Ballantini: Taking in Cactus League with Ozzie

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Ballantini: Taking in Cactus League with Ozzie

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Posted: 10:26 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. In case you havent been getting the gist of my spring training writing so far, the Cactus League is pretty much a paradise for baseball fans.

After all, where else can you find yourself watching major league players in an atmosphere not unlike a local high school game.

Thats just where I found myself on Thursday, watching the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers face off in a game that brought me back to my own days spitting sunflower seeds and itching to see action at third, short, catcher, outfield, wherever. Only my stroll down memory lane was accompanied by manager Ozzie Guillen, who in all likelihood would be any baseball fans choice for Person Theyd Most Want to Watch a Game With.

For all his animation, and the fact that Ozzie could talk to a batboy for an hour and turn it into ace reality TV, the truth is that the White Sox manager truly cares about and attends to the game. Its the flamboyance that gets the play, but Ozzie is a true caretaker of the game.

Not to say there werent moments of jest. Guillen was immediately impressed by the bat and arm of rightfielder Kyle Russell. His impression came in the form of chiding Russell for wearing a helmet with Little League-style double ear flaps: Hey, No. 14, youve got a big-league number, tell Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to give you a major league helmet! (Then, under his breath, that kid is impressive I like that kid.)

Natch, Guillen had words for the umpiring crew the second a pitch call went against him: Hey, were filming you! And Ozzie couldnt help but laugh at the fact that while the Dodgers had several interns spread around the field, using high-tech equipment to track every pitch of the game, the White Sox had just one photographer, using such a veteran camera that the manager was unsure whether the camera model was still in production. (The discrepancy was so hilarious, even recalcitrant first-base coach Harold Baines got into the fray.)

Later, when a Dodgers extra busted hard right at us on a foul popup, crashing into the fence to no avail, Guillen was quick to compliment him: Good hustle, kid. Tommy Lasorda will love you! And even when Dallas McPherson was thrown out at home plate, Ozzie wasnt worried about the play, but the fact that no one moved the bat out of McPhersons way, paving the way to injury.

And yeah, theres was a lot we talked about that was meant to stay outside the lines, but let me trickle one thing for you to look for. Ozzie has a plan for the Cleveland Indians after the National Anthem on Opening Day, something that could earn him cheers but, knowing how much the Wahoos fans detest the Chisox jefe, will get boos galore. Today, Ozzie wasnt sure if hed go through with it, but if he does, it will be an all-time classic.

Just like the manager himself.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.