By: Mark Lester
Now that the offseason is upon us and the trade rumors are flying all over the place, one can’t help but recall some of the biggest trades in their team’s history. Some of these transactions carried teams to the World Series, while others doomed franchises to years of mediocrity. Today, we remember a trade that very well may have kept the White Sox out of the playoffs for years, and sent one of the greatest players of the decade to their crosstown rivals. It is not my honor, nor my pleasure to present to you, the worst trade in the history of the Chicago White Sox.
Let’s set the scene...
The date was March 30, 1992. The White Sox had won 87 games the previous year, and they knew that they needed another piece if they wanted a chance to be legitimate contenders for the division title, which at the time was the only way into the playoffs. Their playoff window was wide open, and they knew that one more star could punch their ticket to the ALCS, possibly even the World Series.
The White Sox hated crosstown rivals, the Cubs, weren’t as fortunate as their South Side counterparts. They won the NL East in 1989, but got significantly worse over the next two years, only mustering 5th and 4th place finishes in the following two seasons.
In the 1990 offseason, the Cubs signed a 31 year old outfielder named George Bell, who won the 1987 AL MVP with the Blue Jays, hitting .308 with 47 home runs that same year. The signing was supposed to boost the Cubs back into playoff contention, supposedly giving them “one of the most formidable lineups in baseball...” (Carrie Muskat, UPI). In 1991, the Cubs were, according to a New York Times poll, the sixth most likely team to win the World Series.
The Cubs, to put it delicately, did not follow up on these big expectations, improving from 77 wins in 1990, to. . . 77 wins in 1991. Clearly, their big offseason splash didn’t exactly pan out the way they had hoped.
At this point, the Cubs were smart enough to know that they wouldn’t be contending for a World Series anytime soon. Their prize signing George Bell was good, but not great in his lone season with the Cubs, hitting .285 with 25 home runs and 86 RBIs.
Good, not great was more than enough for the White Sox to have a desire for Bell, however. One of their weakest links was a young 23 year old right fielder, who just wasn’t developing as well as the White Sox hoped he would. He only mustered a batting average of .203 with 33 RBI’s in his third and final season with the Sox in 1991. Despite his poor performance in the majors, lots of scouts believed that the prospect had lots of raw talent, something teams like the Cubs were desperate for. Bell could’ve also filled a huge hitting hole for the Sox, moving to the DH while Tim Raines took the reins in the outfield. The White Sox and Cubs, both having what the other wanted, finalized a trade on March 30th.
The White Sox would get George Bell, who would later play as the team’s designated hitter, while the Cubs would receive the young outfielder along with left handed pitcher Ken Patterson, who went 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA the previous year. The deal looked solid for both teams: the White Sox were getting a slugger at the tail end of his prime who seemingly had enough left in the tank to push the Sox to the next level. The Cubs were getting two young players with lots of potential and getting rid of a contract they really didn’t need. On the surface, it looked like a fair trade. The following seasons would prove that it was anything but.
George Bell, to say the least, didn’t play up to expectations in his time with the Sox. He was the White Sox DH for for only 2 seasons, hitting .236 with 38 home runs in that timespan. In Bell’s last season, 1993, the White Sox made the ALCS. Ironically, the player who was supposed to help them get to the playoffs rode the bench while his former team, the Blue Jays, beat the White Sox in six games. Game Six would prove to be the last of Bell’s career. The White Sox released him, and shortly afterwards he announced his retirement from baseball.
The White Sox were never able to capitalize on their strong core of Tim Raines, Robin Ventura and Frank Thomas. They never had a second shot at postseason baseball after the strike-shortened 1994 season. The White Sox
wouldn’t make it back to the playoffs until 2000, and never made it as far as the ALCS until 2005.
Ken Patterson was mediocre as a reliever in his lone year with the Cubs, pitching a 3.89 ERA with 0 saves out of 2 opportunities. He signed with the California Angels for the ‘93 season, and was out of baseball by ‘94.
That right fielder the Cubs acquired in the trade didn’t fare well in his first season with the team, hitting a mediocre .260/.317/.393. But in 1993, he suddenly broke out with 33 home runs and and 93 RBI’s. Two years later, he was an All Star. In 1998, the guy who was hitting .203 with the White Sox was neck to neck with Mark McGwire in one of the most intense battles in baseball history: the fight for the single season home run record.
That’s right. The prospect exchanged for George Bell, an injury plagued trade bust, hit 609 home runs in his career. He hit over 60 home runs in a season twice, and hit at least 100 RBIs nine consecutive times. And yes, in 1998, the same year the Cubs finally made the playoffs, he was only five home runs away from notching the record for most home runs in a single season in baseball history.
His name was Sammy Sosa. The same player the White Sox gave up for George Bell.
So long, long story short: the White Sox received 2 years of mediocre service from a washed up hitter who didn’t come close to getting them to World Series contention in return for one of the greatest sluggers to everplay Major League Baseball, who given the chance, almost certainly would’ve gotten the White Sox to the World Series. And to top it all off, they gifted him to their biggest rival in franchise history.
And if you’re wondering if there’s anything other White Sox trade that comes remotely close to being this utterly bad, I’ll save your time.
Well, there was Fernando Tatis Jr (no. 3 prospect) for James Shields two years ago. So maybe I will live to see another White Sox trade go horrifically wrong in my lifetime.