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Vinnie Duber's Grab Bag: How the White Sox will fare in 2023, according to random picks from my record collection
What’s going on, White Sox fans?
So I had a whole bit planned for Twitter.
I paid a visit to Bridgeport record store Let’s Boogie Records And Tapes this weekend, and I was going to tweet a picture of the outside with the caption: “Whatever I end up with will be the story of the White Sox’ season in 2023.” But I pushed pause, this being my first time to the store and not knowing what I was getting into in terms of selection. The bit could still live, just after the fact.
But after a good hour digging through the bins, I walked away with “Ghost In The Machine” by The Police. A great album, sure, but I didn’t really feel like getting into a discussion about the duality of mind and body on Twitter. Not to mention that I had no clue how to tie that concept — or Sting, in general — back to the White Sox.
Back home, though, I had hundreds of records with which to play this silly game. So being that we’re in the dog days of winter, still three weeks out from the start of spring training, let’s take a few random spins through my record collection to try to forecast what awaits the White Sox this season.
Record No. 176: “No Reason To Cry” by Eric Clapton (1976)
The random-number generator is starting with you, White Sox fans, and it’s predicting a good year.
It wasn’t any fun slogging through the .500 campaign in 2022, whether you had a rooting interest or not. For those of you hoping for a specific (positive) outcome, you’ll apparently get your wish if you throw this album on the turntable. You could take this literally and expect a season free of the significant injuries that never stopped dogging the team last season, or you could take it as a more general feeling and expect good vibes throughout Pedro Grifol’s new clubhouse and mostly good results on the field.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is the kind of fortune-cookie message that assures a World Series appearance, but considering so many of you found plenty of reason to cry after the team’s first division-winning season in more than a decade in 2021, maybe this truly is the best possible outcome on the game’s first spin, the universe where Yoán Moncada regains his 2019 form, where Yasmani Grandal bounces back from a career-worst year, where Dylan Cease keeps pitching like a Cy Young candidate (and maybe Michael Kopech does, too), where Eloy Jiménez stays off the IL and where all the homers flying out of The Rate make up for José Abreu playing his home games in Houston.
Nothing to cry about there, is there? Oh, I’m sure you’ll find something.
Record No. 238: “Pretenders II” by The Pretenders (1981)
This is the universe where things go bad, where the White Sox are not only revealed to be pretenders but they’re revealed to be pretenders again. This would be the repeat of 2022, the sequel no one on the South Side is asking for.
We’re still not sure what the outcome of the White Sox’ rebuild will be. It’s too early to say it failed, with the window opened by the construction of this roster still open. It’s too early to say it was a success, though, as getting a bunch of highly rated prospects to the majors was not the goal of this project. Rick Hahn and the front office made it clear this winter that the team’s faith was still in the core of players on which it built its future, but that future remains unwritten. Can Grifol and a new coaching staff get these guys to where they were supposed to be? Is it as easy as these guys just staying healthy?
If “No Reason To Cry” is answering those questions with a “yes,” then “Pretenders II” is answering them with a “no.” It’s fans’ worst fears coming true – and the most derisive voices of last year being proven correct, that this core was not what it was cracked up to be. It’s Moncada being betrayed by health, it’s Luis Robert not living up to MVP hype, it’s Lucas Giolito not recovering from a disappointing 2022, it’s Grandal being officially over the hill. There’s plenty of reason to believe that the perfect storm of 2022 won’t happen again, but this is baseball, where anything can happen. Including that.
Record No. 214: “Squeezing Out Sparks” by Graham Parker & The Rumour (1979)
I know, I know, you hate bunting. Well, I’ve got some tough news for you.
“I think the most important thing is going to be controlling the strike zone, getting back to swinging at pitches that these guys can really do some damage with,” Grifol told CHGO earlier this month, asked how he and his staff were going to get the White Sox back on track offensively. “And then playing the game that needs to be played to win. (If) we’ve got to move a guy over, we’ve got to move a guy over. (If) we’ve got to bunt a guy over, we’ve got to bunt a guy over. So just trying to establish that mentality is going to help our ballclub do the things that we need to do.”
Before you go and riot, realize that this is what you wanted. It’s Ozzie Ball 2.0!
