Musick: Hahn adjusts to new role as Sox GM
CHICAGO – At first glance, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn looks like he could be selling insurance or teaching algebra or filing legal briefs.
Instead, he’s a boss in Bridgeport.
Granted, he’s an easily approachable boss who wears no-frills blue jeans, a black sweater and a Houndstooth sports coat. But he’s a boss nonetheless.
“It hasn’t been a real uncomfortable transition,” Hahn told me this weekend during the Sox annual fan convention. “The only level of unease is what I put on myself.”
In that sense, Hahn is the same as his predecessor, Ken Williams.
The list of common traits basically ends there.
Hahn grew up in the well-to-do suburb of Winnetka and attended New Trier High School. From there, he earned degrees from the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School and Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
Williams was born in Berkeley, Calif., in 1964 – one of the most radical towns in one of the most turbulent times in modern U.S. history. Always an athlete, Williams played football at Stanford before becoming a professional baseball player when the Sox drafted him in 1982.
Fast-forward about three decades. After completing his 12th season as the Sox general manager, Williams was promoted to executive vice president in October. Hahn succeeded Williams as general manager after spending a dozen seasons in the organization, most recently as assistant general manager.
Their time together has served to confirm how different both men are. They use those differences to complement each other and to challenge each others’ baseball worldview.
Williams is combustible. He is bold and passionate. He is a furnace. Hahn is unflappable. He is careful and contemplative. He is an air conditioner.
Together, the Sox hope to create the perfect climate for success.
The hot-cold analogy made sense to Hahn.
“That might be mildly oversimplifying it, but that’s part of it,” Hahn said.
“It comes down to, fundamentally, he’s a former player who came up the ranks in player development and scouting,” Hahn said. “Former football player. Loves video. Trusts his gut.
“My background, having spent a lot of time in school, is more analytical, perhaps. I have a legal background and sort of worked my way up not as a former player, but initially as an administrator.”
Ultimately, what matters most is whether the Sox win.
That’s where second-year manager Robin Ventura comes in. Ventura met often with Williams and Hahn in 2012 as the Sox went 85-77 to finish in second place in the AL Central.
Those conversations will continue this season, although Williams likely will not be present for nearly as many of them. Instead, he is expected to travel more on scouting missions during the summer in addition to his upper-level advisory role.
Ventura said he appreciated his bosses’ contrasting styles.
“I know they have different views, but they are going to use it together,” Ventura said. “They still communicate. And it’s still that way when they deal with me.
“They come in and we’ll have conversations just like we have in the past. What comes out of that might be different this year, but I’m very comfortable with the communication that goes on going into this season knowing that Rick’s the GM.”
Ventura is more comfortable with most things in Year 2 of his high-profile job.
Hahn might need some time before he can say the same.
As an assistant general manager, Hahn said, he thought he pored over every detail and analyzed personnel moves from every angle. But since being promoted, Hahn has discovered new worries that he never knew existed.
“It switched once the title changed to, frankly, being the last thing I thought about when I went to bed and the first thing I thought about when I woke up,” Hahn said. “If I woke up in the middle of the night, it was on my mind.
“So I did have a little bit of time on the margins, I guess, where I wasn’t thinking about my job [as assistant GM]. That has changed.
“In time, I’ll probably get more used to that.”
As long as the Sox win, Bridgeport’s newest boss will be just fine.
• Northwest Herald columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tcmusick.