How Maldonado's accountability exemplifies Sox new culture

February 25th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It has taken just two Cactus League games during the White Sox Play Fast era to illustrate the culture that the organization is attempting to build.

Actually, Game 1 provided two prime examples.

In the second inning of Friday’s 8-1 loss to the Cubs, Martín Maldonado hit a slow roller to the right of starting pitcher Jordan Wicks. The left-handed Wicks bobbled the ball once as he moved off the mound, but still had time to get Maldonado because Maldonado hadn’t ran hard out of the box.

Wicks lost his grip on the baseball a second time and ultimately allowed Maldonado to reach safely via error. But Maldonado, who has been a leader and solid force behind the plate throughout his career, took it upon himself to own up to the mistake to his teammates on Saturday.

“It’s important just to make sure that we’re on the same page as a team,” said Maldonado before starting Sunday’s contest against the Diamondbacks at Salt River Field. “We have some goals to accomplish.

“I didn’t come out of the box the way I should have come out of the box. I want to lead by example. I feel like as a team or as a person we should have exactly the same mentality. If I want to get somebody accountable on their own, I have to be accountable to myself first.”

Manager Pedro Grifol called Maldonado’s accountability a good thing, reinforcing it has been taken care of. An argument could be made to justify Maldonado not running hard; it was Game 1 of Spring Training, speed isn't part of the 37-year-old Maldonado's skill set and the grounder looked to be routine off the bat. But Grifol explained it’s not always about guys going 100 percent down the line.

It’s about effort.

“Is he going to go any faster than he did the other day? I’m not sure,” Grifol said. “But the optics of it, they weren’t good. And it doesn’t take a baseball purist to see that. If the optics aren’t good, it’s not good. That’s not who we are.

“I’m not expecting these guys to go a hundred million miles an hour to first base on a ground ball that the pitcher has secured the ball, and the ball is already in flight to chest high. That’s ridiculous, right? But I’ll be damned if we’re going to watch lack of effort. That’s not who we are.”

During the sixth inning of that same game, Oscar Colas hit a somewhat routine grounder to shortstop Jefferson Rojas. It looked to be the third out of the inning, but Colas busted it down the line and beat the throw for an infield single.

A reporter's question to Grifol about Colas’ effort, in turn, produced a follow-up question from Grifol about their much discussed specific style.

“You [are] watching the game, is that what you want to see? If you pay to come watch us play, is that something you want to see? That’s what it’s about, man,” Grifol said. “That’s who we are. That’s who we’re talking about becoming. That’s it right there.

“We’re going to have some hiccups on that end. But I can guarantee you those things will be taken care of quickly.”

Fans realistically want to see the White Sox win in any way possible, especially coming off 101 losses in 2023. Grifol has steadfastly avoided talk of last season, focusing on the new clubhouse -- the new Play Fast attitude, if you will.

This mantra isn’t as literal as it sounds, with FAST being an acronym for “Fearless. Aggressive. Selfless. Technically sound.” The White Sox want to win, and they're talking about possibilities of winning the American League Central even in what looks to be a rebuilding 2024 campaign.

They also want to build a system capable of sustaining success beyond one season.

“The expectation is to compete for the AL Central and I’m not one to get outside of what’s in front of us,” White Sox general manager Chris Getz said. ”We’ve got a lot of work to do.

“You try to win Game 1 and then you stack up as many wins as you can and you look up at the standings and then you are fighting for something. I feel good about our group. Our defense has improved. We are more athletic. There’s balance in the lineup and I like the depth of our pitching.”