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WSI News - News Watch

Bauman: White Sox to benefit from Manuel's calm

Mike Bauman,

TUCSON, Ariz. -- There are a lot of people who can manage baseball teams in the good times. But the number of people who can see a team through difficult times and eventually get things back on track is much closer to a precious few.

Solidly in that second category is Jerry Manuel, manager of the Chicago White Sox. True, he was AL Manager of the Year in 2000 when the White Sox won the AL Central. But last season, he and his players were put to a more unpleasant test. They didn't win any pennants, but they passed the test.

Frank Thomas went down for the season in April with a torn triceps. Injuries decimated the pitching staff. The Sox started 14-29. It was over early for them, and they could have waved the flag of surrender. But they played 19 games over .500 from May 23 to the end of the season. They became the only Major League club since 1991 to finish over .500 after being 15 games below .500.

That seems like a consolation prize. But it could also be the kind of experience that acts as a springboard to something much bigger. There is no one-size-fits-all method for coping with baseball adversity, but Manuel's approach certainly worked last season. This was not a time for oratorical tricks or goofy motivational gambits. This was a time for somebody who displayed a good, solid, genuine inner calm and a real confidence that his people could play through the troubles.

"You have to accentuate the positive things that happen," Manuel said Tuesday in an interview with "Even in difficult times there are positive things that go on. And you have to believe and have the faith that things will turn around because you have confidence in the abilities of the people that you are working with.

"You've got to let patience have her way. She's got to be entire. You've got to let her run her course, so that you build that faith and that inner strength. And then once it turns, you know that if you go through it again, then it's just a matter of time before you come out of it. That's the key. You've got to believe that you're going to come out of it.

"You know at some point [in] Spring Training or a season that your club is going to play very well and at times they're going to go through struggles. You try to keep those struggles as short as possible and obviously keep the good times going as long as possible, but in the time you're going through those struggles, you're hoping that character is being built, that people understand perseverance, how to keep pushing until something really gives for you.

"That's just a part of the process. As a manager or a leader you have to almost differentiate yourself from that to let them see that you're not overly concerned or panicked. If they see that you're panicked they would begin to lose that faith that you had instilled in them because you are panicking. So that's the position that I take."

Now, having survived last year's experience, the White Sox, based on the lineup they put on the field every day, are clearly contenders. With the return, for instance, of Thomas, with the consistent contributions of Magglio Ordonez, with the addition of a seemingly rejuvenated Kenny Lofton, this group could be imposing.

But the time for patience and inner calm may not have come to an end. At the top of the rotation, the White Sox have Mark Buehrle, just 23 but 16-8 in his rookie season. Todd Ritchie is an established big-league starter. But after that, unless Jim Parque comes back rapidly from shoulder surgery, the other three starters are Jon Garland, 22; Jon Rauch, 23; and Dan Wright, 24.

So on the one hand, the Sox are a veteran club, a club with an offense of unquestioned ability, and a club that has persevered through tough times. On the other hand, they are a club with young pitchers. Where do they fit into this picture?

"We're probably not going to be able to identify that until they are tested, until the bell rings," Manuel said. "As much as you prepare, or try to prepare a young pitcher for the Major Leagues, you can never simulate that. He has to go through that by himself, with you letting him walk vs. you taking him by the hand, you've got to let him walk a little bit, fall down, stumble, watch him get back up, continue to encourage him, say: 'Keep coming, I'll hold you up, but you've got to keep coming.'"

Spring Training has not been particularly kind to the Sox pitching staff. After Tuesday's 10-9 loss to Colorado, the Sox were 8-19. They were leading the American League in exhibition batting average, but they were last in earned run average.

As you might expect, this has not dislodged Manuel's faith in the eventual success of his young pitchers or his club.

"As the leader of this particular club, I have to keep 25 men believing that we've done everything we can to prepare," he said. "I feel very good about what we've done as a coaching staff. We've used [instructional] videos, normally not used in Major League Baseball in Spring Training, We try to teach different ways, orally and visually and a lot of hands-on stuff. The unfortunate part of that is that it hasn't manifested itself in wins here, but that's not what we're shooting for.

"Yes, we do have some young pitchers. And yes, they are untested. In order to be tested, you've got to go through some different battles. But we've got a little more experience than we've ever had here with the position players and saying that means that hopefully we've won't give away as many outs as we have in the past. And that could mean a ballgame here or there. There's a lot of reasons to be optimistic."

Given the youth of the pitchers, given last season, given the fact that the manager will not come unglued when losses occur, a reasonable expectation is that the White Sox could be a better team in late summer than they are in early spring.

"I have to feel very confident that if we don't win right away, when we do catch fire, I think we'll catch fire for a long period of time," Manuel said. "We'll be building toward being a team where you know what you're going to get, day in and day out. That's what's important. If you know what you're going to get you can know how to manage. Until you know that, you can manage, but you're not really managing from what you've got, you know what I'm saying?"

Yes, probably. What we know for sure is that the Sox will score a lot of runs, and in the AL Central, they will be contenders. And if there are bad patches during the season, the leadership coming from the manager's office will point toward better days instead of panic.

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