Gridlocked White Sox need to improve their messaging to a beaten-down fan base – Boston Herald

Sitting in gridlock on the Kennedy Expressway late Friday night thanks to the caravan-created traffic tsunami, I had a lot of time to think about annus horribilis, the worst year in Chicago White Sox history.

My first thought was about Sox fans leaving Guaranteed Rate Field and finding themselves stuck on a highway with exits blocked. How many of the announced crowd of 18,001 were trying to make their way back home and blaming themselves for going to watch a terrible Sox team play out the string in a 10-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins?

My next thought was one of sympathy for the Sox players, coaches, executives and fellow media members who soon would be exiting the ballpark and dealing with the same traffic nightmare as the fans. Would anyone call in sick Saturday to avoid a repeat after Friday night’s game against the Twins?

But as I crawled past another blocked-off exit on my way north, it finally dawned on me that the postgame gridlock was another perfect metaphor for the Sox season.

The Sox were stuck in place, going nowhere, like all of us commuters after venturing out on a late summer Friday night in Chicago. The biggest difference was Google Maps and Waze indicated it would be a long, time-consuming slog before we reached our final destinations, while Sox manager Pedro Grifol imagined a quick, one-year turnaround before the Sox reached theirs.

At least we all knew we were stuck in place, thanks to modern technology. The Sox remain in denial.

The disconnect between the Sox’s messaging and reality has reached a crisis stage. In one breath on Friday, Grifol said every prospect should come to spring training prepared to win a spot. In the next, he said the Sox should contend in 2024.

“Why wouldn’t we be able to?” he asked me, eventually launching into a soliloquy about the need to stop talking and start winning.

Anyone watching this team knows many changes must be made for the Sox to think of contending, despite their mediocre division. Even if general manager Chris Getz pulls a Jed Hoyer-like selloff and dumps the core for a semi-rebuild, convincing Sox fans Getz and Grifol are the right ones to co-manage the do-over would remain a major challenge.

Getz said Grifol’s first season was made more difficult by his having to wear “a lot of hats” while learning the organization. In confirming Grifol’s return during his introductory news conference to replace Rick Hahn, Getz said next year would be easier for the manager because of the experiences of 2023.

“And first and foremost, having me now in this position and having constant conversations throughout the days and as the season progresses,” Getz added. “I’m going to be able to help him navigate a major-league season.”

That navigation lesson presumably has already begun, though the Sox are 3-11 since Getz officially was announced as GM on Aug. 31 and trending toward 100 losses.

Getz has never had to manage players as a farm director, but he can tell Grifol who to play, what lineup to put out and whether to put struggling starter Michael Kopech in the bullpen. Getz has never had to speak to the media twice a day to provide the right messaging, but he can tell Grifol what message he wants sent out, like the one about prospects getting spring training invites and actually competing for roster spots come February.

They’re a tag team, at least for now, like the former Chicago Bulls executive tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson who were lumped together by fans as GarPax. Whether GriGetz can overcome the skepticism of beaten-down Sox fans is a question that won’t be answered until the 2024 season gets underway.

Grifol can help his own cause by talking realistically about his players and the team’s overall performance. His sugarcoating can come off as insulting to knowledgeable fans who can see what’s wrong.

After former manager Terry Bevington was re-signed following the 1996 season, despite being unpopular with fans and the media, the Sox sent him to media training to create a “kinder, gentler” manager. An outside public relations person made Bevington watch tapes of his postgame interviews, and he admitted to coming off as “grouchy” at times.

Marketing director Rob Gallas told Tribune reporter Mike Kiley that Bevington was “evolving” and the Sox were “working on his presence and demeanor.”

“Part of coaching and managing is to be a performer,” Gallas said. “Terry has shown an eagerness to learn.”

The Tribune dubbed him “the lemon-scented Bev” in ’97, but the image makeover didn’t take. Bevington sparred with the media and his own players and was fired after the season.

Grifol is no Bevington, but his reputation could use a similar boost. The manager is the main spokesman for the organization and can help create a positive narrative without pretending everything is fine. What can be done to fix Kopech’s struggles or Tim Anderson’s defensive lapses? Why has the team regressed even further in September?

Speaking more honestly about the Sox’s problems would be a good way for Grifol to show he’s not just spouting the company line. Getz should join in if he hopes to sway fence-sitting Sox fans who look at him as Hahn Lite or Ken Williams 2.0.

“This is a lousy, horrible year,” Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said last month, “And the fans have a right to be upset. But hopefully they will give us some time. I think we’ll make it better.”

The thing about gridlock is it eventually ends and you get where you need to be.

How quickly the Sox end this self-created gridlock depends on the offseason decisions of Getz.


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