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Tampa Bay Devil Rays v Chicago White Sox
Albert Belle had a record-setting year for the White Sox in 1998 — and then, the team just let him go.

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Today in White Sox History: November 19

Free agent success, and failure

1972

White Sox GM Roland Hemond sent pitcher Tom Bradley to San Francisco for outfielder Ken Henderson and pitcher Steve Stone. Henderson was a Gold Glove-winning, power-hitting center fielder, while Stone added depth to the pitching staff. Meanwhile Bradley never regained the form that he showed with the Sox in 1971 and 1972 when he won 15 games each year with a sub-3.00 ERA and was out of baseball by 1975. Henderson’s best year with the White Sox came in 1974, when he played in every game and hit .292 with 20 home runs and 95 RBIs. Stone actually did his best Sox work in his second go-around, when he won 15 games in 1977.


1977

In the wake of free-agent defections by Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble, owner Bill Veeck signed infielder/DH Ron Blomberg to a free agent contract. Blomberg had missed the previous two years with a severe leg injury, but Veeck signed him anyway.

On Opening Day 1978, Blomberg hit a dramatic, ninth-inning, game-tying home run, but he did very little afterwards. Making matters worse is that Veeck had signed him to a guaranteed multiyear contract. Veeck had turned his sights on Blomberg after Gamble took a last-minute offer from the Padres when the Sox thought they had a deal to keep him on the South Side.


1996

The White Sox shocked the baseball world when owner Jerry Reinsdorf announced that he has signed slugger Albert Belle to a five-year, $55 million contract — the largest in baseball history. It is the first contract of more than $10 million per year in baseball, and also marks the last time the White Sox had the highest-paid player in baseball on their roster.

Sox fans were torn between being happy the Sox spent money on a star and being worried because of Belle’s sullen, moody reputation. Other baseball owners were furious with Reinsdorf, feeling that he deliberately signed Belle to the large contract to pay them back for agreeing to settle the 1994 labor dispute. In exchange for selling the owners out by making this offer to Belle, Reinsdorf would be removed from the labor relations board, the body that advised the commissioner in all labor matters.

Belle would put up some monster seasons with the Sox, especially in 1998 when he generated 7.1 WAR, tied for 13th-best in White Sox hitter history, and better than any Frank Thomas season but one. Belle’s 1998 barrage finds him holding franchise marks for games played (163), total bases (339), doubles (48) and home runs (49), RBIs (152), extra-base hits (99) and sacrifice flies (15)

However, Belle had a clause in his contract that said he had to be one of the three highest-paid players in baseball, and when the White Sox wouldn’t agree to give him a raise because other players passed him in salary after the 1998 season, they let him go as a free agent. Belle signed with Baltimore, had two more excellent seasons, then had to retire because of a bad hip injury.

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