The Cubs and White Sox haven’t made many trades, and the most recent one certainly doesn’t make Cubs fans smile. But the most famous Cubs-Sox trade certainly did.
It was 29 years ago today, one week before the season opened, that Sammy Sosa was traded to the Cubs. Together with lefty Ken Patterson, the Cubs acquired Sosa for George Bell, whom the Cubs had signed only a year earlier as a relatively pricey free agent.
I am cracking up at how the respective team GMs sold the trade at the time, per the Associated Press (via Hardball Talk):
“We got the guy we wanted,” said Ron Schueler, White Sox general manager. “We got the pure hitter.”
“What we’re giving up is an outstanding hitter,” said Cubs GM Larry Himes. “George will always be a good hitter, and he’s going to fit in very well in the White Sox lineup . . . [Sosa] is an outstanding defensive ballplayer, who will add speed to our ballclub. We were the worst team in allowing doubles last year, and with Sammy that’s going to change.”
Sammy, the glove-first outfielder.
Bell, who was heading into his age 32 season at the time, hadn’t been a great hitter in about six years, after which he had alternated between solid hitter (but terrible outfielder) and average hitter (but terrible outfielder). Were we evaluating the trade today, we would have pegged Bell’s value at just about zero.
… and, of course, his performance was actually even worse than that in his two years with the White Sox, before he was out of the league.
Sosa’s debut game with the Cubs saw him playing center field, where he actually saw all of his big league starts that year. Only in 1993 did he move over to the right field spot with which he would become familiar to bleacher fans for more than a decade.
Still, despite the description of his new GM, Sosa’s value was always going to have to come from his bat. It’s just that it wound up providing more value than anyone could’ve reasonably projected at the time. Sosa, interestingly, was already a post-hype prospect by the time the Cubs acquired him at age 23 (if he even qualified as a “hype” guy at any point in the first place). Coming up in the Rangers system, Sosa was viewed as a guy with enormous tools, but the production wasn’t ever really there. Minor League Ball estimates that he would have been viewed as something like a B-/C+ prospect.
Sosa got a taste in the big leagues with the Rangers in 1989 before he was part of a trade deadline package to the White Sox in a deal that netted the Rangers Harold Baines (who, unlike Bell, would go on to have many, many more successful years at the plate after his trade involving Sosa). Sosa struggled as a young regular in 1990, and then absolutely cratered in 1991 to the tune of a .203/.240/.335 line (58 wRC+).
So, I reckon when the Cubs were asking for him the next spring, the White Sox didn’t hesitate. And the rest is history.
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) March 30, 2020