After playing a number of games in the U.S. to spread and promote baseball, the White Sox and Giants boarded the liner R.M.S. Empress of Japan to cross the Pacific and start the world portion of their tour. They played in Japan, Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Australia, Egypt, Ceylon, France, Italy, the Vatican and England (where they played before King George V).
The Sox avoided disaster twice on the trip, first when crossing the Pacific they ran smack into a typhoon. Later in Italy, a 20-foot section of train track had been removed for repair over a river that the engineer barely saw with time to stop short of plunging into a 60-foot drop, which would have killed everyone on board.
The Sox would sail home on the Lusitania, a ship that would be torpedoed in May 1915 during World War I. For the tour itself, the Sox won 24 games, the Giants 20, and there were two ties.
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 out” the owners 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 severe hip injury.
Coming off of a shocking, 92-loss season that featured stellar pitching but woeful offense, the White Sox sent Jon Garland to the Angels for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Both players were in walk years of their contracts, and on paper it seemed an easy, win-win swap.
Garland was blossoming into an ace, yet in 2007 was only Chicago’s third-best starter behind Javier Vázquez and Mark Buehrle. Away from the team and pitching coach Don Cooper, Garland faltered, basically earning the same WAR (4.0) over the final six seasons of his career as he had in 2007 alone (3.7).
Cabrera was a Gold Glove shortstop coming off of his best season (4.2 WAR), finishing 15th in MVP voting in 2007. While productive in 2008 (2.6 WAR), his OPS fell to a soft .705. He hit just .125 in the forgettable four-game ALDS loss to the Rays, which included a pointless, failed diatribe against Tampa reliever Grant Balfour with the bases loaded in Game 1 that sort of summed up the 2008 playoff endeavor: