Grifol talks lessons learned from Hall of Fame friend
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Some things equal or even supersede intense competition in the world of Major League Baseball.
Take certain friendships as an example.
George Brett currently serves as the Royals' vice president of operations, while Pedro Grifol is in his first year as White Sox manager after the duo were on the same side in Kansas City. But being American League Central rivals won’t destroy their bond built over the past decade.
“That’s my guy,” Grifol said. “He’s one of my favorite people in the world.”
“He’s just a fun guy to be around,” Brett said in a recent interview with MLB.com.
Brett is a Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He hit .305 with a career .857 OPS over 21 years with the Royals, and also racked up three AL batting titles and a ridiculous .390 average during his 1980 Most Valuable Player campaign.
Grifol was a standout catcher at Florida State and rose as high as a professional player as Triple-A with Portland (1993) and Norfolk (1999). He spent 13 years working with the Mariners and the last 10 with the Royals, including the past three as bench coach, beginning at the big-league level when he was named special assignment hitting coach on May 30, 2013.
His new interim hitting coach just happened to be Brett, who quickly became a mentor to Grifol.
“I learned the will to succeed in anything he does,” Grifol said. “It’s not like the will to succeed just in baseball. He’s a great golfer, a great businessman. He’s a great speaker. Just everything he does, he has that will to be great.”
When informed Brett spoke with high praise of what he learned from him, Grifol smiled as if he had just been told something unbelievable. Brett played under legendary hitting coach Charley Lau, but when he was smashing line drives around ballparks, their preparatory work was done on the field.
No cages. No video. No nothing. In their time together as hitting coaches -- with Grifol as the “good cop” and Brett as the “bad cop” with players, according to Brett -- Grifol showed the Hall of Famer the workings of some of the new drills and routines.
“Very knowledgeable,” Brett said. “He understands the game of baseball. He loves the game of baseball. He taught me an awful lot in the short time we were together.”
The phrase “great communicator” was stressed by Brett in regard to Grifol. That same trait has been mentioned by everyone from White Sox general manager Rick Hahn to various Chicago players. White Sox starter Lucas Giolito added it was that way with Grifol from their first offseason phone call.
One major point of agreement for Brett and Grifol centered upon knowing the type of player you are, being the best you can be with that skill set and not trying for things you are not capable of doing. White Sox players will know their roles across the board with the help of Grifol’s communication.
As driven as a person and as great of a communicator as Grifol is, though, there’s no magic formula for managerial success.
“Well, he’s going to be successful if the team plays well. It’s not going to be his fault if players don’t play well,” Brett said. “He knows he’s going to get fired someday.
“Every manager is going to get fired. It’s just easier to fire a manager than it is to release 25 players. But he’s got a chance and I wish him all the luck in the world, I really do. These are the guys you pull for.”
Pull for, as in when Brett told White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf during a conversation in the midst of Grifol’s interview process how he hoped there was no opportunity to hire him because he wanted him to manage the Royals. Pull for each other, as in Grifol wears jersey No. 5 in honor of his friend.
This new job hasn’t changed their friendship. Brett stopped by to talk with Grifol in his office during two White Sox Cactus League trips to Surprise, Ariz., and, when Chicago visits Kauffman Stadium, Brett will make the same journey to the visitors’ clubhouse.
“We’ve always just been very, very close, from the first time I met him,” Brett said. “He was a very easy guy to get to know.”
“Taught me a ton. Pushed me a ton,” Grifol said. “Just taught me the mental side of the grind, like the toughness side of it. He’s a really, really good friend.”