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According to Baseball Reference, there have been 698 major league managers, beginning (alphabetically) with Manny Acta and ending with Don Zimmer.
Of course, some only managed a game or two, such as White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, who went 1-1 after Ozzie Guillen was fired with a couple of games remaining in 2011.
The dean was Connie Mack, who skippered the Philadelphia A's for 53 seasons and never got fired, which was understandable because he owned the ballclub.
Some men toil for years in the minor leagues awaiting a chance to lead a big-league team, while others, such as Guillen and the recently departed Robin Ventura, were knighted with one of the now-30 such jobs available without ever having managed previously.
Hall of Famer Earl Weaver spent 12 seasons managing in the minors before being promoted to the Orioles' head job in 1968, where he remained for 17 years, winning four pennants and one World Series.
Bobby Cox, fourth on the all-time list with 2,504 victories, managed for six seasons in the Yankees organization before assuming the reins of the Braves in 1978, the first of his 29 seasons as a big league manager.
Third on that list is Tony LaRussa (2,728), whom White Sox owner Bill Veeck hired mid-season in 1979 for what turned out to be a 33-year career in the dugout. Veeck, whose primary income derived from owning the White Sox, was losing money, and LaRussa, just 34 at the time, came cheap. Then again, Veeck, usually a shrewd judge of talent, no doubt recognized that LaRussa had the skill and intelligence to succeed.
Cleveland's Terry Francona, who came within a rain delay of winning a World Series last November, earned his chops in the White Sox organization, managing four seasons at South Bend (one) and Birmingham (three), where he did his damndest to turn Michael Jordan into a baseball player. After leading the Phillies for four seasons (1997-2000) and never finishing above .500, Francona took over the Red Sox in 2004 and won two World Series' in eight seasons.
All of which indicates that there are a few different paths to becoming a winning major league manager, a journey now facing new White Sox skipper Rick Renteria.
Renteria is cut from the Cox-Weaver-Francona mold, as opposed to a younger, inexperienced candidate. Similar to numerous major league managers, his playing career was nondescript, covering parts of five seasons in which he hit .237 as a utility player. He was traded or released six times.
At 55, Renteria has become a respected baseball lifer. He managed eight seasons in the minors in the Marlins and Padres systems, and in 2011 was bench coach in San Diego, the same job he had last season with the White Sox.
Perhaps his most impressive recommendation is that Theo Epstein hired Renteria to manage the Cubs in 2014. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer had worked with Renteria when both were in San Diego, where Hoyer was the GM. Apparently Hoyer liked what he saw. Succeeding the sacrificial lamb, Dale Sveum, it seemed that Renteria was hired to steer the Cubs to the next level.
Nearing the end of their rebuilding mode in 2014, Renteria guided the Cubs to a 73-89 mark. Anthony Rizzo was the only regular on that club who remains a fixture on the North Side. Renteria's lineup included players like Chris Coghlan, Nate Schierholtz, and Darwin Barney as the organization awaited the development of prospects, free agent signings, and trades which eventually led the former Lovable Losers to the Promised Land.
Let's assume for a moment that Joe Maddon had not become available because of a glitch in his contract in Tampa. Epstein and Hoyer must have had more than a degree of confidence that Renteria could lead the Cubs to baseball's elite. We can only guess whether he would have done so. What we do know is that Renteria wouldn't have been hired by the Cubs' wonder boys if they didn't feel he was the man for the job.
As far as wins and losses are concerned, Renteria's minor league record - 539-583, a .480 percentage - doesn't merit a second look. But keep in mind that these were the Marlin and Padre organizations, not exactly famous for a plethora of post-season appearances.
Renteria managed mostly at low levels, such as Brevard County in the Florida State League and Lake Elsinore in the California State League.
Only in 2007 - his final year of minor league managing - did Renteria handle a Triple-A team, Pacific Coast League's Portland (OR) Beavers, who finished 28 games under .500.
However, winning championships is not necessarily the goal of minor league baseball. Developing players is, and in that regard, Renteria turned in a commendable job.
For instance, on each of his 2004 and 2005 Lake Elsinore teams, 10 prospects eventually appeared in major league games.
He managed future major leaguers Chase Headley and Nick Hundley in 2006, and at Portland, Maine in 2001, an astounding 23 of his players reached the show, including pitchers Josh Beckett - winner of 138 big league games - and Jason Grilli, each of whom became legitimate big league pitchers.
Also in Renteria's minor league resume is a connection to the 2005 world champion White Sox. Pablo Ozuna, the team's par excellence utility man, played on Renteria's Portland, Maine 2000 team, and Geoff Blum made a two-game rehab appearance at Lake Elsinore in 2005. A few weeks later at the trade deadline Blum was sent to the Sox, where his heroic 14th-inning home run gave the Sox the lead in Game 3 of the World Series.
One White Sox prospect, pitcher Carson Fulmer, provided insight into Renteria's leadership last Saturday. Fulmer wasn't impressed with some of the calls by the home plate umpire, and he let him know about it. Out came Renteria to support the kid, and the skip wound up spending the remainder of the game in the clubhouse.
"I definitely have a manager who respects us all and has our backs, and it just tells you a lot about who we have pushing us in the direction we want to be going," said Fulmer, who will probably start the season in Charlotte. "Our manager is here for us. He's a great guy that, like I said, respects all of us and you know we play for him as well. [T]here's a sense of security there having a manager that will do that for you. We all respect him for what he does on a daily basis."
Not to belabor the point, but that's a bit of a different message than the one coming from the clubhouse last spring upon the abrupt departure of Adam LaRoche. It's also about as far as you can get from the Chris Sale scissors episode last season.
Couple Fulmer's comments with the fact that Renteria can literally speak the Latin players' language, along with the new manager's experience mentoring young players and his apparent respect that he's earned from the lowest levels of minor league baseball to his seat in a major league dugout.
The Sox may not compete with the big boys this summer, but they seem to have the right man to lead them for now and into the future.
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Posted on May 22, 2017