Two years ago, Rick Hahn said the White Sox were looking for a manager from somewhere else.
The franchise had a tendency to stop looking past its own backyard for managers, and that couldn’t be argued, not with Rick Renteria, Robin Ventura and Ozzie Guillen filling the job the last three times it had been open. This, the GM said, was an opportunity to inject some new ideas, a fresh perspective.
And then Tony La Russa happened.
Two years later, Hahn finally made good on that goal. It took an unexpected turn through both the franchise’s first division-winning season in over a decade and the most disappointing season anyone employed by the team had ever experienced.
But in Pedro Grifol, the White Sox finally did what they needed to do. They got someone different.
“Sometimes it’s good to get a little bit of a reality check from an outside and more objective point of view,” Hahn said. “I think it was important, given some of the processes over the last few turnovers we’ve had, to make clear that we’re open minded to different points of view and that we were interested in what others had to say about us and how we were perceived and how we could get better.
“We obviously have had a fair amount of success, but not enough. When you get to that point of frustration that we all felt last year in knowing that you needed to change, perhaps, the way we went about some things, I think it was essential for us to hear from as many different voices as we could about how to get this thing better and how to get it on track.”
Who knows if Grifol had spent the entire 2022 season on White Sox Twitter, searching for what he needed to say to please the masses – as well as the decision-making braintrust at 35th and Shields – but it sure sounded like it. In rattling off the expectations he had for his new team, he likely had fans reenacting that oft-used Vince McMahon GIF of increasing ebullience.
“We will communicate,” Grifol started before transitioning to Spanish to emphasize that point. “We will be fundamentally sound. We will play with passion, pride for this uniform. … We will respect the game, our fans and earn their trust. We will be prepared to control the strike zone on both sides of the ball. We will work hard and play winning baseball every night. We will definitely hold each other accountable.”
Hahn added in some more specifics for anyone still conscious.
“We spent a lot of time with Pedro talking through improvements to our pregame planning, something that he was heavily involved in, in the past, as well as how we prepare from an offensive standpoint, to get the most out of the traits of the players on the roster,” Hahn said. “How we go about our business in that area in particular, I think you’re going to see something a lot different from what we had in the past.”
My goodness, someone get this fanbase a towel.
It’s not to say that La Russa or anyone else needed to be reminded that teams win by playing good defense, not screwing up on the base paths and, you know, trying hard. But Grifol laid it all out there, every fan complaint from 2022 – and god, were there so, so many – addressed in one answer.
But for those skeptical that even a manager without any of that “White Sox DNA” can be the symbol of big change at Guaranteed Rate Field, realize that you got the managerial search you wanted. Indeed, even the process that led to Grifol seemed built on the desire to find out what ailed the White Sox from those outside, not just diagnosing the problem internally and using the same old methods to attempt a fix.
“Talking to people that prepared to play us over the years,” Hahn said, “you heard that dichotomy between who we were in ‘19, ‘20 and part of ‘21 to what we became in the latter half of ‘21 and ‘22. A lot of that was sort of confirmation to what we thought we were seeing. But in sort of hearing what you are able to observe from the other dugout or what you were doing to prepare for us off of video and advancing, it became evident there were a number of things, as far as our internal pregame processes and how we go about our business, that needed to be tightened up.
“It’s one thing to say we’re not fundamentally strong or defensively strong or we need to run the bases better. It’s good to hear a fresh perspective on how we’re going to go about improving those.”
Hahn said the White Sox interviewed eight different people for the job, representing eight different organizations, his included, after whittling down a list of around 30 dreamt-up candidates. Unbelievably, he used the phrase “knocked our socks off” when describing their interview with Grifol and did not interject with “no pun intended.” But with Twitter denizens painting the visual contrast between Hahn’s expressions during the Zoom press conference that introduced La Russa two years ago and the GM’s overjoyed look Thursday, it was pretty clear this time: The White Sox got their guy.
And they did it by refusing to comb through a pack of their guys. I don’t care how long Ozzie’s interview lasted.
We got a preview of how Grifol’s overwhelming newness will benefit the White Sox once the fungoes start getting hit and the pitchers start playing long toss in Arizona. But folks are looking for signs of bigger-picture differences after a season in which the players themselves copped to being overconfident and needing an authoritarian in the manager’s office. That might not be the word Grifol would use to describe himself – though he did say he’s a “stickler” for good defensive play – but he’s ready to make a difference as an outside presence.
“This team reminds me of where (the Royals) were at in ‘13,” Grifol said. “This team’s a little more advanced, because this team has won more than that team had won. This team won in 2021. But they’re similar. What I mean by that is they believe, but they don’t really believe how good they are until somebody from the outside tells them, ‘You guys are really damn good.’
“For us in 2014, it was Raúl Ibañez. … We had just acquired Raúl Ibañez, and he had a player meeting. And he told the players, ‘I came from Anaheim, and I want you to know one thing: You guys are really damn good, and you don’t know how good you are.’ And that kind of changed the atmosphere completely.
“That’s the same with this team. We’re really good. We’ve just got to tighten up some things, and we’re going to do that.”
So can Grifol be that guy for these White Sox?
“I can be that guy, absolutely.”
As good as Grifol’s newness is for the White Sox, there’s no doubt that this is all new for him, too. He’s never managed a big league club before. Though he’ll get some help from a mostly made-over coaching staff – one that Hahn confirmed includes former Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo as the bench coach and will feature mostly outside hires in the jobs not held by Ethan Katz and Curt Hasler – the pressure is on to turn a team he says is built to win into that winner.
“A dream come true,” he said, shrugging off any pressure that comes along with that dream coming true. “When managers are hired, they’re hired because most of the time (teams are) in a rebuilding situation, and really they’ve got some time to kind of set things. This is a place that everybody’s expecting us to take the next step. And the next step is October baseball.”
Reports of Grifol’s hire were greeted mostly with “who?” from a fan base admittedly not up to date on the specifics of the Royals’ coaching staff. But after his introduction Thursday, he’s likely won over a huge number. Of course, just like the three-time champion La Russa, this tenure for the first-time skipper will be judged by one thing and one thing only, his ability to lead this talented group to a World Series win.
The good news for the team and its fans? He’s already thinking about it.
“To be able to play out there today,” Grifol said after getting his picture taken on the field, “it would have been a beautiful day to play a postseason game out there today.”