OK, let’s see what you’ve got.
That’s the subtext to almost everything that’s being said or written about David Ross and Rick Renteria these days.
With Ross, it sounds like a challenge: Show us how it’s possible for a man with no managing or coaching experience to go from very popular big-league catcher to “Dancing with the Stars” competitor to Joe Maddon’s replacement as Cubs skipper in a matter of four years.
With Renteria, it looks like a wall of doubt: Now that the White Sox’ rebuild has given you proven veterans to go with talented young players, show us how you’re not going to blow this.
But that’s what happens when one team (the Sox) puts its fan base through three years of bad baseball to amass high draft picks. It’s what happens when another team (the Cubs) gets rid of a World Series-winning manager while cutting back on payroll.
So, yeah, let’s see what you’ve got, fellas.
If this perpetual show-me state irritates Renteria, it probably should. The Cubs tossed him aside after just one season as manager to make room for the suddenly available Maddon in 2014. He has guided the Sox through two seasons of their self-imposed growing pains and surely has heard the talk that he’s not the guy to take the team to the next level now that the talent level has improved.
Much of the doubt has come from the analytics crowd, which isn’t sure if Renteria can add two and two without coming up with five. His irritation was apparent before a game in Minnesota last August. A reporter asked Renteria about his lineups, a source of frustration for the sabermetrics people who believe he doesn’t pay attention to data when making his selections.
“A lot of it has to be trust,” he said. “Most people want to go through and just [have me make] statistically based decisions. OK, I’m not that guy. I trust myself and the things I do. I think there’s a balance.
“I don’t discount numbers. Never have, never will. But I’m a balance guy. I’m not going to appeal to the sabermetrician on a daily basis. Never will, never want to. Not my intent. If they don’t like it, I don’t really give a s—.’’
Baseball fans scrutinize a manager’s every move in this shortened season. Sox fans will be watching Renteria so hard, they might burn a hole through his lineup cards. It’s a strange phenomenon in a season of burgeoning hope: With so much excitement over a roster bursting with young potential, some fans are withholding their enthusiasm for the manager until they see something resembling proof.
It wouldn’t be the Sox if there weren’t some hard edges.
Chicago White Sox Manager Rick Renteria works his players during the first baseball practice of the restarted 2020 MLB season at Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday, July 3, 2020, in Chicago.AP
Cubs fans loved Ross as a player. In many ways, it defied explanation. He hit .203 in two seasons with the team, but when he took a worshipping Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant under his wing, fandom celebrated “Grandpa Rossy’’ as if he were headed to Cooperstown.
The question now is whether the leadership and enthusiasm he showed as a backup catcher can reverse the team’s descent from the 2016 World Series title to no playoff appearance last season for the first time since 2014. The Cubs’ brass thought the 2019 team became complacent under Maddon. Complacency very well could have explained the team’s difficulties in the field and on the base paths.
Ross’ immediate challenge is to show the players, especially his former teammates, that he means business. That might sound basic, but when you were an Instagram star as a player because of cute posts by Bryzzo and when you’re still pulling sequins out of your clothes from the “DWTS’’ turn three years ago, you probably have some boundaries to set.
The Cubs made things perfectly clear when they parted ways with Maddon after last season: no more Club Mad. No one is too cool to put in the hard work. Fun is good. Fun is necessary. But when it leads to an above-it-all attitude, it can hurt a team.
Cubs fans and some Cubs players associate Ross with fun. How does a new manager massage that? By getting rid of the metaphorical water slide inside the clubhouse. I say “metaphorical’’ only because Maddon failed to think of a water slide in the clubhouse.
Ross needs to separate himself from that perception. I’d suggest a ritual “DWTS” leotard burning, but that’s just me.
“I know there’s a big, fun-loving Grandpa Rossy theme out there, but if you ask any of my friends or ex-players what kind of teammate I was, I didn’t shy away from the tough conversations,’’ Ross said at his introductory news conference in October. “I know there’s a strong relationship with me and Jon Lester. If I would have been mic’d up for some of those conversations on the mound, they were rarely friendly conversations.’’
Ownership hasn’t done the new manager a whole lot of favors. The Cubs made few moves to improve the roster in the offseason. They didn’t want to go over the luxury tax two seasons in a row. That means Ross will be tasked with getting as much as he can out of a still-talented core that is one year older. It’s an interesting approach in an age in which the importance of managers has been reduced because of front-office influence on lineups and strategy. But with the 60-game season, who know what will happen.
But that hasn’t taken away the focus on either Ross or Renteria heading into the 2020 season. There’s going to be a giant lens aimed at each man.
Let’s see what you’ve got, boys.