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Giants’ visit to Cell brings back memories of ‘white-flag trade’

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Updated: July 18, 2014 6:16AM

The White Sox and San Francisco Giants have played only six games since interleague play started in 1997. They’ll play four times this season, including Tuesday and Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field.

But the Giants still hold a special place in Sox history. So does 1997. More specifically, July 31, 1997.

That was the day of the so-called ‘‘white-flag trade.’’

What happened that day, when the Sox sent three players to the
Giants for six, would be remembered more for what it meant than for the impact it had on the future. The Sox traded three veteran pitchers — starters Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin and closer Roberto Hernandez — to the Giants for six players, including relievers Keith Foulke and Bob Howry and shortstop Mike Caruso.

Two days earlier, then-general manager Ron Schueler had traded popular outfielder/designated hitter Harold Baines to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named.

The blockbuster moves came with the Sox seemingly in the heat of the American League Central race, trailing the Cleveland Indians by only 3½ games. But chairman Jerry Reinsdorf backed Schueler.

‘‘Anyone who thinks this White Sox team can catch Cleveland is crazy,’’ he said of a team that had hovered at .500. ‘‘We’re not even in second place, so we have to prepare for next year and the future.’’

The Giants went on to win the National League West at 90-72 but were eliminated in the NL Division Series by the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins. The Sox finished 80-81, six games behind the Indians.

But the Sox would go on to win the AL Central three years later with the help of Foulke and Howry. As for the Giants, they traded ­Alvarez and Hernandez after the 1997 season, and Darwin played only one more season.

But Sox players weren’t looking at the long-term picture at the time. Ozzie Guillen took a bat to a clubhouse TV when he found out Baines had been traded July 29. Robin Ventura, who recently had returned after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury suffered in spring training, was just as incredulous July 31.

‘‘I didn’t know the season ended Aug. 1,’’ he said at the time, later making T-shirts for his teammates that read ‘‘Chicago Leftovers’’ on one side and ‘‘Maybe We’re Just Dumb Enough To Win This’’ on
the other.

Now the Sox’ manager, Ventura said he doesn’t think about the trade until it’s brought up.

‘‘If someone brings it up, you think about it,’’ he said. ‘‘I was only [with the Sox] one more year, so I didn’t necessarily play with all those guys [Foulke, Howry and

But he still remembers the feelings he had at the time.

‘‘As a player, you think you’re only three games out and you [see the team] start trading away players,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘You realize why they do things at certain times. But when you’re a player, you’re competing and going through battles with those guys, and you don’t necessarily want to see them go away.

‘‘Also, there was the fact I had just made it back a week and a half earlier, then it happened.’’

Being on the management side now doesn’t necessarily change Ventura’s perspective of that day almost 17 years ago.

‘‘As a player, you can’t go [mentally] to the management side and say, ‘I get it,’ especially being 3½ games out,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think [management] would have
appreciated me coming to the park and thinking, ‘We’re going to lose anyway, so you might as well get rid of everybody.’ That’s just part of playing.’’

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