WASHINGTON — This has been the worst year of Pedro Grifol’s baseball life.
It wasn’t supposed to be when he was hired for his dream job — his first major-league manager’s post, with the task of leading a team to the postseason.
But with 10 games to go after the White Sox’ latest inconsequential game — a 4-3 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night — the Sox are 58-94, with many of the stars from their Opening Day roster traded away weeks ago.
“I heard this the other day, and it’s true,” Grifol told the Sun-Times from behind the manager’s desk in the visitors’ clubhouse Monday. “In the middle of these storms, they wipe everything clean, and it’s true. We’ve gone through a storm this year. This is an opportunity for myself and [new general manager] Chris [Getz] and the staff he assembles to not start over — because this isn’t a rebuild — but to implement things that are part of his vision and maybe a part of mine as well that I want to see done.”
Grifol knows Sox fans have heard enough rhetoric and only want to see a winning product. He believes they want to see the same brand of baseball he does: maximum effort, hustle, sound defense and pitching.
“We have to pitch better and we have to hit better,” he said. “We have to play defense.”
Having coached for a Royals team that won a World Series, Grifol said he knows what a winner looks and “feels” like. How bad has it been overseeing a team that has felt only like defeat since a 7-21 start?
“It’s been the most painful year of my baseball career at any level,” Grifol said. “We had expectations coming in. We didn’t meet them, and I’m the manager. So it falls on this table. And I take full responsibility. I’m not going to hide from that. We have to play better baseball.”
Getz has said Grifol will be back next season. Grifol says he has looked in the mirror and assessed his own performance. He might not be as hard on himself as fans are; a vast majority of them, if social media and numerous polls are an indication, want him gone. But he’s not easy on himself, he says.
“I do it all the time. I do it every day,” he said. “I ask these coaches every day. I’m not going to hide from criticism, and I never will because it fuels me — it makes me better. I don’t lie to myself. There are things I could be better at, and I have them all written down. And I’m going to be better. And our coaches will be better.”
Grifol said at his introductory news conference that the Sox would come to “work every day, as hard as we possibly can, to kick your ass at 7:10.”
But it was the Sox who took the whoopings.
“We thought we had a good plan coming in — we executed it in spring training the way we wanted to, and we just didn’t get it done,” Grifol said.
Publicly, players have been neither strongly supportive nor critical of Grifol, although traded reliever Keynan Middleton claiming there were “no rules” cast Grifol in a poor light.
Does Grifol believe the current players are behind him?
“That’s a difficult question because you have conversations — I communicate with everybody almost every day,” Grifol said. “As far as my conversations are concerned, your answer is yes. But there are 26 guys in there, so you can’t know what everybody is truly feeling. I can tell you this: This is a really good opportunity, this last month, for them, to be a part of it, perform and show us and Chris that they’re a part of this going forward.
“Yeah, it’s a tough question for me because I only get what they tell me. We’ve had some conversations, difficult ones and nice ones, and hopefully they appreciate my honesty and communication. I’ve been nothing but honest. They know they’re going to get the truth.”