ventura will have some tough decisions ahead -- like what to do with right-hander Phil Humber, who pitched a perfect game in April but has struggled mightily since and could be a candidate for the bullpen.
 
   Sveum, who managed three years in the Pirates' minor league chain before becoming a third-base coach with the Red Sox, was also a candidate for the Boston job that went to Bobby Valentine.  He had managed the Brewers for the final 12 games of the 2008 season on an interim basis after Ned Yost was fired and then in four playoff games after Milwaukee won the wild card.
 
   But he did not get the job fulltime. He served in various capacities with the Brewers, including hitting coach and bench coach, roles that gave him a good feeling on what he would be tackling.
 
   "I had already done it. I mean it wasn't for a long period of time or anything like that," Sveum said of his new gig.
 
   Sveum drew kudos from general manager Jed Hoyer for his handling of young shortstop Starlin Castro, a 22-year-old star who sometimes commits mental gaffes like recently when he forgot how many outs there were in the inning. Sveum let Castro know it was not acceptable.
 
   "Dale has struck the perfect tone with Starlin -- `Hey, I like you. I get it, but it's going to have to stop,"' Hoyer told reporters. "It's a big part of why we hired Dale. He can strike that balance. And I don't think Starlin resents him for it. Starlin understands."
 
   Ventura, who will turn 45 next month, and Sveum, who is 48, were White Sox teammates for part of the 1992 season, and Sveum said he occasionally watches White Sox games on TV and texted Ventura on his success.
 
   "It's nice to have a buddy that's starting out the first time and obviously they're doing well," Sveum said.
 
   And the two managers have something else in common -- both suffered horrific leg injuries during their careers. Probably no two managers have a better understanding of what it's like to endure a major injury and setback.
 
   Sveum hit 25 homers and had 95 RBIs in his first full season as a Brewers' shortstop 1987. But next season he broke his left leg in a collision with teammate and outfielder Darryl Hamilton chasing a popup, missing the final month of 1988 and all of 1989. He was the never the same player.
 
   Ventura suffered a compound fracture of his right ankle in a grotesque home plate slide at spring training in 1997, but after grueling hours of rehab was able to return for 54 games that season. After leaving the White Sox following the 1998 season, he enjoyed some success with the Mets and Yankees before finishing up with the Dodgers in 2004.
 
   Ventura's playing career may have been more successful than Sveum's, but it won't  make a difference in managing. Head-to-head Ventura leads 3-0 after the White Sox swept the Cubs three straight at Wrigley Field last month. The rematch is next week at U.S. Cellular Field.
 
   "He's not letting us get too high and he's not letting us get too low," Dunn said of Ventura. "He's been the same guy since Day 1. When we weren't playing too good to when we were playing pretty well, he's been the same guy. You know what you're going to get with him each and every day."
 
   Konerko said Ventura's low-key approach has been a hit. Of course, winning helps.
 
   "He seems to be a natural at it. He doesn't say a whole bunch but that way when he does talk or call people together to say something he wants to say, everybody listens up," Konerko said.
 
   "When the game starts it's all about what can we do for the next nine innings to try to win this. That's it. It's good."
 
   ------

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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