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COMMENTARY

Gutsy Moves Have Paid Off for White Sox, Williams

November 27, 2005|Mike Downey | Chicago Tribune

I don't know about you, but I admire guts.

And guts is what it took for the White Sox to part ways Wednesday with one of their most valuable players, Aaron Rowand, 28 days after the World Series.

Just as it took guts for the Florida Marlins to trade Derrek Lee to the Cubs on Nov. 25, 2003, exactly a month after that year's World Series.

And just as it took guts for the Boston Red Sox to let Pedro Martinez walk away, less than two months after they finally won a World Series.

Sometimes these things don't work out. And, OK, some teams do have no place to go but down.

But executives need to execute. And I know Sox general manager Ken Williams goes by the book as well as by his gut, following a few general rules of thumb:

Don't be afraid to take risks.

Don't be swayed by sentiment.

And don't go by what a guy did last year.

Williams told me during the season: "I wouldn't have been able to get a Scott Podsednik or a Juan Uribe if they were coming off their best seasons. Their teams would have been a lot more desperate to keep them."

So when a Jim Thome suddenly becomes expendable in Philadelphia, sidetracked by a bad back and elbow after 430 home runs, you use your best judgment, calculate the risks, weigh the Phillies' asking price and then -- in a kind of flesh-and-blood eBay -- you place your bid.

Second-guess Williams if you must, but guess what? You don't get something for nothing.

And Chicago has a World Series winner today because to get Podsednik, the GM was willing to sacrifice Carlos Lee, a proven slugger. And to get Uribe, he parted with Aaron Miles, a top prospect.

And to get Freddy Garcia, he parted with Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed, his starting catcher and best minor-league outfielder. And to get Jose Contreras, he gave up Esteban Loaiza, a pitcher who had just made back-to-back All-Star teams.

Anybody sorry he did?

I appreciate how awkward it is shaking up a championship team this way. A third of the Sox's nine-man batting order could be gone for good.

The Houston Astros and the parade confetti on LaSalle Street barely had been swept when the Sox cut ties with their World Series designated hitter, Carl Everett, and saw their first baseman, Paul Konerko, leave town, possibly to return in a different uniform.

No one embodied the "Win or Die Trying" battle cry of the 2005 season more than the center fielder.

Rowand crashed into a fence Aug. 7 to catch a Richie Sexson fly and save a game for Jon Garland.

In New York a day later, he made a spectacular diving catch at the wall to cost Derek Jeter extra bases, then followed it immediately with an over-the-shoulder grab that robbed Robinson Cano.

No wonder manager Ozzie Guillen raved that Rowand was "better than anyone I've ever seen, and I've seen some good ones."

And no wonder the Yankees were rumored to be in hot pursuit of Rowand ever since the World Series came to an end.

It was just Sunday that Rowand had come to a game of his second-favorite team, the Bears, and had been treated like royalty by Soldier Field fans. And then came Monday night, when Rowand came to the Esquire Theater to help promote a new 2005 World Series DVD.

Asked about rampant trade rumors, Rowand said life was perfect and "I want to spend the rest of my life here."

He lasted less than two more days.

I don't know who are the 10 men I like best in baseball, but I believe Aaron Rowand would make the cut. What's interesting to me about this trade is that Jim Thome is a guy who might make the top 10 as well.

He is a great fit for the Sox, not only as an Illinois boy but as a left-handed power hitter who can play first base (if Konerko doesn't) or be the DH (if Frank Thomas isn't).

Philly fans do get a little mean. In a crash involving Rowand and a fence, they probably will root for the fence.

But this is a guy who plays the game with everything he has, so much so that even in a college alumni game with old teammates, Rowand went after a ball so hard that he, yes, crashed into a fence.

Pain comes with this game.

And he must be feeling some today, as are many of his fans seeing him leave.

Just remember that the Sox got a very good man in return and that a lot of fans felt they would rue the day they traded Lee for Podsednik too.

They did not.

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