Robin Ventura drew praise from around baseball for his work with the White Sox in 2012, his first season at any level as a manager. While the Sox faded down the stretch, Ventura guided them into a playoff race few expected to materialize. He also oversaw the rebound seasons of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, three players who struggled mightily in Ozzie Guillen's final year on the White Sox bench.
"Like they say in football, some guys have a nose for the football. Some guys have a nose for managing. I think he does, I think he's done a great job, a terrific job," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in September. "I don't know this, but I think he's kind of let them play, just play the game, just go play the game. He's not pushing. He's figured it out pretty quick, really. And it helps when you got good players."
New York's Nick Swisher, who was embroiled in a public spat with Guillen after leaving Chicago, saw from afar the same shift with Ventura managing the White Sox.
"It seems like he's got them all nice and laid back, which is very different than what it was before," Swisher said in August. "But whatever he's doing over there seems to be working."
When it came down to Manger of the Year honors, though, Ventura was fighting an uphill battle. Oakland's Bob Melvin garnered the award after managing the Athletics to an improbable AL West title, taking out the powerhouse Rangers on the final day of the season. And Baltimore's Buck Showalter finished just behind Melvin in the voting after taking the Orioles from the depths of the AL East to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
I want to congratulate Bob Melvin on winning the award," Ventura said in a statement released by the White Sox. "Bob and Buck (Showalter) did great jobs this season and both really were deserving. For me to be considered for this award, especially in my first season, is a great honor but really its more of a reflection on the players and coaches. They put in the hard work from day one of spring training until the last out of the season and made my job easier.
Ventura finished third, and while the 2012 White Sox won't consider themselves a success, looking at the big picture Ventura navigated his first season fairly well.
Leyland -- who wound up taking Detroit to the World Series -- offered an explanation for part of Ventura's managerial success back in September.
"He was smart enough to know that this place, probably, at the time he got here just needed to get settled in," Leyland explained. "Just settle it in, without a lot of whatever you want to call it. He was smart enough to do that."