CHICAGO — Chris Getz might be the next great general manager of the White Sox.
Or he just might be the next general manager of a not-so great White Sox organization.
But there’s no way anyone listened to his introductory press conference, which included a rare public address by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, and feels more confident about the team’s future. At least not in the near term.
For starters, Reinsdorf’s reasoning for hiring Getz, who was the assistant GM and in charge of the farm system, just a week after he fired Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams and without doing any kind of interviews with outside candidates, is that he said it would take way too long for an outsider to come in and shape up this team.
“The conclusion I came to is what we owe our fans and ourselves is not to waste any time,” Reinsdorf said. “We want to get better as fast as we possibly can. If I went outside, it would have taken anybody at least a year to evaluate the organization. I could have brought Branch Rickey back. It would have taken him a year to evaluate the organization.”
“The conclusion I came to is what we owe our fans and ourselves is to not waste any time.”
Jerry Reinsdorf explains why he ultimately decided to hire an internal candidate after considering multiple people outside of the organization for the job. pic.twitter.com/OhrNlwGMun
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 31, 2023
I mean, if you can resurrect Branch Rickey, I think you can wait a couple of years for him to rebuild your team. Reinsdorf, who is 87, seems to be in a bit of a hurry these days.
So while some teams do nationwide searches, Reinsdorf did an office-wide one. It didn’t take long. The Sox don’t have a big baseball operations department.
It’s nice that Reinsdorf is in a rush to win. Fans can appreciate the haste. It’s that kind of blind certainty about making a lazy, insular decision that makes Reinsdorf an underachieving owner in both baseball and basketball and the bane of White Sox and Bulls fans’ very existence.
Fans are quitting this team in droves. Attendance is down 14 percent compared with this point last year and overall interest has fallen off a cliff. A longtime White Sox fan who lives out of state texted me last week about how he has foresworn the Sox and baseball altogether: “It’s like if someone said what if I could perform a miracle that would give 500 extra hours every year, I’d say it’s very possible. Just have Jerry Reinsdorf kill an entire sport for you.”
Don’t worry, though, this guy’s second-favorite team is the Bulls, so he’ll still be miserable in the winter.
To be fair, Reinsdorf does want to win and I believe him when he says the losing sickens him. Earlier this summer, I heard him joke around with a minority investor, asking why he’s even bothering to come to the games. “Why are you here?” Reinsdorf said with a sarcastic tone. “This is awful.”
On Thursday, Reinsdorf made those feelings public, saying, “It’s the worst year I’ve ever suffered through. It was a horrible experience. I feel awful. I know how our fans feel. We’re going to put this behind us and go forward and get better. But this has really been a nightmare.”
But it’s a nightmare of his own making. Reinsdorf has been the Sox chairman since he led a group to buy the team in 1981. Former manager Ozzie Guillen used to refer to him as “God” because he wielded absolute power in the organization.
Reinsdorf isn’t all bad. He’s good to his employees and their families. He’s got a wicked sense of humor. But despite his experience and longevity, he’s just not a successful owner. He can’t help himself from making bad decisions, like foisting Tony La Russa on his front office or hiring a new GM without a search because he’s in a hurry.
The issue with writing columns about Reinsdorf teams is it becomes too easy to pile on, too easy to regurgitate decades of middling records and relitigate bad decisions. But you don’t need ad hominem attacks to point out the facts. You just have to look at the results.
Since 2005, the Sox have made the playoffs in just two full seasons, 2008 and 2021 — along with the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. They don’t draw well because the fans are angry most of the time. The Sox are 53-81 and their latest fiasco is a mysterious shooting in the bleachers that Reinsdorf is still trying to pin on magic bullets coming from outside the stadium.
So coming in with Reinsdorf’s imprimatur is strike one against Getz.
Strike two came when he confirmed that he’s sticking with Pedro Grifol as manager for next season.
GM Chris Getz confirms White Sox manager Pedro Grifol will be back in 2024.
“It’s important to provide stability for our players.” pic.twitter.com/PThsq8QY1k
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 31, 2023
With Grifol sitting in the front row of the Sox’s meeting room amphitheater, Getz said the first-year manager will get a second year despite the team’s horrendous record and myriad team-wide issues, on and off the field.
“Pedro will be back next year,” Getz said. “I think it’s important to provide stability for our players. There’s been a lot of changes the last couple years and certainly here recently, and I believe we need to get back to playing baseball, focusing on baseball, so when these players show up every day they can just focus on the game and not the leaders in the organization.”
