CHICAGO – Major League Baseball, where Latinos have comprised up to a third of players in recent years, has a Latino manager once more – newly hired Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox.
Renteria, 54, was the team’s bench coach under Robin Ventura, who decided not to return for the 2017 season after guiding the team to a fourth-place, 78-84 finish in the American League's Central Division.
"I'm extremely excited," Renteria said. "It's a little bittersweet, because I became good friends with Robin."
The White Sox noted that Renteria is currently the only Latino manager in the majors and touted as an asset his ability to communicate in both English and Spanish.
When the Atlanta Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez, it was the first time since 1991 that no Major League Baseball team had a Latino manager. In MLB history, only 15 Hispanics have been managers, counting Renteria, who managed the Chicago Cubs in 2014.
As a measure of the role of Latinos among player ranks in the MLB, consider that in this year’s All-Star Game they numbered five of the American League starters and three of the National League starters, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In a recent interview with the Tribune, Renteria, who is set to become only the second manager to have led both the White Sox and Cubs, tried to take a philosophical view about the dearth of Latinos in the MLB’s upper ranks.
"I don't know if necessarily it's bias one way or the other," Renteria was quoted as saying. "Hopefully the numbers aren't necessarily an indication of being limited in how they view us. We're all pretty intelligent people."
Renteria takes over a team with one playoff appearance since its 2005 championship year, when the team was managed by Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen. And he gets another opportunity after the Cubs let him go in order to hire Joe Maddon.
White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn said the organization might have found candidates as good — but none better — had they looked elsewhere. He also insisted Renteria would be the right man to lead the team whether it is undergoing a major overhaul or trying to contend. To that end, Hahn said the White Sox know which way they want to go; he just wasn't about to reveal it.
"Regardless of the direction, we think he's capable of winning a World Series with the right personnel behind him," he said. "Even if we do go to the extreme of tearing this thing down, so to speak, our goal is to get ourselves back to the World Series, and our hope is to do it with this manager."
Hahn said Ventura first told him just over a month ago that he thought it was time for the organization to make a change in the dugout. Hahn said there were "personal reasons behind it" and added that Ventura "spoke highly" of Renteria.
Hahn said he did not try to persuade Ventura — whose contract was expiring — to return next season. And when asked if Ventura could have returned if he wanted, Hahn said, "That's a hypothetical that we never got to."
Ventura announced Sunday after the final game against Minnesota that he would not return, insisting the decision was his and he wasn't pushed out despite five seasons without a playoff appearance.
The White Sox went 375-435 but finished with losing records the past four years after an 85-77 debut in 2012. They finished fourth in the AL Central at 78-84 despite a 23-10 start that gave them a six-game lead in the AL Central on May 9. They went 55-74 the rest of the way thanks to injuries, a slumping offense and struggling bullpen.
There were also some strange incidents this year, starting with Adam LaRoche's abrupt retirement in spring training after executive vice president Ken Williams banned his son from the clubhouse.
Ace Chris Sale ripped Williams at the time, and Sale was suspended for five days in July for cutting up collared throwback jerseys he didn't want to wear for a start. He later criticized Ventura for not sticking up for him in his dispute with the marketing staff.
Renteria led the Cubs to a 73-89 record in his lone year and drew praise for his work with their young players.
But his tenure ended with an awkward dismissal, with management reversing course once Maddon became available and letting him go after announcing he would return for a second season. Renteria and Hall-of-Famer Johnny Evers are the only managers in history to manage games for both the White Sox and the Cubs (Evers managed the White Sox in 1924 and the Cubs in 1913 and 1921).
When the White Sox hired Renteria last November, he was seen as a potential candidate to take over as manager. The change on the bench is the first move in what figures to be a busy offseason. The question is how far the White Sox go in rebuilding.
"The goal is to put us in position to win multiple championships as quickly as possible," Hahn said. "The exact path we're going to follow over the next few months is not one that we're going to reveal today."
Hahn acknowledged the potential for a strong seller's trade market with a thin free agent pool.
Sale and fellow All-Star Jose Quintana would figure to bring back a high return if they are dealt, particularly since their contracts don't expire anytime soon. Slugger Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Adam Eaton might be attractive to other teams.
A full overhaul would be a departure for an organization that has tried to contend in recent seasons by bringing in high profile players such as Adam Dunn, Jeff Samardzija, Robertson, Cabrera, Eaton, Frazier and LaRoche, only to come up short. The team's struggles have coincided with a resurgence brought on by a major overhaul on the North Side, where the Cubs drew over three million fans — compared to 1.75 million on the South Side.
"When I look at not just the players in uniform but the entire organization, we could do better," Hahn said. "And that's why we underachieved."
Based on reporting by the Associate Press.