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Right on Q: Rebuilt to Last

How Frank Thomas became the cornerstone of an impressive rebuilding project

New Comiskey Park wasn't the only construction project at 35th and Shields in the late 80's
New Comiskey Park wasn't the only construction project at 35th and Shields in the late 80's

Over the last couple of months, I have written about previous attempts to re-build the White Sox franchise after a disastrous year (or years).  The rebuild of 1970-1971 ended for good when Dick Allen walked out on the team in 1974.  The rebuild of 1977-1980 ended in 1985.

The team that was assembled between 1986 and 1990 was built to last.

The "Winning Ugly" era ended when the White Sox tumbled to a third place finish in 1985.  Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn tried to right the ship by ditching longtime GM Roland Hemond in favor of Hawk Harrelson.  Although Hawk was the wrong guy for the job, the logic was sound.

The White Sox needed to be rebuilt.

The emergence of Frank Thomas at the end of 1990 was the capstone on the end of a four-year rebuilding process that completely remade the franchise.

The White Sox were no longer a slap-hitting franchise that relied on pitching and defense (theoretically) to succeed.  In the 90's, the Sox were defined by Frank, Robin, and Ozzie.  Hawk and Wimpy held court on WGN.

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Here's how the White Sox were reinvented, position by position.

Left Field:

Rudy Law, the speedy outfielder who stole 73 bases for the 1983 Sox, was released at the end of Spring Training in 1986.  Despite the fact that he was 28, GM Ken Harrelson wanted to go with the much younger outfielders John Cangelosi and Bobby Bonilla.

Bonilla would start 1986 as the Left Fielder.  At the deadline, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jose DeLeon.  That was probably the worst deal of Hawk's short tenure as GM.

After Bonilla was dealt, Cangelosi was shifted over to Left from Center Field.

The Sox flipped pitcher Joe Cowley to the Phillies for Gary Redus, who played Left in 1987.  Dan Pasqua, acquired from the Yankees for Richard Dotson, played the position in 1988 and 1989.

Ivan Calderon (more on him later), was in Left Field in 1990.

Center Field

Daryl Boston, John Cangelosi, Ken Williams, and Dave Gallagher patrolled Center Field between 1985-1989.  In 1988, GM Larry Himes traded Jose DeLeon to the St. Louis Cardinals for Lance Johnson.

One Dog would stick with the White Sox through 1995.  Johnson was decent.  He generated an OPS of .699 during his eight years with the Sox.

Right Field

1986 was Harold Baines' last year in Right Field.  From 1987 through when he was traded in 1989, Harold was the DH.

Remember how Bobby Bonilla for Jose DeLeon was the worst deal of Hawk's tenure as GM?  Ivan Calderon was the best.

Hawk pried Calderon from the Mariners for a PTBNL.

In six years with the White Sox, Calderon hit 70 home runs with an OPS of .783.  He was later flipped to the Montreal Expos for Tim Raines.

Calderon moved over to Left in 1990, in order to make room for Sammy Sosa (more on him later).

Third Base

Third base was a revolving door of players.  Tim Hulett, Steve Lyons, and Carlos Martinez held down the Hot Corner from 1986-1989.

That was before Robin Ventura.  Drafted in 1988, Robin made his MLB debut in 1990.  He hit 171 home runs with an OPS of .805 in 10 years with the White Sox.

Robin was also the first Franchise Third Baseman in Sox history.  Ventura was lost to Free Agency after the 1998 season.

The Sox have been looking for another Franchise Third Baseman ever since.  Joe Crede came close in 2005...but he would be betrayed by his back.


That problem was solved early on.  In 1984, Roland Hemond traded LaMarr Hoyt to the Padres in exchange for Ozzie Guillen and Tim Lollar.  Ozzie would be the starting Shortstop through 1997.

Second Base

George W. Bush must have really liked Harold Baines in 1989....because Larry Himes cleaned out the Rangers organization.

Jerome Holtzman, writing in the Tribune on August 1, 1989 said it was a deal that would really benefit the White Sox in the long run.

Clubhouse veterans, especially Carton Fisk, hated the deal.  He wanted to win sooner rather than later, and he wasn't getting any younger.

"Harold and Freddy (Manrique), two major leaguers for one.  And not just a Major Leaguer.  Harold Baines.  Harold Baines.  You know what I mean?  Harold Baines."

Fisk's anxiety was misplaced.  The trade solved a number of problems.  The Sox picked up a promising pitching prospect named Wilson Alvarez, outfielder Sammy Sosa, and infielder Scott Fletcher.

Fletcher would hold down Second Base from 1990-1992.  He was so well liked that Bush would name his dog "Spot Fletcher."  Spot Fletcher would later live in the White House.

Scott Fletcher, meantime, is now father-in-law to current Sox Second Baseman Gordon Beckham.

First Baseman

Mike Squires.  Greg Walker.  Carlos Martinez.  Little reminders of life before Frank Thomas.

So far, it is clear that the White Sox upgraded at every position.  But they swapped out mediocre players for decent/good ones.

Frank Thomas, by becoming a franchise cornerstone, completed the rebuild and then some.

1990 is an interesting year, because the re-tooled White Sox were a very good team before Thomas' arrival on August 1st of that year.

I remember opening the Tribune in June of 1990 to see WHITE SOX at the top of the AL West standings for the first time in my newspaper reading life.

Frank pretty much ensured that the flash of competitiveness in 1990 was built to last.  The Sox were in the AL West hunt in 1991 and 1992 before winning the division in 1993.

'94 was a heartbreaker.  The Sox of the mid-to-late 90's were still good, despite Ron Schueler's mismanagement.

When it was time to re-tool in 1998, the Sox had Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko waiting in the wings.

The White Sox were finally on solid ground.