20th anniversary: Sosa-Bell trade

Thirty years ago today was one of the biggest crosstown trades in Chicago history. In involved two MVPs—one who had previously won one and one who in the future would win one.

On March 30, 1992, the Cubs sent left fielder George Bell&mdashwho’d won the 1987 AL MVP while a member of the Blue Jays—to the White Sox for right fielder Sammy Sosa, who would win the 1998 NL MVP with the Cubs.

Suffice it to say, the North Side got more value in this deal.

It was a frankly bizarre deal for the Sox to make. Bell’s (undeserved) MVP was propelled by a league leading 47 homers, but since then he’d hit 88 homers in four full seasons. His batting average was nothing special, he didn’t draw walks, he couldn’t play defense, and he had a reputation as a jerk.

The Sox weren’t happy with the way Sosa was developing (more on that in a second), but they sold low on Sosa to buy high on Bell. In two years with the White Sox, Bell hit .240 with 38 homers. When the team didn’t use Bell in the 1993 ALCS, he publicly declared that he didn’t respect team skipper Gene Lamont as a manager or a man. On that note, the Sox cut Bell and his career came to an end.

As for Sosa, well, we all know what he did. And we’ve all heard the accusations of PEDs against him. For right now, I’ll look at Sosa the player and prospect at the time of the Bell trade.

Sosa hadn’t performed well on the field on the South Side. In 1991, his first full year in the majors, Sosa batted .233 with 15 homers. The next year he declined to .203 and 10 homers. So you can see why the Sox were looking to dump him.

Sometimes people point to his ugly start as evidence that he’s just a chemical creation. But there’s more to it than that. Upon arrival, Sosa was a big prospect with immense—if extremely raw—talent.

The Sox had gotten him in a trade a few years earlier from Texas. Larry Himes, then the Sox GM, gave up his biggest star, Harold Baines, to get Sosa. There were other players involved (the Sox also got a young Wilson Alvarez in the deal), but Himes’ big love was Sosa. He told everyone that Sosa was a rare, raw talent who had all five tools.

Sure enough, I remember a lot of excitement in Chicago when Sosa first arrived. The first thing that grabbed people’s attention was his arm. The guy could throw the ball hard. His aim wasn’t the best—in fact, it would always suck—but he threw that thing hard.

He wasn’t performing well, but he did seem to have lots of potential. I have one memory. It must be the late summer 1990 at Comiskey Park. Sosa comes to the plate and there’s a big cheer from the crowd. They liked the youngest with all this talent. Then I looked at the Diamondvision in center—Sosa had 10 homers and a .230 average. It’s weird how someone who looked so good out there had such bad results. Even on defense, he made a bunch of errors.

But Sosa regressed instead of impressing the longer he was there and the Sox pulled the plug. Big mistake. Sure he was terrible in 1991, but he also was only 22 years old. A lot of really good players are still in Double-A at that age. Sosa had played 327 games in the big leagues by then.

Sure enough, in an injury-plagued 1992, Sosa improved to a .260 average with the Cubs. The next year he swatted 33 homers. You know the rest. For all the talk about Sosa and PEDs and all that, you don’t hit as many homers as he did without plenty of natural talent. He’s the only guy to homer 60 times in a year four times in a row. He’s not the only guy widely considered to be on special substances.

Ultimately the Sosa-Bell trade worked out a lot better for the Cubs. That said, March 30, 1992 wasn’t all happiness and good moves for the North Siders. On that very same day they released a young pitcher they’d developed, traded away, and just recently picked up as a free agent. That pitcher’s name was? Jamie Moyer. And the Cubs cut him the same day they traded for Sosa.

Yeah, that one didn’t work out too well for them.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate an anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.

Day-versaries

3,000 days since the Giants sign free agent Brett Tomko.

4,000 days since Tony Gwynn, just 22 days shy of turning 40 years old, legs out his last career triple.

4,000 days since Barry Bonds knocks his 500th home run.

4,000 days since Ichiro Suzuki, still in his first month of play in this hemisphere, gets caught stealing twice in one game. He hasn’t done that since then.

7,000 days since Vern Kennedy, big league pitcher, dies.

9,000 days since the Indians trade Phil Niekro to the Blue Jays.

