While the White Sox revise the road map they hope one day will lead them to the World Series, they at least will be led by someone who knows the way.
Ending one of major-league baseball's longest manhunts, the Sox on Thursday signed Florida Marlins bench coach Jerry Manuel to replace Terry Bevington as manager. He brings a low profile along with a reputation for taking the high road.
"He's a good communicator," said Marlins General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who has known Manuel for 14 years. "He's a good family man. He's smart, has good instincts. Those are the things that will make him successful."
Manuel arrives at a time when Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's baseball team is downsizing its payroll and its immediate expectations. But he believes he's about to fulfill his longtime dreams, not sell them short.
"I really believe this is my time to step up to the next level," Manuel said after he was introduced at a news conference at Comiskey Park. "I know there are going to be some tough times, some growing pains for me as a manager. I know everything is not going to go smooth. But I just felt like it was Jerry Manuel's time."
Manuel, who received a multiyear contract at undisclosed terms, will be largely an unknown commodity when he addresses his first team meeting. His World Series ring will precede him.
"Not many of us know him personally, but his resume speaks for itself," White Sox outfielder Albert Belle said. "He's a well-qualified person for the job. It's great to have somebody who brings over a winning tradition."
Manuel, 43, hit .150 during parts of five seasons as a major-league infielder. He has had a variety of jobs in baseball since his playing career ended in 1984, and spent the last seven seasons as a coach for Felipe Alou with the Montreal Expos and Jim Leyland with the Marlins.
Manuel becomes the second member of Leyland's staff to accept a managing position since the Marlins won the Series. He was interviewed for the managing job with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who hired Florida pitching coach Larry Rothschild instead.
"This team has some young talent," Manuel said of the Sox. "That's what makes it attractive to me. I was satisfied with the way that interview went (with Tampa Bay), but my heart was here in Chicago. This was where I wanted to be."
Manuel's strength is expected to be the weakness that may have contributed most greatly to Bevington's dismissal after an 80-81 season--the ability to communicate with people on both sides of the clubhouse door.
While Bevington struggled to build a rapport with players throughout his 2 1/2 seasons with the White Sox, Manuel established good working relationships with young players such as Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields and Larry Walker in Montreal and with high-maintenance veterans such as Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla in Florida.
"He has the ability to communicate with players," said Dombrowski, who was an assistant in the White Sox front office when he hired Manuel to scout Northern California in 1985. "Not everybody has that ability. He's direct, he's honest. I think people respect that about him."
Manuel certainly connected with White Sox General Manager Ron Schueler and Reinsdorf. It was his interview with Schueler at the Marriott Courtyard in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 20 that began to bring closure to Schueler's secretive search.
Schueler says there were 60 candidates on his initial list. He interviewed 15 personally, he said, with Manuel among the final three to be brought into the process. He earned Schueler's recommendation over a group of finalists that included Detroit bench coach Larry Parrish and Texas bench coach Bucky Dent.
Manuel met for four hours with Reinsdorf on Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. According to Schueler, Reinsdorf called it the best interview he has conducted on behalf of the White Sox.
"He just lit up the place," Schueler said of the initial interview in Florida. "He talked about his philosophy, talking about Felipe and Leyland. . . . There was just something about interviewing him that was refreshing, delightful."
Manuel, a native of Hahira, Ga., grew up with six brothers and sisters outside Sacramento, Calif. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Renette. They have four children, including a daughter who is attending Oral Roberts University on a track scholarship.
Manuel will be the second African-American to manage the White Sox (Larry Doby was the first). He is the first African-American hired to a managerial position in the major leagues since San Francisco's Dusty Baker and Colorado's Don Baylor were hired before the 1994 season.
Following in the footsteps of Gene Lamont and Bevington, Manuel is the third consecutive Sox manager with no experience as a major-league manager. He compiled a 112-82 record in 1 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues, winning manager of the year honors in the Southern League in 1990.
Manuel thanked Alou and Leyland in the opening remarks of his news conference. No managers in recent history have endured more trades based on economics than Alou in Montreal and Leyland in Pittsburgh and Florida.
Manuel arrives in Chicago at a time when the White Sox are reducing their payroll from $54.3 million on Opening Day last year to a target of $35 million for the 1998 opener. But he apparently received assurances from Reinsdorf that the Sox will reassert their fiscal aggressiveness after dedicating the upcoming season to the evaluation of youngsters such as Scott Eyre, Magglio Ordonez, Jeff Abbott, Mario Valdez and Mike Caruso.
"I pursued that question with Jerry Reinsdorf," Manuel said. "He assured me they weren't going in the direction of dismantling completely. . . . Management has to make some tough decisions sometimes."
Manuel's first order of business is assembling a coaching staff. He is expected to retain the nucleus of Bevington's staff, including pitching coach Mike Pazik, hitting coach Ron Jackson and dugout coach Joe Nossek. Pazik and Jackson attended the news conference.
Manuel also planned to make introductory phone calls to key players such as Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura and Belle. He said he doesn't know any players on the 40-man roster personally, largely because he has spent the last seven seasons in the National League.
"What you have to do with big-money players or young players is develop a relationship," Manuel said. "I'm going to start out trying to develop a relationship with players. If you institute rules without having a relationship, that equals rebellion. I don't want to do that. I want to have relationships."
Manuel plans to rely on Nossek for information on other American League teams. It's new to him.
"I'm going to have to get ready for the American League," Manuel said. "The American League might have to get ready for me too."