Pedro Grifol is running out of time as White Sox manager. The only question is when a change will be made

In April 1999, the Baltimore Orioles’ manager at the time, the late Ray Miller, reacted to a difficult loss by turning on his players.

“If you have any more questions, go out into the clubhouse,” Miller said. “They’re the ones making all the money. Have them explain to you how they did and how they performed in front of 47,000 people.”

At that moment, it was clear Miller was a goner. A quarter-century later, Chicago White Sox manager Pedro Grifol’s assessment of his players’ effort as “f——- flat” after a May 26 loss to the Orioles – and his doubling down on his remarks the next day – might not have carried quite the same resonance as Miller’s tirade. But it was in the same verbal zip code.

These things, of course, rarely end well. Grifol probably would have been in trouble even if he had not criticized his players. The White Sox, then and now, had the worst record in the majors. Their first-year general manager Chris Getz inherited Grifol from the previous regime. All of the pieces are in place for a managerial change. The only question is when.

Miller lasted the 1999 season despite two recommendations from former Orioles GM Frank Wren to owner Peter Angelos to fire him, mostly because the late Angelos had a contrarian streak, particularly when facing media pressure. Grifol could last a bit longer, too, even though the White Sox extended their losing streak to 12 games Tuesday night, blowing a 5-0 lead in a 7-6 loss to the Cubs.

The test of Getz’s patience with Grifol likely will come later in the season, when the White Sox are ready to promote some of their top prospects. At that point, Getz will need to decide: Is the environment under Grifol one in which top young players such as shortstop Colson Montgomery, catcher Edgar Quero and right-hander Drew Thorpe can thrive? Or might the entire team benefit from a change, right then and there?

The choice might not be entirely Getz’s, just as the return of Grifol after last year’s 61-101 cratering might not have been entirely the GM’s choice, either. Nothing with the White Sox happens with owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval, and Reinsdorf operates according to his own whims, no one else’s.

White Sox fans traveled to Milwaukee on Sunday to deliver a message to the team’s ownership. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

If the White Sox make a change, the logical move would be to elevate bench coach and former Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo as an interim, then conduct a full search at the end of the season. Tony La Russa, back with the team as a senior advisor after serving as manager in 2021 and ‘22, almost certainly would not be the replacement. Not at age 79 and not when he stepped down at the end of the ‘22 season because of health issues.

Grifol is not the sole reason the White Sox are (15-46). He might not even be the fifth- or sixth-biggest reason. Getz traded the team’s best pitcher, Dylan Cease, in the middle of spring training. Injuries to key hitters such as Luis Robert Jr., Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez again proved crippling. Veterans such as Andrew Vaughn and Andrew Benintendi have been massive disappointments. No manager could win with this team.

One White Sox player, granted anonymity for his candor, viewed Grifol’s “f——— flat comment as simply an attempt to motivate the club, adding, “it’s really hard to judge him when you have a team made up like this and all these injuries.” Another player, however, said Grifol’s misstep was going public with his message after delivering it to the players directly in a team meeting behind closed doors.

The timing, too, was questionable. Grifol’s issued his complaints after a day in which the White Sox faced Kyle Bradish, who finished fourth in the American League Cy Young voting last season. Bradish shut the White Sox out for seven innings, striking out 11. The way he pitched that day, he could have made any team look “f——- flat.”

Some fans approve of such outbursts, preferring confrontation to coddling. The New York Yankees’ Aaron Boone, in particular, frustrated fans in past seasons with his refusal to rip players. Managers, though, generally refrain from public excoriations because players react to them poorly. Doesn’t matter if some fans think today’s players are soft compared to those in previous generations, a debatable assertion. Managers generally know not to cross a certain line.

Grifol probably just wanted more energy from his players, to reinforce to them that playing in the majors is a privilege, that adversity can lead to opportunity. Former Angels manager Phil Nevin gave a similar talk to his players early last season. But he did not reveal it to the media until much later, explaining during another slump that the players had reacted well to his earlier rebuke and were preparing properly.

While Grifol declined to address his previous comments, he said he did not have a problem with his players’ effort overall.

“Do we make a mistake here and there? Everybody does. But they’re playing really hard,” Grifol said Monday night, on the eve of the Cubs series. “I’m not at all questioning that. I really haven’t questioned it that much this year. There have been a few games, but that happens everywhere. Our guys are giving it everything they’ve got 99 percent of the time, they really are.”

He probably should have said as much the first time, but Grifol can be forgiven for his frustration. He knows his team is awful. He knows his job is in jeopardy. Even if he had held his tongue, the unfortunate reality was obvious. He is running out of time.

(Top photo of Pedro Grifol last month: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

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