He’s not wrong. In the last four seasons, the Sox went from Rick Renteria to La Russa to interim manager Miguel Cairo when La Russa was ill last season to Grifol. But the numbers are the numbers. The Sox are one of the worst teams in baseball this year. They are 11 games worse this season compared to last year at the end of August. They don’t do anything well. The team is so unwatchable that Reinsdorf fired Kenny Williams, who is like his son.
Grifol inherited the talent in his clubhouse and the issues of a dysfunctional organization, so maybe he isn’t the problem, but he doesn’t seem to be the solution either.
In defending his manager, Getz noted that Grifol “has had to wear a lot of hats this year.” I had to ask him: What does that mean? I was genuinely confused. Has Grifol been making roster moves? Is he the assistant hitting coach? Is he the new “Chicken Willie,” cooking meals in the clubhouse kitchen?
“Well, he was a first-year manager with our club,” Getz said, “and certainly that means getting to know his players and getting his coaches comfortable here, learning our front office and the operation throughout, and through that you certainly have to have conversations and experiences you won’t have in year two. And first and foremost, having me now in this position and having consistent conversations throughout the days and as the season progresses. I’m going to be able to help him navigate a major-league season.”
So the first-year manager needs a first-year GM to guide him?
Can Grifol do the job or not? Getz seems to think so. We’ll see if he’s right.
Getz isn’t dumb. And while he came across a little stiff (and more than a little vague) in his press conference, he’s a different person in smaller settings — affable, funny and bright. He admitted to me afterward that he was nervous and you could tell.
What’s important is how he works in private. Getz isn’t coming in with much experience. He’ll have to build out his front office and hit about .600 on his big decisions.
“I realize that there is skepticism, I do,” he said. “I am an internal hire and I’ve got to bear that burden and this is my job to go out there and prove otherwise.”
GM Chris Getz says “no one is untouchable” on the 40-man roster. pic.twitter.com/zS8aetURXa
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 31, 2023
His experience running the Sox farm system doesn’t engender confidence. After the graduations of the top prospects, the Sox minor-league system isn’t exactly stacked with talent. Getz defended himself, saying he’s “very proud” of some of the players who helped the Sox win the division in 2021 and that they’ve got “a lot of quality players” down there now who will help in the future.
“I feel like (with) my experience of knowing what’s going on in this organization, I’ll be able to go out there and fill the gaps quickly to get us back on track,” he said.
He already got one dream job with the White Sox — big-league ballplayer — and now he’s realizing another one. Sometimes, as they say, availability is the best ability.
Hahn was sharp at making trades for prospects and surprisingly dull at adding free agents. Williams built a World Series winner and struggled afterward to find the alchemy that made it happen.
Getz, who just turned 40 on Wednesday, isn’t that far removed from his playing career, which consisted mostly of playing for losing clubs on the South Side and Kansas City. He thinks his playing career will help him in evaluating the intangible flaws of a tangibly defective club.
“Going back to my playing days and thinking of the positive cultures I’ve been around, negative cultures, I think everyone knows what a good culture feels like and a bad culture feels like,” he said. “You know what it feels like in the clubhouse because it lives there in the cages, lives on the field during stretch, in the training room, on bus rides, planes, hotels and it’s my job to find the ingredients to improve the culture that we have.”
The key is Reinsdorf giving him the tools to do that job well. The 2023 team opened with an $189 million payroll — Listen, Jerry, I’d be angry at the ROI too — and while a big chunk of that will clear out with expiring contracts and trades, the Sox have a lot of holes to fill. What will the budget be in 2024? I’m guessing the mandate will be to do more with less.
How’s that going to work?
“I think I can address the elephant in the room that we do play in the AL Central,” Getz said. “Every year, it seems that the division is up for grabs. With that being said, you know, we sit at 53 wins right now.”
Well, they’re in fourth place in the worst division in baseball right now, 16 games back of the first-place Twins, who are 69-65.
Just two years ago, the White Sox were a fun, successful team with young talent galore. Now they’re a mess of epic proportions, a league-wide laughingstock.
And now it’s up to a first-year GM who was hired from within, a suddenly impatient, mostly unsuccessful 87-year-old owner and a first-year manager who is almost 30 games under .500 to fix this franchise.
Sounds like a White Sox problem, not a White Sox solution.
(Photo of Jerry Reinsdorf addressing reporters before introducing Chris Getz: John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)