Assistant Baines to fill role in finale as GM Hahn considers long-term options
CHICAGO -- During one of the countless interviews he has done over the past two or three years, White Sox captain Paul Konerko called the job of Major League Baseball hitting coach the worst in all of professional sports.
"Yeah, it still is," Konerko said after the White Sox 6-5 victory against the Royals on Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
The team relieved Jeff Manto of his duties in this role one day before the finale of his second year on the job. General manager Rick Hahn said Manto was informed of the decision before Saturday's game, and was given the choice of finishing the year and having the announcement made Monday.
Manto thought it was best for him to leave at the start of the contest with Kansas City. Assistant hitting coach Harold Baines will handle Manto's responsibilities for Sunday's season finale.
"Obviously, this has been a very disappointing season, and one of the main areas of disappointment has been our offensive performance," Hahn said in a postgame press conference. "We are at the bottom of several important offensive categories, including, most importantly, runs scored, as well as walks and on-base percentage.
"It's our belief that the best way to begin to address, or continue to address some of those issues is to get a new voice in here to work with our hitters, which is the reason behind the decision."
Year 2 on the job was nowhere near as productive for Manto as his first season, when the White Sox ranked third in the American League in home runs, fourth in runs scored, and fifth in OPS and slugging percentage. They also sat atop the AL Central for 117 days, with that offensive support standing as a major reason.
In this painful 2013 campaign, the White Sox entered Saturday last in runs scored and walks, and last or second to last in homers, OBP, slugging and OPS. The intense work ethic didn't change for Manto, who was walking around the clubhouse early Saturday setting up times in the cage for his hitters. But it's a results-based business.
"There was no difference in the way we worked or the way the team worked," Konerko said of Manto, who received praise from Hahn for his contributions as part of the general manager's opening statement. "There was as much early hitting as there was last year, the information before the games.
"All that stuff, that's the only stuff they have control over. It was all the same. It's just a matter of guys executing on the field. You're kind of at the mercy of that. It happens very frequently all across sports."
Prior to joining the White Sox staff, Manto served as Minor League hitting coordinator for the franchise from 2008-11.
"You're not going to find a better hitting coach," White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn said. "He does everything you want a hitting coach to do, but again, it's one of those things where you can't fire all of us. Obviously changes needed to be made, and he's the guy."
"He was always there, always willing to work and work with you to get better," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham. "I don't think he was over-bearing or nitpicking, which was good. He did a lot of good things. We had a great year last year, just didn't have a good year this year."
Hahn expects the rest of the White Sox coaching staff to stay intact in 2014. The team already has assembled some names as possible replacements, and once the season ends, they will start looking at candidates inside and outside the organization.
There was no specific names mentioned Saturday night. Hahn reinforced a desire to stay away from naming individuals in consideration when he was asked if future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome, who joined the White Sox as a special assistant to Hahn in July, would be a possibility. Hahn would like the candidate to have some sort of previous experience.
"I want to keep an open mind," Hahn said. "We're going to talk to a lot of people. There are going to be a lot of people involved in this search. At the same time, as I stated earlier, I think experience coaching is going to be a big plus."
"When it comes to hitting, [Jim] can do anything he wants," Konerko said of Thome. "He wasn't one of those guys that you could say, 'He did it and didn't know how.' He had a feel for what was going on up there and could talk hitting with guys. The question with Jim is where he's at and is he ready to want to do something like that, because obviously it's a huge commitment."
Manto's departure represents the first from Robin Ventura's staff in his two years as manager. He was clearly affected by the move, choking up a bit postgame when talking about Manto.
"Right now, I'm still trying to get through this, because these guys, what we go through on a daily basis, it's tough," Ventura said. "These guys are my friends, and I respect what he did.
"These are guys I came in with. I know the work that went into it and how sometimes it doesn't translate into what people see. I know what he was trying to do, and I respect that and I thank him for it, because it's tough. That's what happens with a season like this."