Do the Cubs Have a White Flag in Their Future?
"It's just disappointing, I guess, to think you have a team where everybody in here thinks you can still do it and you can't. You'll never know what could have happened."
So said White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura to Phil Rogers of the Tribune on August 1, 1997, the day after Ventura's bosses completed the so-called "White Flag Trade," in which the Sox shipped three of Ventura's veteran teammates to San Francisco for six minor leaguers, all while Ventura's team—52-53 at the time—sat just 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians.
"This team had a chance, and it didn't seize it. It was hard to look at this team and feel very confident. I wasn't interested in finishing second in a poker hand."
So said Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf in defending the deal, which moved pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, and Danny Darwin, and netted shortstop Mike Caruso, outfielder Brian Manning, and pitchers Lorenzo Barcelo, Ken Vining, Keith Foulke, and future Cub Bob Howry.
"I looked at it today and I was thinking all it takes is gaining one game a week for the rest of the year and you can win your division... It's going to take 50 wins or so from here on out to...win this division, and we're capable of doing it."
So said Ryan Dempster on ESPN Radio last week when discussing the Cubs' chances of clawing past the Reds and Cardinals.
I bring this up because, while enjoying almost all of the Cubs' four-game series with the Phillies this past weekend, I couldn't help but wonder if Cubs GM Jim Hendry wasn't at least a little bit conflicted. A week ago, he was (presumably) making plans to shed excess salary and re-arm the Cubs organization with prospects acquired through trade, and he would have had the support of all Cubdom in doing so.
Now, with home-and-home series against the lowly Astros and a three-game set against the division leaders in the Cubs' immediate future, Hendry has to at least ponder the possibility that ten days from now, his team could be within, say, six games of the division lead. At the same time, he (presumably) has teams like the Mets and Tigers and Yankees and who-knows-who-else knocking on his door and calling his office to inquire about possible deals with the third-place Chicago Cubs.
What to do, Jim? What to do?
At the time of the "White Flag Trade," Dusty Baker's Giants were in a dead heat with the Dodgers for the lead in the NL West. Following the trade, the Giants went 31-23 and won the West by 2 games over Los Angeles. Alvarez went 4-3, 4.48 for SF down the stretch, while Darwin was 1-3, 4.91, and Hernandez went 5-2, 2.48.
The White Sox finished the season 80-81, six games behind the Indians, who went on to win the AL pennant.
Of the six players the White Sox picked up in the big trade, only Manning failed to reach the majors. A year after the trade, Caruso was the White Sox' starting shortstop and batted .300, Howry saved 49 games for the Sox between '98 and 2002, and Foulke collected 100 saves for the Sox before he was traded to Oakland in a deal for Billy Koch at the end of '02.