It takes tough men to survive being executed as baseball managers by both teams in two-team major league cities. Rick Renteria’s in Hall of Fame company in that regard. Ladies and gentlemen, re-introduce yourselves to Rogers Hornsby, Leo Durocher, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, and Joe Torre.
The bad news is that Renteria doesn’t yet have the distinction that quintet enjoys. Hornsby, Durocher, Stengel, Berra, and Torre at least got to go to a World Series with one or both their same-city teams. (The Lip took a few Dodgers and a couple of Giants teams to the World Series; Yogi took the 1964 Yankees and the 1973 Mets to the World Series.)
Renteria is now the manager two Chicago teams trusted to shepherd rebuildings but not to take either the Cubs or the White Sox to the Series at all. Joe Maddon was handed the privilege of taking the Cubs to the Promised Land in 2016; the White Sox now aren’t far from reaching the Series at all.
If it happened to you, you might feel as though you were the right man to build the building only to run into a snooty, harrumphing doorman who decided you weren’t high class enough to step into the lobby, never mind get anywhere close to the penthouse. And don’t even think about trying the service entrance.
Renteria took his White Sox on a delightful romping dance to second place in the American League Central with not even a 3-8 irregular season finish spoiling. Unless it did in the eyes of the White Sox administration who might have thought only a deep postseason run would be enough to save Renteria’s grizzled hide.
The good news: the White Sox opened their wild card series with Lucas Giolito taking a perfect game to the seventh and with a home run-governed 4-1 Game One win. The bad news: The A’s outlasted the White Sox in Games Two and Three and the White Sox went home for the winter. Bloodied slightly, unbowed definitely.
Renteria took flak during his tenure for bullpen management, but it seems most likely the game that sealed his fate was Game Three. When he pulled his opener Dave Dunning with two on but two out, escaped with his life, but played musical bulls the rest of the way with the bulls unable to keep a 3-0 White Sox lead from imploding into a four-run Oakland fourth and two-run Oakland fifth, with nothing but an RBI single in the fifth in reply.
“[D]espite a still-thin pitching staff, the White Sox won 35 of 60 games in pandemic ball and reached the postseason for the first time since 2008,” wrote USA Today‘s Gabe Laques upon Renteria’s purge. “And that meant it was time for Renteria to go.”
You could say it was less Renteria’s fault than Maddon’s unexpected availability that prompted the Cubs to send him packing in 2014. You could have said it regarding the White Sox with more authority if Renteria’s bullpen management hadn’t become suspect enough even before the White Sox got bumped to one side by the A’s.
With an established core of young and somewhat-veteran position players and a nice harvest of nice young pitching coming, the White Sox bridge may now be one of the three or four top available commands.
But it doesn’t disinfect the stain laid somewhat cruelly upon Renteria: he’s like the Navy captain considered good enough to command the leading air group carrier—until it’s time to plot the battle of Midway.
Mully & Haugh radio co-host David Haugh is unamused. “White Sox reveal themselves a bottom-line, cutthroat organization by firing Rick Renteria after first playoff season since 2008,” Haugh fumed in a Monday midday tweet. “That is fine and Sox prerogative if they think that’s necessary to get to next level. Just don’t pretend culture or integrity matter—only winning does.”
There were those on the White Sox themselves who questioned the team’s clubhouse leadership. If you took veteran pitcher Dallas Keuchel at his word in mid-August, the question became whether Renteria kept his end of the leadership bargain or whether some White Sox players, no matter their success, might have backed away somewhat.
“We’ve got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win,” said Keuchel after a tough 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
We’ve got some guys kind of going through the motions. So we’ve got to clean a lot of things up, and if we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we’re going to have to start that now . . . We have to show up every day, and even if there are no fans, we have to make sure that we are ready to go. And if we’re not ready to go, we have to fake it until we make it. [The loss to the Tigers] was one of the first games that I’ve seen very subpar play from everybody.
If Renteria didn’t swing the hammer when absolutely necessary or trusted his players to police themselves, it’s on the players who pulled back on the rudder just enough to slow the course just enough.
When George Steinbrenner dumped Yogi Berra infamously, sixteen games into 1985, The Boss purred, “I didn’t fire Yogi, the players did.” Crass in light of him having promised Yogi a full season’s work, but unfortunately true as often as not.
Maybe the White Sox just weren’t quite as ready for prime time this year as they may be next. Renteria still deserved the chance to see if he could graduate them all the way up from My Mother, the Car to Saturday Night Live.
Renteria isn’t likely to stay unemployed for very long. There are still some rebuilding teams (with or without having tanked their way into it) who might find him the perfect bridge commander. Maybe one of them will ignore the precedent, hire him to lead the rebuild finish, then give him a little finishing school on bullpen management himself and let him take the ship to the battle to take the Promised Land back.
Until then, he can amuse himself by the company he now keeps. There is far worse company he can keep than Hornsby, Durocher, Stengel, Berra, and Torre. Even if Torre’s the only one of the quintet still alive to let him commiserate if he chooses.