First-year manager Pedro Grifol promised the White Sox would “prepare every night to kick your a—” when he was hired a year ago.
Instead, the Sox got their butts kicked in historic fashion, losing 100 or more games for only the fifth time in franchise history. They had the fourth-worst record (61-101) and third-worst run differential (minus-200) in the majors.
A dreadful season it was from start to finish, complete with poor hitting, bad pitching, shaky defense, career-worst individual performances, clubhouse issues, lackluster effort at times and front-office firings that made sense yet no one saw coming.
“The 2023 season was my 43rd season in baseball. It was absolutely the worst season I’ve ever been through,” Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said.
Only months removed from a disappointing .500 finish under manager Tony La Russa, Grifol’s first spring training opened amid a public-relations mess with new free agent Mike Clevinger under an MLB investigation for allegations of domestic abuse (which did not result in discipline).
More uplifting was closer Liam Hendriks working his way back from cancer at the time, but he would appear in only five games before needing Tommy John surgery.
A 7-21 start, featuring a 10-game losing streak, put the Sox in a hole from which they never recovered, sending them toward a sell-off at the trade deadline, after which dealt-away reliever Keynan Middleton publicly ridiculed the team’s clubhouse culture.
All of which cast Grifol and the entire Sox operation in an unfavorable light. Enough to make fans and players alike fighting mad, which is what star shortstop Tim Anderson was when he challenged Jose Ramirez to a fight, only to get TKO’d.
Talk about a snapshot of the Sox’ season.
The violence didn’t end there for the Sox, who played through a game with the Athletics on Aug. 25 after fans were struck by bullets in the left-field stands. Where the bullets came from remains a most bizarre mystery still unsolved.
When all was lost, the Sox acquired sorely needed catching and pitching prospects for veterans Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Kendall Graveman and Middleton at the deadline but also traded third baseman Jake Burger, a popular, marketable personality and favorite of fans and teammates who helped carry the Marlins to the postseason.
General manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams were fired by Reinsdorf on Aug. 22.
On a rare day in which Reinsdorf talked to the media, Chris Getz was promoted from assistant GM to GM and top decision-maker. Rather than look outside the organization for that role, Reinsdorf named Getz, saying he owed it to the fans to hire someone who could turn things around faster than an outside hire. But a few weeks later, Getz admitted it will take some time to assess the state of the Sox and get things turned around.
Luis Robert Jr. had an All-Star season in center field and flashed superstar potential, Andrew Vaughn took over Jose Abreu’s spot at first base and hit 21 home runs and drove in 80 runs and Gregory Santos emerged as a valuable late-inning bullpen piece, only to have a season-ending forearm flexor injury.
Anderson had his worst season, making Getz’s decision to pick up his option something more than the no-brainer it was once thought to be.
Josh Barfield was named an assistant general manager after overseeing a farm system with the Diamondbacks that cast him in a favorable light during that team’s postseason push. Brian Bannister was hired away from the Giants with a good reputation as a pitching guru. And director of player personnel Gene Watson, a friend of Grifol’s from their Kansas City days, adds another shade of Royals powder blue to the Sox’ big picture moving forward.
“I’m embarrassed for the year,” Grifol said on the last day of the season Sunday. “I’m committed, determined, excited to start this offseason with Chris and his staff and get this better, way better. It needs to get better.”
No one can imagine it being any worse.