White Sox’ Pedro Grifol got the job he wanted. Did the team get the manager it needed?

Grifol took a big plunge the day he signed on to replace Hall of Famer Tony La Russa and attempt to make a potentially good team with a dangerous dysfunctional side make sense again.

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White Sox manager Pedro Grifol before a spring training game.

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol before a spring training game.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

HOUSTON — It’s like sitting down at a poker table for the first time and being greeted by the smiling face of Doyle Brunson.

Or maybe going out for a hot dog and running into Joey Chestnut.

Pedro Grifol in one dugout. Dusty Baker in the other.

You almost couldn’t make it up if you tried.

But Grifol has to start somewhere, and, Thursday night in his White Sox debut, the first-time major-league manager will go against the best. Baker, 73, has a 24-season, 2,000-plus-win head start on Grifol, is baseball’s active leader in managerial wins, ranks ninth on the all-time list and, in case anyone forgot, has the defending World Series champions — plus a newcomer by the name of Jose Abreu — in his dugout.

Matching wits over a four-game, season-opening series against a surefire Hall of Famer with the best team in the league is what anyone would call jumping right into the deep end. Then again, Grifol, 53, took a pretty big plunge the day he signed on to replace Hall of Famer Tony La Russa and attempt to make a potentially good team with a dangerous dysfunctional side make sense again.

Spring training went well. The Sox stayed healthy. Their interpersonal dealings with one another apparently did, too. Everyone was — is — impressed by Grifol, the camp he structured and the tone he continues to set.

And Grifol waited a mighty long time for this. He was in the Mariners’ organization for 13 years, then the Royals’ organization for 10. Name a role, he filled it. Too often, the jobs he had weren’t lining him up toward the job he wanted: manager.

Now his moment has arrived.

“This is not about me, man,” he said Wednesday on the grass at Minute Maid Park. “This is about 26 players getting ready in spring training to go try to do something special. Obviously, I’m the manager, and I’ll be [in] that dugout right there, but this is not about me.”

But of course it is. After the way things went to pot with the Sox in 2022 — to be fair, La Russa’s health might have been a factor — Grifol’s performance seemingly will be as important as any skipper’s anywhere. His moves will be watched closely. The mojo of his team will be largely attributed, whether or not it should be, to him.

Grifol’s wife, his daughters, his mother, other family and many friends will be in the stands on Opening Day. Why? Because his first night on the job is just plain one hell of a big deal.

“[There will be] emotions for me, of course,” he said. “I’ve been in this game a long time, and I’ve been wanting to manage for over 20 years. This is going to be my first game managing in the big leagues, so it’s special to me. But . . .”

You can guess where that went: It’s not about him. That’s fine.

But if Grifol can get the talented Sox wound all the way up again — with shortstop Tim Anderson happy and hitting, with Eloy Jimenez healthy and happy in whatever his role is, with everyone upping the energy and focusing on the details of the game — fans will hang banners in his honor above the Dan Ryan and paint murals of him on brick walls in Bridgeport and Armour Square.

And if that’s a little much, certainly they’ll love him.

Like a No. 1 draft pick or a top free-agent signee, a new manager can do no wrong until, well, something goes wrong, and then something else, and before long we’re all fishing through our garages for our torches and pitchforks. That’s how the whole ridiculous thing works.

Still, there seems to be some real heft to the praise the Sox are heaping on Grifol so far, and that’s encouraging.

“I think he’s brought some structure to the organization,” said right-hander Dylan Cease, the team’s Day 1 starter.

“Communication is good,” Anderson said. “He has good vibes, good energy and is allowing players to be themselves and being OK with it. So go out and play your game the best way you know how, whatever that is.”

General manager Rick Hahn called this spring training “one of the best camps I’ve been around in my two decades of doing this.”

“The only thing we haven’t seen is him manage a big-league game that matters,” Hahn said. “Everything else we’ve seen, I couldn’t be happier. . . .

“He has delivered on every expectation we’ve had, ranging from the communication to the inclusivity to the focus and the energy. It has been fantastic. This is the big leagues, and we all get evaluated on, ultimately, wins and losses — so we haven’t had the most important element yet — but everything leading up to it has matched or exceeded our very high expectations for that role.”

As the Royals’ bench coach last season, Grifol sometimes looked across the field at the Sox and saw a team without any energy. On those occasions, blood was in the water, and he’d encourage Royals players to take full advantage.

That junk from the Sox won’t cut it anymore. It’s time for them to grow up and step up.

The new guy in charge is telling us they will.

“After spending 50 days with these guys, these guys want it,” Grifol said. “These guys want to be good. They want to be good baseball players as individuals, and they want to be a good team. They want to do special things together.”

You know what one of the best things in baseball is? A hot start.

What a sight for sore eyes that would be.

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