On July 31, 1997 — The White Sox jump out to a 9 – 0 lead over the Angels in the 2nd inning, then hold on to record a 14 – 12 victory. Rookie Mike Cameron leads Chicago with five RBIs, while Todd Greene gets four hits and drives home six runs for Anaheim in a losing cause.
On July 31st, 1997 the front office of the White Sox committed the, then unforgivable, sin of trading away three, key, starting roster players for six minor leaguers while only trailing the Indians by 3.5 games. The backlash was harsh and immediate, fans and media knew it was the sign that the front office had given up. The Chairman did not help things when he was trite and flippant in subsequent interviews about the trade. The 97 season ended on a sour note and the future looked pretty bleak.
The question that has never really been answered is, was the criticism justified? Or was the right move made at the time?
The trade sent Danny Darwin, Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants in return for a group of head scratching names that did not make any sense to most.
Brian Manning, a career minor league player that never ended up cracking the bigs was one piece. Unimpressive.
Lorenzo Barcelo eventually played 43 games with the White Sox over parts of three seasons and was not a factor. Not a great start to the trade so far.
Mike Caruso burst onto the scene in 1998 and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. 1999 was not so kind and after an awful start in 2000 he was sent down and later released. Caruso had another shot in 2002 with the Royals, but was gone forever shortly thereafter. One good season for all that talent given away? Come on man!
Ken Vining would make a few appearances for the White Sox and never be seen on a major league mound again. Part 4 of the trade is a bust.
Keith Foulke would become the bullpen stalwart for the White Sox, including the division winning club in 2000, and appear in 346 games in parts of six seasons. Compiling 100 saves and a 2.86 ERA during that span. Foulke would eventually be traded to Oakland for Billy Koch and Neal Cotts.
Billy Koch would have his worst span as a professional with the White Sox over parts of two seasons and was eventually traded for Wilson Valdez.
Wilson Valdez was a journeyman infielder and spent very little time on the South Side and was not effective.
Neal Cotts would spend parts of 4 seasons with the White Sox and three of them were not stellar, but in 2005 the magic came out. In 69 games as left handed specialist out of the pen he would go 4-0 with an ERA of 1.94, becoming a vital cog in the championship machinery that came together that year. Cotts would chip in with four scoreless innings in the playoffs and World Series (appearing in all four games). Cotts would eventually be moved on for Carlos Vazquez and David Aardsma.
Carlos Vazquez never appeared in the bigs and hung out in the minors and other leagues until 2012.
David Aardsma would appear in 25 games in 2007 and be shipped off for Willie Mota and Miquel Sotolovich (both of whom never appeared with the White Sox).
Perhaps the most intersting piece of the original deal is the last piece, Bobby Howry.
Howry would play parts of 5 seasons on the South Side and make 294 appearances. Bob was also part of the 2000 division winning squad and served as a brilliant set up man for Keith Foulke for much of that season. Howry’s biggest impacts came later when he was traded for Byeong Hak-An (never made it out of the minors) and Frank Francisco.
Francisco was a disaster in his short run with the White Sox and he was later dealt for Carl Everett, and this is where it gets interesting.
Carl Everett would play out the 2003 season before signing with Montreal as a free agent in 2004. Later in 2004 he was swapped back to the White Sox and would be instrumental in the 2005 World Series run while basically assuming everyday DH duties for an injured Frank Thomas.
In the beginning the White Flag trade seemed like a disaster. However, after careful analysis of a deal that took shape over the next decade, it is clear that it may not have been as bad as everyone thinks. Foulke and Howry helped win a division title just three season later. Cotts and Everett were both key players in the end of the World Series drought.
The beauty of a well executed trade sometimes can’t be seen for several seasons.