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The White Sox’ Wile E. Coyote season is finally over.
Their six-month free fall into the bottom of a canyon has finally ended in a little, far-off cloud of dust.
The latest supposedly ingenious plan to catch the Road Runner — in this case, bringing in Pedro Grifol and a new coaching staff to help a talented core reach its long-delayed potential — failed spectacularly in 2023. And after disassembling their ACME Rebuild-O-Tron at the trade deadline, Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams were left holding up “HELP!” signs on their way to losing their jobs.
As skeptical as you might have been when hope and talk of “proving it” ran wild during spring training, there’s no way you saw this coming.
The roster might have been rife with question marks, but this collection of players looked at least capable of avoiding what passed for massive disappointment a year ago. Were these White Sox better than the Guardians or Twins? Maybe, maybe not. But they weren’t going to repeat that .500 finish that happened under Tony La Russa’s watch, were they?
Well, they didn’t. But what happened was much, much worse. And as the dust cloud cleared after the fall Sunday, the White Sox were stuck with 101 losses and a record 40 games below .500, one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
How did it happen?
Again, injuries played a massive role, a storyline so consistent most fans don’t even care about it anymore. But the team’s core players were again banged up in a manner that prevented them from coming anywhere close to realizing their potential. Yoán Moncada’s back injury started in the spring and didn’t let go until August. While Eloy Jiménez, Andrew Benintendi and Tim Anderson featured in most of the team’s games, they were walking wounded, shells of themselves. Only Luis Robert Jr. proved he could stay healthy — and put up MVP-type numbers while doing so.
“Excuses, excuses,” the frustrated fan base will say. No one’s trying to make injuries an excuse for poor play, because boy, there was plenty of that. But if you want to know why Hahn’s rebuilding project never got off the ground, there’s no bigger reason than that crippling constant.
A lack of health helped send the White Sox to an abysmal opening month that ended with them 14 games underwater. And they never came close to mustering what was needed to dig themselves out of that hole.
Along the way, just plain bad segued to just plain weird, and a tumultuous August not only saw rare regime change in the baseball department but featured Anderson getting punched in the face during an on-field fight in Cleveland, just-traded Keynan Middleton blasting the team’s clubhouse culture in an ESPN interview and a fan being struck with a bullet while inside the ballpark — a truly bizarre occurrence that drew national media attention and remains a complete mystery. That’s all without mentioning Yasmani Grandal needing to address a radio report that he, too, hit Anderson in the face and Jerry Reinsdorf needing to address a Crain’s report that he was considering moving the team to Nashville.
All the while, as things got truly looney, fans saw what seemed to them like apathy and a lack of want from the players on the field. They also saw what was, to everyone’s eyes, an ugly brand of baseball that featured an outrageous amount of mistakes in every facet of the game, the baseball equivalent of getting repeatedly slammed into the side of a mountain, coyote-style.
Of course, there’s a new coyote in town, sort of, with Chris Getz promoted from assistant general manager to assume Hahn’s old gig. That Reinsdorf opted to look nowhere else but Guaranteed Rate Field’s offices for a new direction sent fans into a further rage. But Getz has delivered some “new” with outside hires that are generating some hope in a turnaround, guys seemingly determined to catch that blasted bird by any means necessary, be it with the latest in ACME technology or with a plate of free birdseed.
But will it be a quick turnaround?
The 87-year-old Reinsdorf hired Getz to get it done as soon as possible and believes the team will be much better next year, while Grifol’s sights are squarely on competing in 2024 rather than in the years that follow. Getz and his new team in the front office, however, are refusing to establish a timetable.
That’s probably smart considering the magnitude of the job ahead — as well as the history of trying to take a 100-loss team to the postseason the following year. Getz is looking at a mile-long to-do list that includes finding three new starting pitchers, a closer, a catcher, a second baseman, a right fielder and more bullpen arms. If he pulls the plug on Anderson’s White Sox tenure by not picking up a team option, shortstop gets added to that list, too.
That’s a lot. And getting it all done in one winter seems nearly impossible, not that Getz isn’t going to try to change the narrative and recent history surrounding a team that’s won three playoff games in the last 18 years.
This is 15th of those 18 with no postseason berth. It’s just the fifth of the last 123 with triple-digit losses.
White Sox fans have been dragged along on attempt after attempt to nab the Road Runner. More often than not, they’ve seen those quests end with a free fall off a cliff.
As the curtain closes on one of the worst seasons in the history of South Side baseball, these three words probably provide relief more than anything:
That’s all, folks.
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