White Sox

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 1990'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." 

Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Even as the White Sox finish up the final stretch of their seventh consecutive losing season, the games they are playing aren’t meaningless -- Jose Abreu acknowledged as much when he said that the 2020 season “starts in September”. Key contributors in the White Sox lineup have clearly taken that to heart, as the Sox offense has been one of the best in baseball in the month of September. 

Here are four numbers* that reflect what has been a torrid stretch for the Sox offense to close the season:

*All stats as of the morning of September 21

Three

Three has been a magical number for the White Sox in September. For one, going into play Saturday, the Sox boast the top three leaders in hits for the month: Tim Anderson (32), Yoan Moncada (29) and Eloy Jimenez (28). The team as a whole is also third in baseball in total bases (319) and OPS (.832) in September -- only trailing the Astros and Yankees in both categories, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. 

Unrelated to the number three, but also worth noting, the team is leading the majors in batting average this month:

 

10

Ok, we cheated a little bit here -- 10 makes this list as a reference to Yoan Moncada’s jersey number, but in fairness, we needed a full section to highlight all Yo-Yo has done at the plate this month. He enters play Saturday as the major league leader in batting average (.444) and WAR (1.6) in September, and is currently working on a streak of five consecutive multi-hit games (he has 12 since the start of the month). 

To give even more of an idea of how scalding hot of a stretch it has been for Moncada, here is a side-by-side of his full-season slash-line on September 1 compared to September 21 (a stretch in which he has played 16 games):

  • September 1: .288/.342/.518 (.860 OPS)

  • September 21: .314/.368/.547 (.915 OPS)

Oh, and that .314 batting average? As of Saturday, that's only one point behind Michael Brantley for third in the AL. If Moncada can usurp Brantley, him and Anderson would make up two-thirds of the best three batting averages in the AL. *In best Larry David voice* Preeeeetty, pretty good.

27

“When I feel good, I don’t know, it’s just reaction. I don’t try to do too much and [I] just try to hit it on the barrel,” Eloy Jimenez said post-game last night, in reference to his grand slam against the Tigers. 

The Sox as a team are certainly employing that mentality this month, and the data reflects it. According to Baseball Savant, the White Sox lead baseball in balls batted with an exit velocity of greater-than-or-equal to 108 mph in September with 27 (the next closest team is the Yankees, with 20). Three such instances occurred in last night’s 10-1 rout in Detroit, including Moncada’s 24th home run of the season:

 

118

wRC+ is a weighted, park-controlled measure of a player’s ‘runs created’ wherein the league average is 100 and a player’s proximity to 100 determines how above or below average they register (if you’re curious, there is a great explainer of wRC+ on Fangraphs).

The White Sox have struggled in this metric for most of the season -- their wRC+ as a team is 92 (eight percent below league average), which ranks 20th in baseball. However, in September, the Sox collectively have a wRC+ of 118 -- a whopping 18 percent better than league average -- which ranks fourth in MLB for the month. It’s over a small sample size, as all of these stats are, but it remains an encouraging indicator that the offense is ending the year on a strong note. 

The offseason will officially be upon us soon enough, but if the Sox continue to rake, as they have been all month, there’s still time for a couple exciting moments and performances before the long wait for 2020.

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Daniel Palka finally has a good game in the middle of his nightmare season

palka-920.jpg
USA TODAY

Daniel Palka finally has a good game in the middle of his nightmare season

In the second inning Daniel Palka solidly lined a ball up the middle that looked like a sure hit off the bat. The problem? The Tigers defense was shifted perfectly to that spot for a lineout.

MLB Statcast gave Palka’s lineout an expected batting average of .650. It seemed like just another night like the rest of them have gone for Palka in the majors in 2019.

He entered Friday with a .034 batting average (2-for-59). After hitting 27 home runs with 45 extra base hits and a .778 OPS as a rookie in 2018, Palka hasn’t been able to do much of anything in a White Sox uniform.

That lineout appeared to be another “nothing can go right” moment. However, Palka’s Friday turned around.

His next time up, he pounded a ground ball that found a hole. Statcast gave that one a 31 percent chance of getting a hit, so he broke even after getting robbed earlier. The amusing thing is that Palka’s groundball single had an exit velocity of 108.9 mph, which was the second hardest hit ball of the game.

Palka later added a bloop single in the seventh and a line drive hit in the ninth to finish with a three hit day. Palka entered the day with two hits in 23 games and got three hits in Friday alone.

Even with the 3-for-5 night, Palka’s batting average is still only .072, but he more than doubled it in one game.

Is this relevant to the future of the White Sox? Almost certainly not, but Palka showed some promise in his rookie season and has been through an absolute nightmare this season. The mental side of going through his 0-for-32 start to the season and the continued struggles since could not have been easy. For at least one night in 2019 Palka had a good game at the plate.

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