During a postgame press conference last June at Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa appeared wearing a T-shirt with the word “FAMILY” written in all caps above the team’s logo.
It was clearly a message of unity during a difficult time for both the Sox and La Russa, who was the focus of some amazing decisions in the game.
During a June 11 home game against the Texas Rangers, the first volley of “Fire Tony” they chant was heard at the stadium.
“They come to the game and they can say whatever they want,” Jake Burger said afterward. “I know this club is a family and we will stick together no matter what. You can have outside opinions, but this club, we’re tight and it’s a family.”
La Russa is now gone and the Sox “FAMILY” jerseys are collectibles. Apparently the players themselves didn’t think they were family, but kept it a secret while the jerseys were on sale.
Maybe that’s the lesson of the 2022 season: you can’t always believe what you read on a jersey.
Everyone “Keep On Truckin'” in the 1960s when the R. Crumb T-shirt became a fashion trend? Were we all smiling in the 70s when ‘Have a Nice Day’ smiley face t-shirts became ubiquitous?
There was no reason to think the Sox were a family just because they shared a clubhouse, just like you and your teammates might have disagreements from time to time. The teams throughout baseball history that have battled each other and won are legendary, including the famous Oakland A’s that three-peated in the early 1970s.
You don’t have to be a family to win. And truth be told, no Sox fan cares if the players consider themselves family as long as they win.
This season’s Sox can change the narrative under new manager Pedro Grifol, who has been tasked with getting everyone on the same page without the benefit of a jersey-friendly motto.
From my brief interactions with Grifol at the start of Sox camp, he seemed like a very serious man who has a very rigid schedule and an urgency to prepare properly. He promised a “free environment” once the work is done, insisting he is “having a great time” despite his serious mood.
“And you know I’m having a blast because I have a great staff. We have morning meetings, we have like 25 to 30 guys there,” he said. “They’re extremely creative, they work, and I’m just a reflection of them.”
The reference to his coaching staff suggests that Grifol does not have a sensitive ego and understands that the team’s hoped-for success will be the culmination of a group effort. It’s not all about him.
The players have responded to the change at the top of the family, which is to be expected. When La Russa arrived in camp in 2021, he received a backer from shortstop Tim Anderson, who said he was behind his new manager “110%”.
“I can tell him anything I want,” Anderson said with a smile. “I’m not afraid of him. Tell him that.”
New Year. The new manager. Same Anderson.
“We’re creating new energy, we’re creating a new culture,” Anderson recently told MLB Network. “And I think it’s led by the right man, too. I think the biggest thing is communication.”
Grifol’s strength as a communicator was pointed out by CEO Rick Hahn when he hired the 53-year-old Kansas City Royals manager, who had no major league managerial experience and was unknown to most Sox fans.
“In Pedro we are hiring someone who is a renowned communicator, a modern baseball mind who seeks to build a cohesive and inclusive environment, and one where attention to detail and accountability will be priorities,” Hahn said at the introductory press conference. .
“At the end of the day, after (President) Jerry (Reinsdorf), (Executive Vice President) Kenny (Williams) and I sat down with Pedro, it was very clear to all three of us that he was going to be the unanimous choice to address . some of the things we needed to improve on.”
Through no fault of his own, Grifol immediately had to deal with some controversy when pitcher Mike Clevinger was allowed to attend camp despite an MLB investigation into domestic violence and child abuse allegations made by the mother of Clevinger’s daughter.
Clevinger then threatened in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times to sue WSCR-AM 670 for defamation over additional allegations the mother made in a live interview. For a team in desperate need of a culture change, it couldn’t have started worse.
But now that MLB has closed its investigation with no disciplinary action taken against Clevinger — and no lawsuit filed by the pitcher — we’ll see if normalcy can be quickly restored.
Clevinger is scheduled to start in his first Cactus League game on Saturday as he prepares for the regular season, which begins March 30 at Houston. He agreed to undergo evaluations by the MLB and MLB Players Association joint treatment boards and follow any recommendations, according to MLB’s statement.
While the investigation may be closed, Hahn’s signing of Clevinger will be scrutinized for the rest of the season. Will Sox fans embrace him? That question probably won’t be answered until after his first outing at home.
Grifol has a lot more to worry about than whether Clevinger can succeed as the fifth starter. It needs to come back in years Yasmani Grandal, Yoáin Moncada, Lucas Giolito and others. He must find a time closer to trust Liam Hendriks is recovering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And he needs a healthy, motivated group to avoid another season like the disappointment of 2022.
What they don’t need is a t-shirt to show what a tight-knit group they are.
If the 2023 Sox really are a family, they can prove it on the field.