In the years immediately following the strike of 1994 and 1995, few baseball teams were better models of success than the Cleveland Indians, a franchise able to reap the benefits of a shiny new stadium and an unrivaled confluence of star power hitting its stride in unison in ways no team had seen before or, arguably, has seen since.
The Tribe took home five consecutive division titles from 1995 to 1999, yet thanks to the greatest front three of the past thirty years and some unfortunate events best described as “failure on a cosmic level,” the club never quite reached the top of the mountain. And yet, for all their laughable near-misses, they still made all but one, maybe two franchises look entirely hapless and totally helpless—our Chicago White Sox among them.
Since then, a hilarious pattern has emerged in which participants in those Cleveland Glory Days find a home on the South Side of Chicago, which sounds cool until you consider these men come aboard years, sometimes even a decade after the fact, and for reasons never made entirely clear. Consider:
Roberto Alomar (2B, 2003, 2004)
Brought in because: First because D’Angelo Jimenez just wasn’t cutting it, then again because Willie Harris wasn’t, either.
Run out of town because: Retirement.
Where was he better off?: Cleveland, obviously. With the Indians, he was the MVP candidate with the perennial Gold Glove; in Chicago, he was the .240 hitter the Sox got back in exchange for four prospects in two separate trades.
Sandy Alomar, Jr. (C, 2001-2002, 2003-2004, 2006)
Brought in because: Mark L. Johnson, Josh Paul, Chris Widger.
Run out of town because: A.J. Pierzynski, Toby Hall, Ben Davis.
Where was he better off?: You really have to ask? Compare the phrase “Rookie of the Year” to “getting smoked by the Twins down the stretch.” Yeah, me too.
Jim Thome (DH, 2006-2009)
Brought in because: Everyone except Frank Thomas knew the Sox didn’t need Frank Thomas.
Run out of town because: Neither he nor the Sox could help each other anymore.
Where was he better off?: Cleveland, again. Big Jim had some fantastic moments here (and, if you believe in misguided nostalgia, will have yet more of them), but where we saw a lumberjack of a DH, Cleveland fans actually saw a spry young athlete playing third base.
Albert Belle (LF/DH, 1997-1998)
Brought in because: Jerry Reinsdorf, for one winter and one winter only, was a free-spending maniac out to screw the owners who ended the strike early by making Belle the highest-paid player in the game by a South Side mile. Or so the legend goes.
Run out of town because: Hilariously, Belle’s contract included a clause stipulating he would at all times be one of the three highest-paid players in baseball; Sox brass refused to give Belle a raise following his monstrous 1998 season (1.055 OPS, .328 average, 152 RBI and a team record 49 home runs) and Belle, smelling better fortunes in Charm City, reclaimed his payday throne as an Oriole.
Where was he better off?: Tough call. His moodiness in Cleveland lost him quite a bit of favor with fans and the press. Ditto his time in Chicago, but here we actually hated him from day one, rather than waiting to find out he was kind of a jerk. Advantage: Chicago.
Kenny Lofton (CF, 2002)
Brought in because: Anyone remember when Tony Graffanino and Aaron Rowand were the top of the order? Man, that was hilarious.
Run out of town because: Having paved the way for the remarkable ascent of Joe Borchard, Lofton turned his attention to helping the Pittsburgh Pirates return to .500 baseball and, more spectacularly, helping the Chicago Cubs win the 2003 World Series.
Where was he better off?: This probably goes without saying.
Bartolo Colon (SP, 2003, 2009)
Brought in because: First because he was awesome, and later because he used to be awesome.
Run out of town because: Good question. Seriously, no one’s seen him alive since mid-summer.
Where was he better off?: Bartolo Colon threw nine complete games in 2003. In 2009, he started 12. In both cases, the Sox were pretty lousy; unlike when they actually had him, Cleveland wins.
Alan Embree, Herbert Perry, Mike Jackson
Brought in because: I remember Hawk and D.J. once saying Mike Jackson could probably find work forever. I also remember them saying the 2007 edition of Darrin Erstad was one of the best center fielders of all time, and that the 2007 White Sox could win 16 of 18 if they wanted to.
Run out of town because: Rocky Biddle, Paul Konerko, Boone Logan. At least two people should be offended. Perry probably understands.
Where was he better off?: Shank or be shanked!
Omar Vizquel (SS, 2010)
Brought in because: Where most teams use two players to fill two rosters spots, the 2010 White Sox are using two men to fill one half.
Run out of town because: We’ll say retirement.
Where was he better off?: Prior to the 2005 season, the White Sox actually tried to sign Vizquel to a three-year deal. Vizquel basically laughed in their face and took a four-year deal in San Francisco, and now five years later the Sox admit they haven’t had a well-rounded shortstop since, uhhhhhh, Jose Valentin? Royce the Choice? Mike Caruso? Good God, no wonder Albert Belle didn’t want to play here any more.
Of course the Indians aren’t the only such feeder for eventual White Sox, nor is the Cleveland-to-Chicago pipeline the only one in existence (anyone else notice the preponderance of 2005 White Sox finding jobs in San Francisco these days?), but it’s doubly funny considering the Tribe did the exact same thing bringing Jack McDowell, Jason Bere, Wil Cordero, Paul Assenmacher and Bobby Howry aboard after their respective runs on the South Side.
So besides admitting a lifetime of baseball has taught Alexei Ramirez absolutely nothing about playing shortstop, what does it all mean? Not much but that one team’s treasure is probably another’s trash once they get their hands on it. And the Sox are going to absolutely crush the ’96 Orioles this time around.