There’s plenty of optimism to go around at SoxFest this weekend, but it hasn’t been all pleasantries.
Though a number of fans have expressed excitement over a series of shrewd moves made by the front office this offseason, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura have faced a fair amount of scrutiny in town hall meetings with fans on Friday and Saturday.
Some of the issues include: wondering why the White Sox didn’t re-sign A.J. Pierzynski to resolve their catching situation; if Ventura has enough fire in his belly to lead a turnaround and why Adam Dunn is still with the club. Saturday’s hour-long forum was particularly fiery, as fans haven’t held back.
Hahn wouldn’t choose to answer similar questions all day if he had the choice, but he can empathize with fans of his team, who also had to endure the fourth-worst season in franchise history.
“We lost 99 games last year and these people have come out in the dead of winter to show their support for the team,” Hahn said. “But at the same time, (they) have some questions on their mind. It’s completely understandable.”
Praised by the front office and players alike for his balanced demeanor, Ventura — who on Friday signed a multi-year contract extension — has been questioned several times by fans for those same qualities. They want to see Ventura air players out in the dugout and criticize them publicly for their poor play. Some assume that just because he doesn’t show his emotions outwardly that equates to a lack of passion for the job.
“You get that,” Ventura said. “Just because you don’t do it so they can get the satisfaction of seeing me jump somebody doesn’t mean it (doesn’t) happen. But everybody has an opinion, everybody has a preference and when you get a forum like this you get all of that.”
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Part of the reason Ventura is popular with players is because of the way he handles them. Veteran first baseman Paul Konerko said Friday that Ventura reads and handles his players well. Ventura also prefers to handle his role as a taskmaster behind closed doors.
“That’s just the way I do it,” Ventura said. “I’d rather bring them in and do it inside the clubhouse. I played for managers that did it both ways and I think it’s more of an effective approach to do it inside and not let people see it. … It doesn’t mean I don’t care or I’m not mad. You realize that you are on TV and it’s stuff you can’t take back.”
While Hahn has no concerns about being criticized, he didn’t tolerate questions about his manager’s passion and rushed to Ventura’s defense.
“I didn’t think it was Robin’s place to have to explain how passionate he is,” Hahn said. “Those of us who are around him and see what he does on a daily basis and the amount of energy and time he puts in have the benefit of seeing that passion behind closed doors. It was important for me as one of those people to make that clear. … Although it’s not satisfying perhaps from a fan standpoint, we want that handled behind closed doors. It’s more effective when you have that conversation one on one with a player as opposed to airing it out in public.”