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Extending Robin Ventura's Pulse

When I heard that Robin Ventura had signed an extension as White Sox manager, my question didn't focus so much on the wisdom of three more years - apparently he now is under contract through the 2016 season - with a guy who just guided the team to 99 losses last season.

No, my original curiosity remains about why Ventura took the job in the first place.

Ventura, who will turn 47 in July, made $67 million during his 16-year career, according to Baseball Reference. It's a safe assumption that he didn't accept the Sox's offer because he needed the money.

Furthermore, Ventura and his family make their home in Arroyo Grande, a California town I've visited since good friends left Chicago a few years ago and settled into the oceanside village along the Central Coast.

Robin's parents live in the area, and a brother is a teaching golf pro nearby. I wouldn't go so far as to describe Arroyo Grande as "sleepy," but let's just say that you wouldn't miss much if an afternoon nap was included in your plans.

"Life here is very easy," says my friend Barbara, who actually grew up in Arroyo Grande prior to emigrating to Chicago. "It's rural. People are very friendly. We're close to the ocean. We have a temperate climate. You don't battle traffic or congestion. We have a farmer's market seven days a week and great wineries in the area. There's no pressure. It's just like Pleasantville."

Honest. That's the way she describes the place. So when the team announced two years ago that Ventura would succeed Ozzie Guillen, I wondered why in the world would he do that.

Maybe once baseball is in your blood, it's next to impossible for a guy like Ventura to turn down an offer to return to the South Side after being out of the game for eight years. They came after him. He didn't seek the position.

"There was a lot of (apprehension) when I first went home to talk to my wife about it," Ventura said at the time.

Ventura grew up near Arroyo Grande, but he left the state to play college ball at Oklahoma State, where his feats were epic. His 58-game hitting streak in 1987 remains an NCAA record. He led the Cowboys to the College World Series finals that yea,r where they lost to Stanford and future teammate Black Jack McDowell. As a freshman he led the nation in runs, RBI and total bases.

Ventura signed with the Sox in the fall of 1988 following his junior year at OSU and became the Sox' regular third baseman in 1990.

Then there was The Slump. Between April 21 and May 10 that season, Ventura was hitless in 39 consecutive at-bats. His average plummeted to .117. Yet manager Jeff Torborg stuck with the kid. The Sox went 94-68 finishing second to Oakland's 103 wins, and Ventura rebounded to hit .249. The next season he drove in 100 runs and hit .284, thus solidifying his status as one of the finest third basemen the team has ever had.

Nevertheless, all was not mellow during Ventura's 10 years as a Sox regular. He spoke out about the White Flag Trade in 1997 when the Sox trailed Cleveland by just 3 1/2 games and then-general manager Ron Schueler dealt three of the team's top pitchers to San Francisco for six prospects. The team finished 80-81, six games behind the Indians.

So Ventura was no stranger to tough times during his playing days on the South Side. Maybe that helped him weather the storm of 99 losses last season.

Much is made is Robin's personality, which is even-keeled to say the least. At SoxFest last weekend, a fan asked whether he, indeed, has a pulse. His so-called post-game press conferences are all the same. You can't tell from his demeanor whether the team won or lost.

While many of us reached for the Maalox last summer, Ventura sat calmly in the dugout as Alexei Ramirez booted yet another grounder, Alejandro De Aza got doubled off second, and Gordon Beckham made a mad dash on an infield popup to botch a game-ending out.

Yet Paul Konerko described Ventura as "stern" and "a good fit" for the Sox when the contract extension was announced. We did notice when he benched Alex Rios last season in the middle of a game when Rios failed to run out an infield grounder, resulting in a double play. But we don't know how he handled his players who made more mental blunders in a season than a guy like Ventura made in his career.

These guys simply didn't know how to play, and apparently Ventura was ineffectual in teaching them.

Still, Sox fans remember Ventura's initial season at the helm when they challenged the Tigers for the Central Division right down to the final two weeks. So Robin is basically .500 as a manager: one solid season versus one miserable campaign.

Let's suppose that Ventura's relatively young age along with his passion for the game dictate that playing golf and walking the ocean beach would never be enough to satisfy him at this stage in his life. Combine that with general manager Rick Hahn, who's only 42 and not shy about making moves and taking risks, then add in a bunch of young new additions - Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson - and maybe you've got something.

Extending a manager's contract after the kind of season the White Sox suffered last year seems foolish. You can't blame a Sox fan for thinking, "Let's see how they do this year before locking in Ventura for another two seasons."

However, what is clear is that Hahn and his boss Kenny Williams don't flinch when it comes to taking chances. They took one when they first hired Ventura, who wasn't so much as a coach - let alone a manager - at any professional level. And the inexperienced Ventura also took a risk.

Will Rogers once said, "Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is." Let's hope the Sox find apples on the branches once September rolls around.

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Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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1. From Ron Weiner:

Let's see what he can do with the young players he has now.

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