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Let's face it: "Agree" had nothing to do with it.
Like his boys, Rickey Renteria does not quit. He was fired. By Rick Hahn. Don't let the screen door hit you in your analytics-adverse ass on the way out.
While Hahn was content - even pleased - having Renteria guide a losing, rebuilding ballclub, the situation has changed markedly, thanks in part to Renteria. This is a contending team now, but Hahn had soured on what Renteria was selling.
When the announcement was made late Monday morning, reactions like "shocking" and "stunning" quickly appeared on social media. Not because many folks thought Renteria deserved to keep his job, but because Jerry Reinsdorf rarely lets merit get in the way of loyalty.
This move, like the firing of John Paxson over at Jerry's Bulls, marked a shift. Suddenly, the best interest of the team is in. And to Hahn, the best interest was obvious - and a longer time coming than some of us supposed.
"Over time, through very candid and, quite frankly, personal conversations about where this organization is, what our time horizon is, what we need to do to win in October and get to that final, ultimate goal, it became evident that it was time to make a change," Hahn said Monday. "This is a conversation that's been going on for a while."
We'll never know for sure, but we can assume that the general manager and field manager conferred daily about team development and strategy. Perhaps that's where the ongoing conversation occurred.
When the stakes were less intense, say, when the dialogue was focused on whether to play Omar Narvaez or Kevan Smith behind the plate, disagreements weren't such a big deal. However, once those guys morphed into Yasmani Grandal and James McCann, the plot thickened by feet rather than inches.
Even though the team was 34-18 back on Sept. 19, Hahn was well aware that Detroit, Kansas City and Pittsburgh had bowed to his club 21 times in 24 games, meaning that the Sox were 13-15 against everyone else. If the GM was having reservations about Renteria's handling of the bullpen or his lineup card, it was likely compounded by team's struggles against the kind of company they were now trying to keep.
That means stepping up to "the next level," a phrase sports executives and pundits love to bandie about. If that means competing against the elite teams, you have no better example than the Chicago White Sox of 2020. Four straight losses in Cleveland in which Renteria's bullpen strategy came under fire, and the final elimination game in Oakland in the playoffs may not have been the entire reason for Hahn's decision, but they very well may have provided confirmation that Renteria had to go.
Reinsdorf is no stranger to this "next level" narrative. His Bulls practically invented it when they axed Doug Collins after three seasons in which the team consistently improved, posting a 127-67 record Collins' final two seasons. Phil Jackson famously came next and we all know how that turned out.
Meanwhile, pitching coach Don Cooper, who rose to his position 18 years ago, also was let go, which was no surprise. Forget about loyalty. Hahn pointed out that from a tenure standpoint, Cooper led the Sox pitchers for almost 10 more years than any other pitching coach in the major leagues. The team is steeped in young arms, which just might benefit from new approaches and a different voice, despite appreciations like this one voiced by Lucas Giolito's father:
My deepest appreciation to Don Cooper & the incredible support he showed my son. I'll never forget it. A terrific guy & coach. I only wish him the best. RT @whitesox "The front office and White Sox fans owe a debt of gratitude to Don for everything he did over the years."— Rick Giolito (@RickGiolito) October 12, 2020
Nevertheless, when Giolito turned around his career after a horrible 2018 season, much of the credit went to his high school pitching coach Ethan Katz, with whom Giolito worked with over that winter. Cooper's name never was mentioned. (We also should note that Katz currently is the assistant pitching coach with the Giants.)
Arguably the greatest pitching coach ever was Johnny Sain, who mentored Sox pitchers in 1971-75. Sain wanted total control over his hurlers, hence he worked for six different teams in 18 years. In the 1960s, five of the teams he worked for won pennants. He didn't last anywhere close to the time Cooper spent with the Sox.
Cooper's greatest moment was the 2005 World Series, when all four Sox starters went seven innings in the sweep of the Astros. That was a while ago. Time for a change.
So now the search for successors commences. Hahn said he wants a skipper with October experience from a winning organization. Ahh, Rick, you don't have to look too far. A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora, who have watched from the sidelines this season after being suspended in the Astros' cheating scandal, both fit the description. Hahn's wish list sounded a lot like the resumés of the former managers of the Astros and Red Sox, respectively.
It does not fit the (recent) resumé of one Ozzie Guillen, whom, Hahn disclosed, Reinsdorf called to say he would not get an interview. The organization clearly wanted to head off another round of White Sox Twitter lobbying for their old favorite - nor did they want to endure Guillen campaigning for the job even harder than he had already been doing before it was even available. Having Guillen's personality back in the clubhouse no doubt would have been entertaining, but the game has moved on, and it's time for the team to do so as well.
That also goes for Bob Nightengale's "Believe It Or Not" report that Tony LaRussa might be a candidate. LaRussa remains close to The Chairman, but the prospect of the 76-year-old scourge back in a dugout in 2021 is laughable on its face.
Hahn's search won't last long. The World Series will end no later than October 28, freeing up any candidates currently preoccupied, if Hahn deems to lengthen his short list beyond the obvious aforementioned two. The job is attractive, as is any major league managing job, but particularly so with a young, talented group seemingly on the cusp of stardom. The new man won't have to suffer through the tribulations that Renteria assumed. We can thank Rickey for enduring all those stumbles, misplays and losses. The next guy can step into a shiny, modern vehicle, ready to roll.
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Posted on May 13, 2021