In many respects, Rick Renteria wears multiple hats as manager of the Chicago White Sox. The AL Central team he’s leading is in full-rebuild mode, its roster populated with a plethora of inexperienced players. That makes him a good fit for the position. As Cubs skipper Joe Maddon opined at the outset of spring training, “There are managers, and there are managers who are also good coaches. Not everybody can do both. [Renteria] can coach it, and he can manage it.”
The 56-year-old former big-league infielder has 20 years of both under his belt, the majority — but not all — in the minor leagues. He was at the helm for Chicago’s NL entry in 2014 — Maddon replaced him the following year — before moving across town in 2016 to serve as Robin Ventura’s bench coach. Last season, he took over as manager, where his job is less about winning now than it is to mold young players into winners. That requires patience and an ability to instruct, and along with good leadership skills, Renteria possesses each of those attributes.
Rick Renteria: “Coming up through the system… every organization is different in terms of their philosophy, yet they’re all the same. We all want a player to understand, fundamentally, how to go about playing the game — how to run the bases, how to have an approach at the plate, how to defend, when to throw to what base. Things of that nature.
“Until you get here, though… you can be very well taught, but there’s a different dynamic in the big leagues, and it involves emotion and your mindset. No matter how well prepared, you’re going to make a mistake or two. Of course, that could be said for guys who have been in the big leagues for years.
“When you get here from the minor leagues, you continue to understand, and get a feel for, who you are as a player — what you’re supposed to be and what you can and cannot do. That comes through experience. And again, a lot of it has to do with emotions and your mindset. The emotions can speed the game up for you and take you out of your normal element.
“As a player, you have to establish that you actually belong. We all believe that we should be here, but there’s a deeper trust factor in truly knowing that you belong in the big leagues and then running with it.
“There is also so much information at the major-league level right now. You know what other clubs want to do. You know how they want to defend. You know what tacks they take. For instance, their catchers like back-picking or their outfielders like throwing behind a runner if they see somebody taking a hard, wide turn. If they have a good arm, they might have a chance to back-door you. You have to know who can do that, and you also have to know who you can take advantage of. There’s another level of understanding of what you can do against players at the major-league level.
“When you’re getting players here younger and younger, they just don’t have as many experiences behind them. There might be a particular situation they’ve never dealt with before and it throws them into a little bit of a quandary. Well, once they’ve experienced it, you talk it through, they understand it, and there’s a good chance that the next time it arises they’ll be better prepared to deal with it.
“We have conversations every day. Before the games, after the games. If there are things we have to touch upon, we go to the video we have available to us. Sometimes we have to go back to it to make sure we’re clear on what we saw with the naked eye. We can watch a video and get a feel for what they were thinking when they were doing what they were doing, where there might have been a failed action. I’ll give you an example.
“We had a play, a ground-ball chopper to Yoan Moncada, the other day in which he started charging the ball. It was against Milwaukee. Christian Yelich was running from first to second. The ball was bringing him forward and he probably could have either tagged Yelich or run him back and thrown to first to get the out, and then have Yelich in a rundown for a double play. He ended up reverse spinning and throwing to second. We got the out at second, but weren’t able to turn a double play.
“In his mind’s eye he didn’t think he had a chance to tag and/or get him in a rundown. When you go back and look at the video, you validate what happened.Joey (McEwing) brought him in, looked at it, talked to him about it. It’s just one play, but it’s a play that’s important because it can get you out of an inning. Joey showed him the video. He got a view that showed him he could have continued to move forward and initiate a particular play.
“We go back with video all the time. What were they doing when they fail to execute a particular action? What caused it? We look at it beyond what we saw in the moment, because we might get more clarity if we slow it down. We bring the player in and ask him what he was thinking, because there’s always a thought process to it.
“There are also our [veteran players]. I think a lot of [veteran leadership] is allowing guys to get more and more comfortable in their own skin, and having someone — one senior player, I’d say — holding them accountable. That’s whether it’s done loudly or quietly. Is that important? Absolutely.
“Pito Abreu is a huge influence on a lot of these guys. From the pitching standpoint, we have James Shields, who is a big influence on a lot of these guys. Would you like to have more [veteran leaders]? Well, that’s not where we’re at right now. But we do have two or three, and as managers and coaches, we also have to be a part of that influence. Until it all comes together, we also have to be the ones who hold a particular bar for them and have them meet that expectation.
“Which players have I influenced the most? Let me reverse that question and say they’ve influenced me more than I’ve influenced them. I tell players that I wish for them to make it. This is my motto: I wish for them to make it, not because of me, but to make it in spite of me. That’s my motto.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.