It’s not exactly a prescription for the White Sox to be all Guardians-y in 2023, but it is the importation of an attitude that was missing from last year’s club. The White Sox were a home-run hitting team that stopped hitting home runs, and so they went nowhere. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Terry Francona’s club was at a severe talent deficit but found ways to win games night in and night out. If Grifol can add that to the White Sox’ toolbox, all while restoring that pop, you’re talking about a team that can beat anyone – by launching fireworks out of The Rate or squeezing out a few game-changing sparks.
Record No. 320: “Let’s Rock” by The Black Keys (2019)
It might not be the most celebrated album from the Ohio-based band, noted Guardians fans, by the way. But this late-career release, 17 years after their debut, was terrific.
Maybe the same can be true for some other longtime members of the scene, and maybe it’s the sign of a much-needed bounce back for someone like Grandal. There’s no doubt how tough it was for Grandal in 2022, as he dealt with the recovery from one injury and the midseason impact of another, all the way putting up what were easily the worst offensive numbers of his otherwise very accomplished career.
We’ve seen how serious he’s taking things this offseason, though, and it would be no surprise for a hard-worker like Grandal to get to a place where he can be productive again, a critical contributor to the White Sox’ lineup rather than a hole in the middle of it. He wasn’t all the way healthy in 2021 and managed to put up some eye-popping numbers. Imagine what he could do if his body allows it in 2023.
Record No. 10: “Fats Domino Sings Million Record Hits” by Fats Domino (1960)
People are far from calling Andrew Benintendi “The Fat Man,” but he did set a record this offseason, one that involved far more than just one million.
The highest paid free agent in White Sox history will be expected to make a pretty big impact for the team, with Grifol going as far to tell CHGO that “the way (Benintendi) approaches the game is going to definitely set the tone for how the White Sox are going to play in 2023.” Many White Sox fans were non-plussed by Benintendi being that record-setting free agent, considering he hit just five homers last season, but he does a ton of things well that the White Sox needed to get a lot better at doing: He plays good defense, he runs the bases well, he gets on base, he provides balance to the lineup and he just has an attitude that was sorely missing from last year’s squad.
If Fats Domino could set the music world on fire in record-setting fashion, maybe Benintendi can do the same for the South Side. And heck, if the self-proclaimed “big Italian food guy” gets ahold of my list of pizza recommendations, maybe we will be able to call him “The Fat Man” after all.
Record No. 93: “The Morning After” by The J. Geils Band (1971)
My personal music opinions will seep in here if I read this as the White Sox being one of the most fun yet underrated teams in baseball in 2023. Hey, that could happen, if we’re looking through the eyes of the outside world, who might not expect much after a .500 finish and you know, continually forget the White Sox exist in the first place.
But much like J. Geils fans, White Sox fans are in the know, they’re well aware of how good this team is supposed to be. This band pumped out some of the most fun-loving, party-making, booty-shaking music of all-time, and maybe the White Sox will do the same in 2023, especially if they can start swinging their power bats again. If a new coaching staff can rediscover what made the White Sox home-run hitters who were setting off fireworks from the exploding scoreboard at a spectacular rate, then the South Side could indeed be rocking this summer.
Or we can read into the album’s title and more gloomily predict a hangover. But a hangover from what? Wasn’t last year the hangover for these White Sox, who ended their long stretch without an AL Central title in 2021 only to get a little too cocky about it in 2022?
Record No. 101: “Who’s Next” by The Who (1971)
This is another one that can be read in both an optimistic and pessimistic light.
We’ll start with the pessimistic angle, as White Sox fans have learned to brace for bad injury news over the last two seasons. It’s the reason this core is so difficult to get a grasp on, because so few of them have put together consistently healthy stretches to let anyone know what to expect. A doom-and-gloom view would perhaps be waiting for the next injury to occur: What’s going to happen with Jiménez this season? Will Moncada’s body ever allow him to recapture his 2019 self again? Can Tim Anderson stay on the field long enough to keep the team running? And will Robert actually play 100 games for the first time as a big leaguer?
But on the optimistic side, it can be viewed as a challenge – and an attitude regained. The White Sox have rarely struggled with confidence, but they’ve long talked about the desire for a killer instinct. Last year, that manifested in a harmful way, with cockiness replacing confidence. Well, what about now? They might be back to being the hunters rather than the hunted, which can be helpful, but will it materialize in a take-on-all-comers, “we want Bama” attitude that’s necessary for a championship run? We’ll find out.
Another point for the optimists out there: This legendary album ends with the all-timer “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” If that’s not a positive sign for the White Sox’ fate in 2023, then nothing is.
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