9,000 days since Jack Clark draws two bases loaded walks in one game. They come in the top of the sixth and 14th innings for the Cardinals against the Phillies.

25,000 days since Sandy Alomar Sr. is born.

50,000 days since the big league debut of Charley Jones, an 1880s slugger who is the best player in baseball history whose death date is still unknown. It’s also the debut of catcher Silver Flint, and pitcher George Bradley.

Anniversaries

1857 Tom Burns, infielder, is born.

1866 George Van Haltren, 19th century outfielder who is one of the best players not in Cooperstown, is born.

1904 Ripper Collins is born.

1948 Murry Dickson of the Cardinals pitches the first nine-inning no-hitter in spring training history.

1952 Deacon Phillippe, high quality early 20th century pitcher with the Pirates, dies.

1955 The A’s purchase Ewell Blackwell from the Yankees for $50,000.

1956 The Cubs trade Hank Sauer to St. Louis.

1965 The Indians purchase Stan Williams from the Yankees.

1966 Houston signs Robin Roberts as a free agent.

1966 The joint holdout by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale ends. Estimates are that Koufax will make $120,000 and Drysdale will get $105,000.

1969 The Pirates sign amateur free agent Omar Moreno.

1971 The Mets trade Dean Chance to the Tigers.

1972 The A’s release Tommy Davis.

1972 Davy Jones, Tigers outfielder during the Ty Cobb days, dies.

1972 Marvin Miller completes his canvassing of player support for a strike. He reckons that 663 players support a strike, 10 oppose it, and two abstain.

1977 Cleveland release overweight veteran Boog Powell.

1978 Billy Cox, infielder, dies.

1978 The Indians trade Dennis Eckersley and Fred Kendall to Boston for Rick Wise, Bo Diaz, and two others.

1979 The umpires vote 50-2 to reject a new offer from the AL and NL. They’ll strike when the season begins instead.

1981 The White Sox purchase Greg Luzinski from the Phillies.

1982 Kansas City trades Atlee Hammaker and three others to San Francisco for Vida Blue and one other. Hammaker will win an ERA title with the Giants in 1983.

1982 The Giants trade Doyle Alexander to the Yankees.

1984 The Yankees trade Graig Nettles to the Padres for Dennis Rasmussen and a player to be named later.

1988 Los Angeles signs Rick Dempsey as a free agent.

1991 Houston signs amateur free agent Melvin Mora.

1993 Comic strip character Charlie Brown belts a home run—his first homer in 43 years.

1993 Toronto releases pitcher David Wells.

1994 Oakland releases future Hall of Famer Rich Gossage.

1998 Cleveland trades Sean Casey to the Reds for Dave Burba.

2000 Benny Agbayani hits a pinch-hit grand slam in a 5-1 win in 11 innings for the Mets over the Cubs in Japan’s Tokyo Dome.

2001 Dwight Gooden announces his retirement from baseball.

2001 Mets prospect Brian Cole dies when his SUV flips.

2005 Boston trades Byung-Hyun Kim and cash to Colorado for Charles Johnson and another player. Boston releases Johnson the same day.

2007 The A’s sign free agent Todd Walker.

2008 In the first game played at the new Nationals Park, Washington tops Atlanta, 4-3.

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Comments

  1. Chris J. said...

    David – D’OH!  Good catch. That was dumb.  Sometimes I’m worst at double-checking the obvious stuff because I think I already know it so just go with hazy memory. 

    Sorry about that, & again thanks for the catch.

  2. TC said...

    I remember when the Sox got Sosa for Baines that it was a stunning trade. Everyone knew that Reinsdorf loved Baines but Himes was known as a great judge of talent so that must have carried the day. The first time I saw Sosa, he was 20 and as raw as a turnip. If nothing else, his defense could have benefited from a couple of years in the minors but first Texas and then the White Sox had him in the majors. Too young. Cub fans always used to whine about the Brock trade and I guess Sosa was our (White Sox fans) Lou Brock. Bad deal, no matter what you thought about Sosa.

  3. David said...

    Sosa didn’t hit 60 HRs four years in a row – he did it three times in four years, though.  Ironically, the only time he led the NL in homers was the one of those four in which he didn’t hit 60 – he led the NL in 2000 with 50 (and again in 2002 with 49).

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