By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) The petulant child in this embarrassing White Sox saga is obvious, but the chaos and ineffective parenting of the entire family has allowed such foolishness to flourish.
The new national butt of scissor jokes for the foreseeable future has brought the focus on his infantile behavior. Let’s offer some context on the puerile Chris Sale, especially for the potentially out-of-town stupid.
Four months ago, the undisputed boss of the organization came into the spring training clubhouse to address the team. Executive vice president Kenny Williams had asked veteran first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche to reduce the presence of his 14-year-old son, Drake, in the clubhouse, after some of the new players had objected.
Objected is perhaps the wrong word. The new players, a few of them with actual experience on winning teams, were dumbfounded that Drake’s presence had been allowed to that extent. They understandably saw it as part of a losing culture and chaotic clubhouse that can hinder communication, preparation and performance.
LaRoche balked, drew a line in the sand and threatened to quit. Then it really got ugly. LaRoche walked away from the sport, and a couple days later, Sale — ever the petulant child — ranted for 15 minutes about Williams, his boss, to local and national media alike. Sale called Williams a liar.
“Somebody walked out those doors the other day and it was the wrong guy, plain and simple,’’ Sale infamously said.
Sale called out Williams because he felt lied to, probably was lied to and recognized poor leadership. But the boss is the boss.
Sale embarrassed the organization with those comments. He railed against the man while defending the clubhouse culture of a 76-win team. A punishment or at least a public chastising had to be coming, right?
Nope. White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf later released a statement saying: “While there is no doubt this might have been handled differently, the fact remains that this is an internal matter that we have discussed and now resolved … I am fully confident this matter will soon be behind us and that we will grow even stronger and more united as a team and as an organization.”
Well, that was a nice thought — that didn’t happen.
On Saturday, amid trade rumors and yet another season of failure, Sale sliced up some ugly 1976 throwback uniforms before his schedule start. He has now, finally, been suspended for five days. It’s a start missed, a wrist slapped, four months after it should have happened in the first place.
Look, Sale is in no way a victim here. But as so often happens, the loud and angry expose the overall dysfunction we’ve long known exists. Think of the attention-grabbing Ozzie Guillen blather bursts that shone a light in 2010 and 2011.
The White Sox’s fumble in these situations are plentiful.
Initially telling LaRoche that a constant Drake presence was OK was absurd. Not letting manager Robin Ventura carry out the wishes of the organization directly with the players is mismanagement. Williams’ ego and presence have been a negative for a while now, with the entire chain of command off-kilter.
Ventura is a loyal company man who never really wanted the job in the first place. The White Sox will soon be able to look back on having given control of the on field team to a nice, incompetent manager for an entire five years. His best quality was those five months in 2012 when he wasn’t Guillen.
Allowing a bratty spring rant against the big boss to go completely unpunished was an admission of bad leadership, and it only served to weaken any sense of control.
Forcing the starting pitcher to wear uniforms he doesn’t like to pitch in shouldn’t be done. There are many healthy organizations that allow the starter to choose the uniforms. Their comfort matters. Apparently, the White Sox usually do that with Sale, but on this nearly 100-degree Saturday, they forced the throwbacks he’s known to despise. After all, they’d been advertised.
Marketing first, folks. The incessant efforts to fill seats, at the cost of competitiveness, are embarrassing. This particular issue is just a small example of the bigger picture; the annual battle for relevance has been counterproductive for quite some time.
There’s so much wrong with the White Sox, and they know it.
What shouldn’t be lost in the actions of Slicey McSlicerton is that we’ve seen signs this week that maybe, finally, there’s an admission of institutional decay.
General manager Rick Hahn came out and acknowledged that they’re “mired in mediocrity.” Damn right they are. The annual attempt at winning 80 games, hoping maybe they’ll catch a wave and win 90, doesn’t work. It has become a frustrating, depressing approach even for the most loyal. Neither wins nor fans are coming.
No one would cry about a 2016 version of the 1997 “white flag trade.” This trade deadline and upcoming offseason is an opportunity to embrace the long view. I’d move closer David Robertson, reliever Zach Duke and perhaps outfielder Melky Cabrera and third baseman Todd Frazier. If you’re overwhelmed with an offer for Sale or left-hander Jose Quintana, well, that’s where it gets interesting.
Nick Hostetler has done a nice job as the new director of amateur scouting. Drafts are now focused on finding some disciplined, accomplished college bats instead of the shiny five-tool high school lottery tickets of the past. But the White Sox are notoriously still behind in front office analytics, putting them at an information disadvantage that affects professional scouting badly. They need to invest in this area with hires and money as soon as possible, ideally before dealing either of their extremely valuable starting pitchers. It would be beneficial to have a better handle, from some new outsiders, on the quality of players/prospects they’ll be getting back in return.
Chastise the juvenile Sale, but also understand the circumstances that brought us here. And then you should hope that what seems like a genuine moment of self-awareness is followed by aggressive self-improvement.
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.