I don’t know anything about Pedro Grifol. Had never heard of him before Tuesday, when news broke that the White Sox were hiring him as their manager. Had to look up the spelling of his name.
I love that about him.
It’s nice that the Sox dove into the pool of relative obscurity after putting everyone through Tony La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager we knew way too much about. The big concern, of course, was that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who had rediscovered La Russa two years ago while trying to carbon date some cave paintings, would meddle again in the hiring process. And that could have meant anything and or anybody in the dugout, from Harold Baines to Kid Gleason’s ashes.
Instead, the presumption is that general manager Rick Hahn was allowed to do what general managers do. He got his man, whomever he is.
If Hahn had hired a Tibetan monk to replace La Russa, I would have said: “Sure, why not? Rally robes could turn into a thing.’’
If Hahn had hired a robot, I would have found comfort in the knowledge that the Sox wouldn’t intentionally walk a batter on a 1-2 count, the way La Russa had.
If Hahn had hired a guy waiting for a bus on 35th Street, I would have liked the odds that it wasn’t 67-year-old Bruce Bochy.
Reinsdorf’s insistence that the Sox hire the 76-year-old La Russa two years ago ruined it this time around for a number of candidates for a number of reasons. Bochy? Take your pick: Too old, too much a retread and therefore too much like La Russa. Interim manager Miguel Cairo? Given Reinsdorf’s predilection for hiring people who have worked for him before, anybody with a connection to the black and white would have carried the taint of Jerry.
An unfortunate consequence of all of this is Ozzie Guillen, one of the smartest baseball people I know. He deserves to be a manager somewhere, and if Reinsdorf hadn’t demanded La Russa’s hiring in 2020, perhaps a Guillen candidacy would have had more legitimacy to it this time around. But Reinsdorf and his saddlebags of allegiance and nostalgia might have been run out of town if he had presented Guillen to Sox fans after the La Russa debacle.
And it was a debacle. The Sox were considered a World Series contender before the 2022 season but were a .500 team almost from start to finish. The next time Reinsdorf decides to sit down for an interview with a friendly face in the media, you can bet he’ll try to spin La Russa’s second stint in Chicago as a positive. Or he’ll blame injuries for the Sox’ failure to make the playoffs this season. That kind of sugarcoating happens when an owner doesn’t have anyone around him willing to speak the truth. The truth is that the Sox wasted two years that could have been devoted to winning instead of Reinsdorf’s preoccupation with the past.
I suppose there’s an outside chance that Grifol is Reinsdorf’s long-lost newspaper carrier. For now, though, let’s assume that he isn’t and that Hahn saw something in the Kansas City bench coach suggesting managerial timber. Internet research tells me that Grifol, 52, was the Royals’ catching coach when they won the World Series in 2015 and has been their bench coach the past three seasons. Maybe there’s a diamond in there somewhere.
The fact he has no ties to the White Sox is a good start. That he’s not like the previous manager (presumably) is even better. More than a few Sox players said during the season that they enjoyed playing for La Russa. Let’s take them at their word, though the next time a player rips a sitting manager will be the first. There’s no arguing that a change was necessary, and there’s no arguing that whomever the Sox chose as a replacement, he needed to be the polar opposite of La Russa.
That’s usually how hiring goes in professional sports. If the previous coach was a disciplinarian, the next coach often is livelier, has a better sense of humor and has whiter teeth. If the previous guy was a “players’ coach,’’ his replacement often is a drill sergeant. It’s kind of embarrassing how predictable it is.
But this time around, a course reversal made perfect sense. Hahn had to present Sox fans with something fresh and different. That meant someone who wasn’t connected to Reinsdorf, someone who wasn’t wrapped up in the foggy past, someone who wasn’t a magnet for controversy and someone who wasn’t trying to beat back advancing years.
Someone we don’t know. So a warm welcome to WhatsHisName. I love everything about him.