Chicago White Sox: A master class in driving fans away

Sep 1, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox Vice President/General Manager Chris Getz before the team’s game at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox Vice President/General Manager Chris Getz before the team’s game at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

I don’t know if the Chicago White Sox are doing so deliberately, to make a potential move to another city more palatable to Chicagoans who often treat their sports teams with a loyalty usually reserved for family members and close friends, or if it’s the unintentional result of the choices made by a stubborn, skinflint owner who is out of touch and pennywise yet pound foolish.

It starts with the failed rebuild. I’ve written before that as fans, we understood there was no guarantee that the rebuild would succeed. But the Sox seemed to sabotage it by hiring the wrong manager at the wrong time, allowing the culture to be toxic, and failing at roster construction. Oh, and the minor-league development of players has been poor.

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf isn’t directly responsible for all of this — and two people involved in the roster construction, former general manager Rick Hahn and former executive vice president, Ken Williams, are gone. But Reinsdorf also chose untested Chris Getz to take over as GM, despite a lack of experience and the fact that Getz oversaw the underwhelming minor-league system.

In Getz’s defense, that system was rated best in baseball in 2017, and it’s far too early to judge his changes to the roster for 2024 and beyond. He could prove worthy of the job.

No, the bigger problem is that the team seems insistent on chasing fans off. Reinsdorf has indicated the Sox are unlikely to spend big money this offseason on free agents, so that means Getz will essentially have to embark on another rebuild — and even if he were to succeed it’s likely the team will be terrible in 2024. Rebuilding a roster after a failed rebuild in one offseason isn’t impossible, but the Sox would need to spend big to make it happen.

It’s not just the on-field product. The team hasn’t hosted a fan convention since the pandemic. Popular television broadcaster Jason Benetti took a job with the division rival Detroit Tigers because, it has been heavily implied, that the owner and Benetti’s other bosses didn’t like his style, no matter how popular it was with fans. Nor did they like his taking time to broadcast national games in baseball and other sports — even though that kind of exposure for Benetti likely raised not only his profile but the Sox’s.

The Chicago White Sox are trying to drive their fans away.

The Sox have kept a low profile in terms of interviews on local sports radio shows, and I’ve heard it implied that the Sox, upset with reasonable criticism, have taken it out on local media instead of looking inward at why they’re being criticized.

Oh, and remember that line about the “wrong manager at the wrong time” line from above? That referred to Tony La Russa, who remains involved in baseball operations on some level. Even though his return to the Sox’s dugout went poorly, especially in 2022.

What the Sox should’ve done, when it was clear the rebuild was failing, was be clear-eyed. Half-measures such as replacing La Russa, addled by failing health, with an inexperienced manager in Pedro Grifol, aren’t the way to go.

While I do believe Grifol could learn from a rocky 2023 and be a good manager, I don’t think he should’ve been hired in the first place. The Sox should’ve replaced La Russa with a manager who would clean up the culture and be smart about analytics. Someone who could take talented players who didn’t seem to be giving maximum effort and get them back on track.

I do think firing Hahn and Williams was the right call — despite acquiring some talented young players during the rebuild, the roster construction was flawed and the Sox struggled to bring in veterans who could help get the team over the hump. To be fair, Reinsdorf’s hold on the purse strings undoubtedly played a part.

Yet the Sox barely seemed to even search for a GM before tapping Getz, who arguably is partly responsible for the mess and is inarguably lacking in experience. And the owner publicly joked about not spending to bring in a hugely impactful free agent like Shohei Ohtani, implying that the team would stay cheap.

What the Sox should’ve done is hire a GM with experience, and perhaps an experienced manager who could take over for Grifol and fix things, a la Bruce Bochy in Texas. And the team should’ve expressed a clear vision for the next rebuild. That might mean trading everyone, including stars like Luis Robert, and starting all over, or it could mean identifying key young players like Robert and building around them.

Instead, the plan seems incoherent, though I concede things could change as the offseason rolls on.

It’s one, thing, however, to mess up the on-field product and then spend years fixing the mess. The Sox have done little to win disappointed fans back. At a minimum, I’d have brought back the fan convention and had anyone in a front-office role in front of as many microphones as possible articulating a coherent plan. Even if the holders of some of those microphones had been critical of the Sox in recent years.

I’d also have worked like hell to keep Benetti, who along with former broadcast partner Steve Stone, is one of the Sox’s best marketing assets. I’d have continued to encourage Benetti’s national work, hoping that it would get fans to tune in to Sox games here and there.

Finally, instead of chortling about how the team won’t spend money on the arguable best player in the game and naming a long-retired infielder with more grit than talent as his favorite player, thus inadvertently showing that he’s perhaps out of touch with what fans like best about the modern game, the owner should’ve either apologized for the failures of 2022-2023 and his part in them or shut the heck up and let a better team ambassador do it for him.

No offense to David Eckstein and this author does appreciate hustle, but Sox fans wanted to hear an acknowledgment that the stewards of the team were just as upset as we are, and just as committed to fixing the problems and getting the team in a position to win as soon as possible.

Instead, we have little to pin our hopes on, and a fear that our favorite team may leave the state for good. It is a sad situation, and the Sox created it all by themselves.

Perhaps the owner and other top brass will engage in some self-reflection, admit mistakes, and work to right the ship. But that’s about as likely as this author doffing a Cubs cap.

See you on Opening Day. Maybe.

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