Hahn saw his future with White Sox not Cubs

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Hahn saw his future with White Sox not Cubs

There was a time where Rick Hahn seemed to be the medias favorite to be the next Cubs general manager. It got to the point where Tom Ricketts sort of shook his head, because the chairman had never actually met the guy before.

Ricketts told Jim Hendry that he would be fired during a secret meeting on July 22, 2011. Hendry kept the news buried for almost a month, not telling even some of his closest friends and family until just before the news conference inside the Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon.

With Ricketts looking for someone with a different analytical background, Hahn immediately emerged as a possible connect-the-dots candidate. Hahn had grown up in Winnetka and graduated from New Trier High School before getting degrees from the University of Michigan, Harvard Law School and Northwesterns Kellogg School of Management.

This was almost exactly one year after the Cubs won their press conference and put Theo Epsteins name in lights on the Wrigley Field marquee. Hahn looked around a U.S. Cellular Field conference room on Friday, looking for his parents and thanking them for never trying to talk sense into me as I was potentially flushing away a lot of education.

This is what Hahn had in mind, and the White Sox had been plotting this move for years. After 12 seasons in the front office and multiple interviews in other big-league cities Hahn finally realized his dream of becoming a general manager here.

It just wasnt going to happen on the North Side.

There was a lot of speculation last year about what was going on over there, Hahn said. I think they were pretty singularly focused from the start about what they wanted to do and they were able to accomplish that. It never arose anywhere close to the level that I think was speculated publicly.

Obviously, that would have been an opportunity to be a GM in my hometown, which has a lot of appeal. But it also would have been leaving the people here who Ive had long relationships with, so I didnt get too hung up on it, especially since I had sort of a sense of where this was heading pretty early on.

At the time, Epstein looked like a total reach. There was no "Theo Watch" yet.

Sure, maybe the Cubs would try to copy the Boston Red Sox model and go after Ben Cherington, Epsteins assistant general manager and eventual replacement. There was a national buzz that they were interested in Brian Cashman (who had long respected Hendry and would hire him as a special assistant with the New York Yankees).

There were suspicions that Josh Byrnes was angling for the job, though this chain of events would ultimately help make him the San Diego Padres general manager. Chicago guy Mike Rizzo whose homegrown core would win 98 games this season went on the defensive and denied interest in leaving the Washington Nationals.

Epstein left Boston for a presidents title and total control of baseball operations at Clark and Addison. From San Diego, Epstein brought in Jed Hoyer as general manager and Jason McLeod to oversee scouting and player development.

The job is 247, 365 days a year for Type A personalities. In moving up to executive vice president, Kenny Williams talked about how hed feel the pain in his neck and the churning in his stomach while watching games.

Williams played football at Stanford University and liked the Oakland Raiders, and he took that Silver and Black mentality into everything. He described how hed leave during the middle of the game and steer his car onto Lake Shore Drive to look at the water and try to find some calm.

After almost a decade of relentless scrutiny in Boston, Epstein sensed he was nearing his expiration date. He really felt energized during a recent trip to Arizona, watching prospects in instructional league and seeing The Cubs Way come to life.

John Paxson and Gar Forman are running the Bulls for Jerry Reinsdorf, but Hahn stressed that every situation is unique. Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti created a partnership within the Cleveland Indians, while Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have turned the Texas Rangers into an annual contender.

Theo and his staff is just another example of a different sort of set-up, Hahn said. But what matters from my standpoint when I look at it is the efficacy within the office, how its going to work. Do we have the right people having the right input and the right resources? And thats what Im comfortable with here.

The media has fixated on the attendance problems on the South Side, where the White Sox were in first place deep into September and still drew less than two million fans. The Cubs lost 101 games and almost reached three million.

Hahn thinks the White Sox can reach that level, though he admits that they missed an opportunity after winning the 2005 World Series.

If we win, absolutely, Hahn said. I do feel that if we followed up 05 fairly quickly in 06 or 07 with another one or at least a deep, deep run that probably would have swayed some of the momentum in our direction. (But thats) not going to change the decision about whos on the field. So its not for me to worry about. I got enough to worry about.

So Hahn isnt going to turn into Ozzie Guillen and provide bulletin-board material for Cubs-Sox.

I really dont view it as competing with them, other than when we play, Hahn said. That may be different from a marketing standpoint, or it could be different from a fan-experience standpoint, or how others approach it. But for me, theyre another opponent and I want to beat them when we play.

Probably the ideal situation would be for both of us to have success and see what happens in this town if we actually squared off in October.

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.