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Column: Chicago White Sox need to shake up their clubhouse culture by dealing 1 or more of their core players this offseason

Operation Shutdown began for the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 21, one day after a crushing loss to the Cleveland Guardians virtually ended their postseason dreams.

Luis Robert and Tim Anderson soon were declared out for the rest of the season, joining Michael Kopech on the list of Sox players who probably could play through their injuries if the games had any meaning.

Manager Tony La Russa already had been shut down on Aug. 30 with a heart-related issue that doctors felt was serious enough to prevent him from managing the final month. Because he hasn’t been made available to the media since the Sox announced Saturday that he won’t return to the dugout this season, we can only speculate that he didn’t deem these final games worth fighting the decision.

There may be more shutdowns as the losses pile up in the final week of the season, so stay tuned.

If you’re still watching the Sox at this point, it can be for only two reasons. Either you’re a glutton for punishment or you’ve built an immunity to pain and simply want to finish what you started.

Most of my family and friends fit in the latter category. They’ve seen many bad Sox teams over the years but watch the games until the bitter end anyway. It’s in their DNA, so they can blame it on their parents, their grandparents or even Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the first permanent settler of Chicago.

Like the season as a whole, this ending threatens to be the worst in Sox history and might even eclipse the complete collapse of the Chicago Sky, who were outscored 18-0 in the final 3:46 of their Game 5 loss to the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA playoffs.

The Sox entered Wednesday’s game in Minnesota with a seven-game losing streak, hitting a combined .192 over that span with 61 strikeouts and 45 hits. Since the 11-inning loss to the Guardians in last week’s “must-win” series opener, they had led for only three innings in six games through Tuesday.

It has gotten so bad that postgame studio hosts Chuck Garfien and Ozzie Guillen have run out of ways to say the team is an embarrassment.

The only winner in all of this may be La Russa, who watched acting manager Miguel Cairo win for a couple of weeks, adding to the narrative that the team just needed a different voice. But Cairo’s star has faded since Operation Shutdown commenced, and now it’s clear the brief surge was a mirage.

That doesn’t mean La Russa dodges responsibility for the underachieving season, but it suggests Cairo isn’t the answer either.

So it’s back to the drawing board for … we’re not exactly sure yet.

Normally executive vice president Ken Williams would have to decide whether general manager Rick Hahn also takes the fall and if an overhaul of the clubhouse is necessary to get the Sox back on the right track. But Williams also has to share some of the blame — because he likes getting some of the credit when things go well.

The Sox have one World Series title and four trips to the postseason since Williams replaced Ron Schueler as GM after the 2000 season, then moved up the ladder in 2012. And they haven’t won a playoff series and have gone only twice since Hahn replaced Williams as GM.

In many organizations, that kind of record would lead to a no-fault divorce in which the owner thanks the executives for giving their all. But accountability is not a strong point of this organization, which hasn’t won a postseason series outside of 2005 in the last 105 years.

There are no untouchables on the Sox, aside from Dylan Cease. But there are a few unloadables, including Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Joe Kelly and Leury García, whose contracts make them likely to return in 2023.

Fortunately for Williams — and maybe Hahn — there are several talented, relatively young players who could be dealt, including Anderson, Robert and Kopech, who were focal points of the rebuild. The Sox could get something of value in return for any of them, and the player would have the motivation to prove he can stay healthy and productive the whole season.

One or more of the Sox core should be dealt early in the offseason, sending a message they’re serious about changing the culture. The Cubs blew it by hanging on too long to the core of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. Now their fans are paying the price with a second rebuild in a decade.

The picture the Sox painted from day one was one of a team that felt like it could turn it on when it really mattered. The lack of emotion on display in those shots of the dugout has been a constant reminder of the joylessness of playing on a .500 team.

Reinsdorf addressed that same issue back in 1996 after the Sox blew a 4½-game American League wild-card lead in early August and fell out of the race in September. In an interview with WSCR-AM, he cited third baseman Robin Ventura as an example of the “laid-back” Sox clubhouse that needed an infusion of life.

“When Harold Baines was here early in the ‘80s, no one really cared about him being laid-back because we had a lot of goofballs like Ron Kittle and Greg Luzinski and Jerry Koosman and (Tom) Paciorek,” Reinsdorf said. “But now, we don’t have anybody of that nature. I think we have to get people with a little bit better personality. But they better be able to play baseball.”

After the season the Sox added moody slugger Albert Belle, who could play baseball but didn’t help change the direction. After two more playoff-free seasons, another rebuild began.

Taking La Russa out of the picture won’t change the fact the clubhouse mix wasn’t right. And if the same core is brought back again, Operation Shutdown could become an annual event.


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