Four months into lost season, White Sox’ Hahn, Grifol defend team culture, promise improvements

“You learn a lot about people’s character during times of adversity,” Hahn said. “Unfortunately, we got off to a wretched start and the way the room responded was not the way we had hoped.”

SHARE Four months into lost season, White Sox’ Hahn, Grifol defend team culture, promise improvements
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn admits he “overestimated” the the roster he constructed.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn admits he “overestimated” the the roster he constructed.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Four-plus months into a lost season, the White Sox are defending their team culture.

Inasmuch as they have a culture worth defending, that is.

Actually, they’re still working on figuring out what it is.

“I didn’t like the way our culture and the direction of our culture was headed, so we had to make some adjustments,” rookie manager Pedro Grifol said Monday before a series-opening game against the Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field. “The [trade] deadline came, I had a meeting with them in Cleveland on Saturday, we addressed a bunch of issues that I thought needed to be addressed, and we’re moving forward. We’re moving forward with a new-laid foundation on rock, not on muck — on rock — that is going to sustain any little problem that we may have moving forward.”

And there will be problems. These are the Sox. There always are.

The Sox began the night 23 games under .500 and, after making five deadline deals that gutted their pitching staff of most of its best-known arms, playing out the string. They also intend to spend the last two months of the season working on becoming a culture club, and we’ll just have to see how that goes. It might even help that certain established veterans — Lance Lynn, Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Lucas Giolito — are gone, because the Sox are intimating, without naming names, that the players they thought would be team leaders turned out to be lacking in that department.

“Over time,” Grifol said, “I realized that the leaders I thought we had in there weren’t leaders. So we took a step back, we regrouped and here we are.”

But there are multiple sides to every story, as an explosive ESPN report in which reliever Keynan Middleton blasted his former team exemplified. Middleton, traded by the Sox to the Yankees at the deadline, said the Sox entered the season with a “no rules” approach, had players missing meetings and other scheduled activities without repercussions, had no position players speaking up through the team’s immense struggles — which included an unthinkably awful 7-21 start — and even had a rookie pitcher taking naps in the bullpen during games.

Middleton said the team never jelled, had a leadership void and essentially became fouled up from top to bottom because “[expletive] rolls downhill.”

Lynn, now with the Dodgers, backed up Middleton’s claims on a podcast with ex-Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski and in comments to reporters.

Sox general manager Rick Hahn took on those claims and — one by one — refuted them.

“Quite frankly, it’s a little bit ironic that Keynan is the one saying this,” Hahn said, “because my last conversation with him, face to face, was a week ago in this clubhouse, where he sought me out to apologize for his unprofessional behavior, unprofessional behavior that Pedro had called him out on and had an individual meeting about.”

According to Hahn, the napper actually was a position player with “fairly serious sleep issues” who was encouraged by sports-performance coaches — and given permission from the team — to sleep in the clubhouse at times. Hahn said one of the team’s younger players did miss a session of infield practice and had to do three straight days of extra infield work as a consequence. He also said left fielder Andrew Benintendi took a vocal role during a team meeting in Toronto amid a brutal 10-game losing streak.

In the visitors’ clubhouse at G-Rate, Middleton doubled down.

“I said what I said and I really, truly feel that with my heart,” he said. “I was speaking my truth and I said what I saw.”

It’s not difficult to believe there were negative vibes and disconnects between realities and perceptions. Multiple Sox players, current and former, have described a clubhouse that fractured in 2022, when a defending division champion crumbled back to earth under manager Tony La Russa. Grifol — Hahn’s guy — was hailed as a bridge builder and a no-nonsense communicator, but consider his own description of the rules he brought into his first Sox spring training.

One was a classic — what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse — that clearly wasn’t heeded by all. Another was about being on time, which is as straightforward as it gets. But beyond that?

“I said as far as rules, anything that happens where you feel like you’re fracturing our culture, that’s a rule — don’t fracture our culture,” he said. “So I kind of left it open. Was it a mistake or not? I’m not sure.”

It’s not that hard to land on a “yes.”

Coming out of camp, the Sox hit the ground stinking and never recovered.

“You learn a lot about people’s character during times of adversity,” Hahn said. “Unfortunately, we got off to a wretched start and the way the room responded was not the way we had hoped.”

Is that the players’ fault or the manager’s? Or — wait — does the blame lie with Hahn and Kenny Williams, who put the roster together?

“I perhaps overestimated the strength in that room to deal with adversity,” Hahn said.

He later added, “I didn’t do enough.”

That’s more accountability than Sox fans will hear from the man at the very top, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. On the field before Monday’s game, Reinsdorf shot the breeze for much of an hour with former NFL coach Bill Cowher. But when that finally broke up and Reinsdorf was approached by a few reporters, he had just one word to say:

“No.”

And then he walked away.

Problems? Yep, the Sox always have them.

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