GLENDALE, Ariz — When the news broke in December that the White Sox signed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, it sounded like an early April Fool’s joke.
Even Gonzalez himself had trouble believing it, and he was the one who signed the contract.
“Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I did not think that I would have been on (the White Sox) radar,” Gonzalez said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I didn’t think they wanted me to come back. Lo and behold, I stand corrected. I’m happy I did.”
How Gonzalez is finally back with the White Sox is one of the wildest transaction journeys in franchise history.
“It’s good to be back again. It was again and again and one more time again,” Gonzalez said smiling.
His 15-year adventure culminated last week at Camelback Ranch with a hug between Gonzalez and White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams, the man who twice traded Gonzalez away.
“The first time around, I’d do it again,” Williams said about trading Gonzalez. “The second time around, no.”
More on that in a moment.
Drafted by the White Sox towards the end of the first round in 2004, Gonzalez seemed destined for a spot in the major league rotation behind the likes of Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras.
But then, a World Series happened.
And 15 years later, Gonzalez would like to remind us of the other championship won by the White Sox in 2005 — in the minor leagues at Class-A Kannapolis.
“I was a part of that by the way,” Gonzalez said. “I did something at least for the White Sox in the minor leagues. We got one for Kannapolis!”
But in December of 2005, the White Sox were charging for another World Series title. Believing he needed a left-handed bat in the middle of the order, Williams, then the GM, acquired future Hall of Famer Jim Thome from the Phillies for fan favorite Aaron Rowand and Gonzalez, who was one of the White Sox top pitching prospects at the time.
“That was Jim (bleeping) Thome,” Williams said laughing. “So I would do that (trade) again. Actually not now, because Gio can still pitch and Jim can’t play anymore.”
Williams can joke about it now, but back then he had to put his emotions aside and complete a baseball trade he felt made too much sense to pass up.
“We were trying to repeat. We needed that big left-handed bat, but it was still difficult. Everybody knows how close Aaron Rowand was to my heart so it was difficult enough as it was, but in order to make it happen, they insisted on Gio or it wasn’t going to happen. We felt we needed Jim Thome to try to go back to the World Series,” Williams said.
Gonzalez who was only 20 years old at the time, was overwhelmed to be in the same trade as Thome.
“I was blown away by the name alone, his presence,” Gonzalez said about Thome. “I was also excited because it was going to be another chapter in my life. I was sad to see the White Sox go because that was the team I wanted to be with so bad. You want to play with the team that drafted you. You want to be a part of their history, their legacy. It was unfortunate, but it gave me an opportunity to be somewhere else.”
However, his stay in Philadelphia wouldn’t last long. Almost a year to the day later, out of nowhere, Gonzalez received a phone call from the White Sox.
“Bam! We’re back (with the White Sox) with another trade,” Gonzalez recalled.
The White Sox re-acquired Gonzalez along with fellow pitcher Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia. Life seemed right again. Gonzalez was returning to the organization that drafted him. After a dominant season at Double-A Birmingham in 2007, he was so close to Chicago he could taste the pizza.
But then came the trade Williams admits he regrets to this very day.
The White Sox sent Gonzalez, outfielder Ryan Sweeney and minor league pitcher Fautino De Los Santos to Oakland for a switch-hitting slugger with a big personality, Nick Swisher. The White Sox would make the playoffs that 2008 season with Swisher (or despite him, depending on who you ask), but the marriage didn’t last long. By September, Swisher was often riding the bench and barely played in the ALDS against Tampa Bay.
The following November, Williams shipped Swisher to the Yankees in a trade highlighted by journeyman utilityman Wilson Betemit who played a total of 20 games with the White Sox. Gonzalez would become an All-Star in 2011 and 2012.
That was an ugly paragraph to write.
“I should have kept him that time. That’s all I’ll say,” Williams said about the second Gonzalez trade. He wanted to say more. Almost did, but instead just repeated the line, “I should have kept him that time.”
Over a decade later, what does Gonzalez think about being traded twice by Williams?
“The first time I gave him the benefit of the doubt,” Gonzalez said. “The second one, we laugh about it now. He brought me back.”
Besides those two All-Star appearances, Gonzalez would lead the National League with 21 wins in 2012 and he’d make eight starts in the postseason with the Nationals and Brewers. Although he was the one responsible for trading him, Williams cheered for Gonzalez every step of the way.
“Especially given the fact that I didn’t think it was fair to trade a young guy like that, so I’ve rooted for him this entire time,” Williams said. “That’s why it was easy when I saw him (at Camelback Ranch) and gave him a hug. We had a good laugh.”
Rick Hahn also brought the funny when he contacted Gonzalez to welcome him back to the White Sox after the one-year deal was finalized.
“I said, ‘I am more confident now than ever that we’re actually going to see you in a White Sox uniform,’” Hahn recalled. “We absolutely laughed about the history when I officially re-welcomed him for a third time to the organization.”
Gonzalez’s third stint with White Sox has been slightly delayed, however. He arrived in Glendale with some discomfort in his left shoulder which has put him about a week behind schedule. Gonzalez says there’s no reason to be alarmed.
“I think we’re making great progress, especially from where I was before to where I am now. It’s night and day.”
So are the White Sox — this spring compared to last.
“It seems like they want to do magic this year and for years to come.”
Better late than never for Gonzalez and the White Sox, reunited again.
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