As first impressions go, Pedro Grifol flashed more home-run power than the 2022 White Sox. To say he hit his introductory news conference as the team’s new manager out of the park Thursday might be a stretch, but it’s safe to say he had a very good first day at the plate.
A former catcher with hitting-coach experience on a diversified résumé, Grifol said many of the right things forward-thinking baseball minds like to hear, things such as “controlling the strike zone on both sides of the plate.” He talked up the value of analytics. He came as advertised as a strong communicator and let it be known he’ll demand the same energy and commitment from his players that he promised to bring.
There was a significant curiosity factor with Grifol, a low-profile pick and baseball lifer who spent the last three years as the Royals’ bench coach, when he donned a White Sox cap and jersey No. 5 — an ode to Royals great and friend George Brett — at the news conference at Guaranteed Rate Field and during a later meeting with beat writers. A significant part of a fan base hadn’t even heard of him when it was learned Tuesday that Grifol, 52, would be the man to replace Tony La Russa.
Observed was a baseball lifer who, before saying anything else, thanked his wife and three daughters, all of whom were present, for their sacrifice in allowing him to follow his dream. Grifol then discussed his life in baseball and what he has in mind for the Sox, appearing comfortable and polished enough to be the daily management face of the organization.
“Extremely emotional day for me,” Grifol said.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long, long time, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Grifol never played in the majors but knew he wanted to manage when he played in Triple-A.
“A dream come true,” he said. “Managers are hired because most of the time [the team is] in a rebuilding situation, and really they’ve got some time to kind of set things. This is a place where everybody’s expecting us to take the next step, and the next step is October baseball. The core to do that is here.”
Following the 78-year-old La Russa, Grifol will bring a welcome presence and refreshing perspective for a team whose “fire” was questioned by veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto last season. The Sox finished 81-81 after entering the season with World Series hopes.
“Every single day, I’m going to bring the energy,” Grifol said. “I guarantee you our staff is going to bring the energy every day, and that’s going to permeate through that clubhouse. And if it doesn’t to the individual, we’ll have a conversation because we need 26 guys pulling in the right direction with that type of energy every night.”
A Cuban American born and raised in Miami, Grifol joins the Sox after a 10-year stint in Kansas City (2013-22). He will be the fourth Latino manager in the majors, joining Boston’s Alex Cora, St. Louis’ Oliver Marmol and Washington’s Dave Martinez.
Before his three seasons as bench coach, Grifol was the Royals’ quality-control and catching coach (2018-19), catching coach (2014-17), special-assignment and hitting coach (2013-14) and Arizona Rookie League hitting coach (2013).
Grifol spent 13 seasons (2000-12) in the Mariners’ organization before joining the Royals, including one as manager at Class A High Desert in 2012. He also worked as director of minor-league operations, coordinator of instruction and major-league coach with Seattle and managed four seasons in the Venezuelan and Dominican winter leagues.
“We will be fundamentally sound, we will play with passion, pride for this uniform,” Grifol said. “This means something. We will respect the game, our fans and earn their trust.
“We will work hard and play winning baseball every night. We will definitely hold each other accountable. I truly see great things happening here. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”