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Chicago's Reinsdorf Has No Regrets Over Trade

March 23, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUCSON, Ariz. — Maybe, Jerry Reinsdorf says, he shouldn't have put it in the context of being crazy. Maybe it put too much of a negative connotation on it.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox owner doesn't regret the July 31 trade last year that sent pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez and Danny Darwin to the San Francisco Giants for six young players. Reinsdorf says it didn't make the White Sox a poorer team and that his now infamous quote has not been reported accurately.

The White Sox were 3 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central when the trade was made, and Reinsdorf has been widely quoted as saying, "Anyone who thinks this team is going to catch Cleveland is crazy."

What Reinsdorf insists he said was, "If we keep playing the way we're playing, anyone who thinks this team is going to catch Cleveland is crazy."

"If you put that introductory phrase with it, it makes a difference," Reinsdorf says. "It was a reflection of the way we were playing at the time. We weren't even a .500 team. If we had been in first place and playing better, I wouldn't have had the courage to make the deal."

The White Sox were 67-68 at the time and struggling through a mediocre July. However, third baseman Robin Ventura had returned from a broken ankle only a week earlier, invigorating the team's hopes for a strong stretch run.

It was perceived that Reinsdorf was raising a white flag, but he says, "I wasn't giving up on our chances because I didn't think our chances were very good the way we were playing, and I don't believe we were a worse team on the day after the trade.

"Alvarez was 9-8 with a history of not performing well over the last six or seven weeks of a season and was 4-3 with the Giants. Hernandez was an outstanding closer, but we really felt [Matt] Karchner could do that job and he was 15 for 15 [in save chances] after the trade. We weren't any worse, and going forward, we're going to be a hell of a lot better."

He meant that of the six acquired players, Mike Caruso is expected to be the future shortstop, Lorenzo Barcelo a future starting pitcher and Keith Foulke was 3-0 with the Sox down the stretch and should rejoin the staff this year.

"We're going to have a more aggressive and interesting team," Reinsdorf says of a youth-oriented make-over. "We're going to have a team that hustles and gets dirty. Even when we lose, it will look like we won because of the dirt, and that's the type team Chicago likes. Our fans weren't connecting. They thought last year's team was dull. My mail was 2-1 in favor of the trade and the direction we're now headed."

In addition, Reinsdorf says, the White Sox weren't going to be able to re-sign either Alvarez or Hernandez and the media and fans "would have been screaming if we had lost them without getting anything in return."

Both left the Giants as free agents to sign with Tampa Bay. Alvarez got $35 million for five years, Hernandez $22.5 million for four.

The White Sox payroll, coming down about $18 million, is expected to be about $35 million, with Albert Belle due $11 million in the second year of his five-year contract.

Belle hit 30 homers and drove in 116 runs last year but offered a mea culpa in the wake of the trade with the Giants, saying, "I'm pretty sure those moves wouldn't have been made if I had been having the kind of season I should be having."

"Albert put too much of a burden on himself," Reinsdorf says, having been blistered throughout the industry for the Belle signing. "It may not have been a year up to his standards, but it was a year just about everybody else would love to have."

Belle, however, batted only .259 with runners in scoring position and made 10 errors in left field. He has said he put too much pressure on himself because of the contract and is dedicated to having a better season, having changed his workout pattern over the winter and lost 26 pounds.

He hopes to regain his 50-homer, 140-RBI form.

"It's not uncommon for a big free agent to come to a new club with a big contract and not perform up to his standards," Reinsdorf says. "It wasn't the Albert Belle year I expected, but I expect him to have an Albert Belle year this year. All the newness and distractions are out of the way."

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