Sox Drawer: Alive and kicking

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Sox Drawer: Alive and kicking

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

They were down and out. Dead and buried. A baseball team whose obituary had already been written. It went something like this:

Here lies the 2010 Chicago White Sox, who died in early June of massive underachievement. An autopsy found that their hearts were in the right place, but their brains often failed to produce enough confidence to win more than one game in a row. They are survived by a fan base mourning the teams unrealized expectations. In lieu of flowers, please send extra shovels and something for Bill Melton, Frank Thomas and Chuck Garfien to talk about on White Sox Postgame Live for the next three months.
It was looking like a very long summer.

A thorough investigation would reveal that the Sox officially flat-lined on June 8. Nursing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Tigers, Matt Thornton, who had given up only six runs all season, got tagged for five in one-third of an inning. The Sox lost, 7-2. They were embarrassed at home to one of their main rivals. It dropped them a season-low nine games under .500. They trailed the Twins by 9 12 games in the American League Central. And the next day, White Sox general managerfuneral director Kenny Williams delivered the grave news to the assembled media:

Some changes need to take place," he said. "I dont know what and I dont know when, but some changes need to take place. Things arent happening the way that we envisioned, and when they dont happen the way you envision, youve got to make an adjustment. It is what it is. I have to listen to trade offers. Its not that I want to, but Im not blind.

Trouble was, the Sox often played like they were.

But suddenly, later that same evening, against those same Tigers who humiliated the Sox the day before, something strange took place. A spiritual phenomenon that would compel priests, rabbis and ministers to call U.S. Cellular Field, inquiring about a certain celestial event.

A mere two hours after Williams made that grim diagnosis about his struggling team, a miracle occurred at 35th and Shields, and it wasnt just because Brent Lillibridge hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer.

After two months of mediocre, inconsistent, uninspiring baseball, everything just magically clicked.

And I mean everything.

Besides the Lillibridge home run (which was hit so far, Frank Thomas shouted, He hit that to Hurtville!), backup catcher Ramon Castro homered and drove in four. Immediately after Castro went deep, Gordon Beckham hit a double off the wall -- his first extra-base hit in 112 at-bats.

Every single player in the Sox lineup got a hit that night. They scored seven runs in the fourth inning and seven more in the eighth, batting around twice in the same game for the first time since 1981.

Want more?

Five-foot-nothing Juan Pierre leaped over the fence to rob Brennan Boesch of a home run. He then made a spectacular diving catch to end the same inning. The Sox went 10-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Omar Vizquel came THIS close to hitting a grand slam.

Apparently there was a cap on miracles that night, but no problem. The 43-year-old homered the very next day, just his second since 2007. He also drove in a run on a suicide squeeze.

I hope they check his bat, joked manager Ozzie Guillen.

Overnight, the Sox were no longer a joke. Now it was their turn to deliver the punchline. Detroit would be their first victim, something that seems to have been forgotten. The Sox crushed the Tigers, 15-3, then blanked them, 3-0. That was followed by their historic road trip (yes, historic), going 8-1, the Sox seventh-best road trip ever.

But on every sidewalk along the way there were skeptics who looked at the competition (the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, who are a combined 34 games under .500) and questioned whether the Sox could match up with a team thats actually good.

The Atlanta Braves are good. Potentially great. They came into Tuesday with the best record in the National League and they sent to the mound their best pitcher, Tommy Hanson, who in his previous four interleague starts was 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA.

Who did he beat in those games? Just the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles.

However on this night, he would receive one serious beatdown. The white hot White Sox torched Hanson, who gave up nine runs on 13 hits, both career highs, in just 3 23 innings.

And just like that, the Sox are suddenly back in it. One game over .500 for the first time since beating Cleveland on Opening Day.

Am I surprised it happened this fast? Um, yeah. But Im hardly the only one.

I didnt expect us to be back to .500 so quickly, Williams said before Tuesdays victory. This team has responded and showed some resiliency. At this time, those efforts should be commended and acknowledged in the form that, OK, they are going to keep pushing. We have to see what possibilities are out there to help them out.

Yep, the Sox went from sellers to buyers about as fast as a Stephen Strasburg fastball. Two weeks ago, the Sox GM warned that his team had about 24 hours to live. Now, they appear saved, thanks to a special elixir the whole team is drinking by the keg-load. Its a remedy for all that ails you.

Winning. It cures everything.

Now if only it continues ...

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

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.