After 40 years of ownership under the group led by Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox are in new territory. They’ll enter 2024 with a new General Manager for the first time since 2012, and it’ll be the first year since 1998 that Ken Williams won’t be heading up the baseball operations department.
The mid-August firings are an entirely unprecedented move for a regime that’s infamously reticent to make changes mid-season. Since purchasing the White Sox in 1981 and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls in 1984, Reinsdorf has never dismissed a high-level executive before the end of the season, and until now, the only instance of in-season regime change came in 1986, when Hawk Harrelson resigned his post after a disastrous year at the helm of baseball operations. It’s rare you see something new after a combined 80 seasons of ownership, but this certainly qualifies.
Reinsdorf’s organizations have garnered a reputation for being notoriously slow to implement change at the decision-making level. Bulls GM Rod Thorn was relieved of his duties shortly after Reinsdorf purchased the team, after which Jerry Krause, John Paxson, and Gar Forman occupied the position with no regime interruptions for over 30 years before the latter two were fired in 2020. Prior to Hahn and Williams’ departures this afternoon, the last White Sox decision-maker to be forced out was Larry Himes after the 1990 season. Himes’ successor, Ron Schueler, stepped down due to health reasons after the 2000 season — as did Krause, his Bulls counterpart, in 2003 — passing the torch to Williams, who was promoted from GM to VP of Baseball Operations following the 2012 season.
Midseason coaching changes have been less unprecedented, though still rare, and White Sox manager Pedro Grifol will remain in his post through the end of this season and is reportedly expected to return in 2024. Since Harrelson unceremoniously fired Tony La Russa during the ‘86 campaign, Gene Lamont is the only White Sox manager to lose his job before the end of the season, if one isn’t inclined to count the bizarre conclusion of Ozzie Guillen’s tenure, which ended with a trade to the Marlins. The trigger finger has been a bit quicker on the Bulls' side of operations; Tim Floyd, Bill Cartwright, and Scott Skiles were all dismissed midseason between 2001 and 2007. Fred Hoiberg joined them in 2018, though Reinsdorf still has yet to dismiss a coach with more than one year remaining on their contract. Grifol is reportedly signed through 2025.
Although the removal of Paxson and Forman from the top of the Bulls organization portended deeper front office turnover when Nuggets executive Artūras Karnišovas was brought in as their President of Basketball Operations, the early indications are that the White Sox will look internally to fill the hole at the top of their baseball operations department, and the full extent of the change is yet to be known. Whatever that extent is, that such a change is being made with barely six weeks remaining in the season means something. It was barely three weeks ago that Hahn noted that major changes to the organizational structure “don’t typically happen in-season,” and it was just yesterday that the team felt the need to clarify that the “internal interviews” reportedly being conducted were essentially business as usual. We may never know what specifically triggered the move today, but between the team’s record — “We have underachieved. This is what happens,” Williams texted reporters — and the organizational dysfunction brought to light by Keynan Middleton after his trade to the Yankees, this has perhaps been the most difficult and deeply embarrassing season in a decade full of difficult and deeply embarrassing seasons.
We will see whether the White Sox follow the route of the Bulls, or whether they will simply re-tool and keep their broader organizational structure intact. Regardless, the path to fielding a competitive team with the fruits of the 2017-19 rebuild is very narrow, but this surely difficult choice was a decisive first step towards walking that path. We’re in uncharted waters, folks. All we can do is wait for what comes next.