White Sox Season Could Be Similar to 1997

Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

At the 1997 trade deadline the White Sox sent two starting pitchers and their closer to the S.F Giants for six prospects. Is 2016 looking like 1997?

After a blazing start, the White Sox have lost 23 of their last 30 games. There is extreme dissension among the fan base. Are the Sox a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline?

In 1997 the White Sox were in third place, 3.5 games behind first place Cleveland on July 29th. They consummated a nine-player trade that day that would be called “The White Flag Trade.”

The White Sox sent All-Star pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Robert Hernandez and starting pitcher Danny Darwin to San Francisco for six prospects. Alvarez and Hernandez signed with Tampa Bay following the season and Darwin retired. The Giants would receive sandwich picks as compensation for losing Hernandez and Alvarez.

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The trade was widely criticized by the media, fans and some players. The White Sox were criticized for “giving up” on the season.

The White Sox were 51-52 at the time of the trade. They went on to split their last 56 games of the season. It took them the remainder of the 1997 season and the next two seasons before they became competitive again.

The White Sox finished 1998, 80-82 in Jerry Manuel‘s first season. They would follow that up with a 75-86 record in 1999.

Darwin widely criticized the trade. Ironically current White Sox manager Robin Ventura was the third baseman at the time. He was quoted in the Chicago Tribune soon after the trade saying

"I didn’t know the season ended August 1st"

Ventura had battled back from a gruesome ankle injury in spring training. He had returned to the team just five days before the trade.

The White Sox had battled back from a 10-19 start. They reached a season-high five games above .500 on July 13. At the time of the trade, they had lost ten of their previous 14 games. Alvarez, Hernandez and Darwin were all free agents at the end of the season.

That began a slight rebuilding process. The White Flag Trade allowed Matt Karchner to step into Hernandez’ closer role. He went 15 for 15 in save opportunities to finish the ’97 season. He would save 11 games the following season before the White Sox traded him to the Cubs at the 1998 trading deadline for Jon Garland. Karchner would ironically become Beck’s set up man with the Cubs.

The trade also gave the chance for younger players like Mike Sirotka a chance to play more often. With Alvarez’ spot in the rotation opened up, Jim Parque and James Baldwin became part of the rotation in 1998. All three of them were part of the rotation when the White Sox posted the best record in the American League in 2000.

In the off-season, the White Sox traded Mike Cameron to Cincinnati for young first-base prospect Paul Konerko. The White Sox were his third team, as he had already “failed” in Los Angeles and Cincinnati.

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Nineteen years later and the White Sox fan base and some in the media are criticizing the White Sox for going for it year after year. The refrain has been that they continually attempt to trade for and sign stars who are past their prime. If they don’t make an effort to get the best players than a sizable portion of the fanbase calls owner Jerry Reinsdorf cheap or that he doesn’t care about winning.

It has been suggested that the White Sox should tank to strip the team down and start over. That would give the White Sox higher draft picks, and they would be able to rebuild quicker. That’s exactly what they were criticized for in 1997. 

In return for Alvarez, Hernandez, and Darwin, the White Sox received Pitchers Lorenzo Barcelo, Bob Howry, Keith Foulke and Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Manning was the only player that did not reach the major leagues.

Foulke saved 100 games for the White Sox over six seasons. Seventy-six of those came in 2000-01. He fell out of favor during the 2002 season. Foulke had to share the closer role with Antonio Osuna and Damaso Marte in 2002.

They traded Foulke, Mark Johnson and Joe Valentine to Oakland after the 2002 season for Billy Koch and two prospects. Neal Cotts was one of them.

Howry was the White Sox primary set-up man between 1998 and 2002. He was traded at the 2002 trading deadline for two prospects.

Caruso hit .306 as a 20-year-old rookie in 1998, finishing third in the rookie of the year balloting. He fell off substantially and out of favor after a mediocre 1999 season. He never returned to the White Sox after 1999. Barcelo and Vining had limited stints with the White Sox.

Koch lasted one miserable season and a half with the White Sox. Foulke went on to great success with the A’s and Red Sox. He recorded the assist on the final out when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.

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The White Sox are currently closer to first place, but further down in the standings and it’s earlier in the season than it was in 1997. As it currently sits it’s a tough decision whether or not to be a buyer or seller.  If they don’t turn it around quickly, the answer will be easy.