Right-hander Lucas Giolito talked about it often last season: The White Sox needed to have fun again. They had to bring joy back to the clubhouse and dugout.
That’s only one layer of clubhouse culture, but it’s an element that players insist matters more than outsiders might think.
New manager Pedro Grifol, bringing a fresh voice and leadership after two seasons of Tony La Russa, will change it simply by being who he is. It’s his job to create a strong culture for his players, and those players will welcome a change after a La Russa-led 81-81 season fell flat on its face.
“They first have to understand what culture is,” Grifol said. “Someone recently described it perfectly to me. He said culture is what it looks like, what it acts like and what it feels like, right?
“What it feels like is you can’t wait to get to the clubhouse and perform. What it looks like is when you’re watching us from up there [in the stands], you want people to say, ‘These guys are together, these guys are fighting together, they’re playing to win every single night.’ And, obviously, what it acts like is these guys are professionals. They respect the game, they respect the fans, they respect what they do, and they really respect our team.”
Even when the Sox were rebuilding and losing under manager Rick Renteria, a culture was in place and a sense of unity was evident. When they won in 2020 under Ren-teria, they were especially full of life — a vivid example of their “Change the Game” motto.
Some of that was lost in 2021, even when they won the division. A lot of it was lost when they flopped in ’22. Injuries, hitting slumps and poor defense and baserunning will do that. A lack of energy can contribute, too.
“This is an extremely talented ballclub,” said Grifol, who knew the Sox well from coaching against them six series a year with the Royals. “It was a really difficult club to prepare for because if the energy was high, they could beat anybody in the game. And if the energy wasn’t [there], we were able to have some success against them. So my job and my staff’s job is to make sure that energy is high every night and we’re prepared to win a ballgame.”
The Sox lost a leader when shortstop Tim Anderson, the team energizer and batting champion, was limited to 79 games because of injuries. He remained around the team but wasn’t engaged in his usual spirited manner.
Third baseman Yoan Moncada (104 games in 2022), catcher Yasmani Grandal (99) and outfielders Luis Robert (98) and Eloy Jimenez (84) also were hurt a lot.
“There were a lot of injuries, so very rarely did we play a full Chicago White Sox team,” Grifol said. “Them going 81-81 and at times playing with not the energy they’re capable of playing with, you almost look at them like, ‘Damn, you guys really are talented. Because you had the injuries, the energy was off and on and you still won 81 games.’ ”
La Russa promoted a culture of family, as did Renteria before him, but didn’t demand that players always run out ground balls, which became a bad look. Grifol says he’ll be big on accountability.
“You collaborate with everybody, you empower people to do their job, and if you do that, it’s an easy conversation when they’re not doing it,” he said. “If you don’t empower people to be part of the process [and] you don’t communicate with people, you can’t hold anyone accountable.
“When we hit the field in spring training, the level of intensity to our practices, the level of intensity to our cage work, the details, attacking margins are going to be extremely critical in developing the culture and the chemistry of this club. I think these players are hungry for it. I think they want it, and once we get started, they’re going to see how prepared they’re going to be to . . . kick somebody’s butt.”