It’s been 18 months since the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox. The move, both at the time and now, was a clear signal of the White Sox transitioning from years of toiling away in mediocrity — desperately but clumsily trying to scrap together a contender — to a rebuild, perfectly content with stockpiling assets while pushing any supposed window of contention a few years down the road.
The White Sox have had their share of embarrassment in my 25 or so years following the team, but the one that gets referenced most often is the White Flag Trade of 1997. The White Sox sat 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central that year when general manager Ron Schueler made a nine-player deal that sent Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and Roberto Hernandez to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for six players, including Keith Foulke, Bob Howry, and Mike Caruso.
The trade was roundly criticized locally at the time and has been rehashed over and over again during the last 21 years.
“We didn’t realize Aug. 1 was the end of the season,” fumed Ventura, the future manager.
Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf took most of the heat, especially after he remarked to Sun-Times reporter Toni Ginnetti: “Anyone who thinks we can catch Cleveland is crazy.”
Reinsdorf was probably right, but the signal that was sent was clear: The White Sox couldn’t compete and they weren’t going to spend any more to compete — never mind the fact that they shelled out a 5-year, $55 million deal to Albert Belle just seven months earlier (the White Sox largest free agent contract ever at the time, and still now only topped by Jose Abreu’s deal).
But while the White Flag Trade still harkens back memories two decades later, the Sale trade also stands out because it was another, similar admission that the White Sox had given up on their attempt to complete with a cost-controlled core of in-their-prime, All-Star talents.
Sale will toe the rubber Friday night against the White Sox in his second start against his former team since that trade 18 months ago. He’s still the same Sale we’ve always known and used to love, finishing second in Cy Young voting last year, leading the league in strikeouts, and he got to pitch in the postseason for the first time in his eight-year career (with a second trip almost assuredly coming this season). He was the best pitcher in White Sox history, if not in terms of longevity or accolades, but in pure, visceral talent.
The White Sox had an undisputed ace. They had a clear and steady No. 2 starter behind him, and they had a pair of primed, All-Star caliber position players signed to reasonable contracts, and they couldn’t compete. That’s more embarrassing than anything that happened in 1997.
None of this is to say the White Sox prospective future isn’t exciting, nor was the Sale trade bad in terms of talent the White Sox received in return. Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are two of the most enticing young players in the game, and if those two and the host of prospects the White Sox have acquired since Sale was sent packing lead the White Sox anywhere near a World Series title somewhere down the road, maybe it will all have been worth it.
But as Sale takes the mound once again against a White Sox team toiling through one of the worst seasons in franchise history, it’s hard not to be frustrated. Looking back on what could have been and what currently is makes one wonder if it will all be worth it; if the future that’s been promised will come to fruition, or if we’re just running in circles from ineptitude to mediocrity and back again. Because until it does, the admission of defeat the franchise proclaimed 18 months ago remains tough to forget.
Lead Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports