In the wake of Kerry Wood announcing his retirement from the Chicago Cubs, fans have engaged in a number of discussions surrounding Chicago sports. Wood certainly left a lot of fans wondering what could have been had he stayed healthy, but Wood isn't the greatest "What if" player in Chicago. In fact, there are a number of players and scenarios that have made fans ask that multi-million dollar question over the years.
In the coming days, we're going to look at the biggest "What if" players and scenarios in each Chicago team's history. Monday, we looked back at the five biggest "What if" players/scenarios in Blackhawks history. Tuesday, we crossed the United Center locker rooms to look at the biggest "What if" players/scenarios in Bulls history.Wednesday we moved to Soldier Field and examined the biggest "What if" players/scenarios in Bears history.
Let's take the trip to the South Side now and look back at the biggest "What if" players/scenarios in White Sox history.
Honorable Mention: What if the Sox figured out Larry Sherry?
Yes, the legendary Larry Sherry... the same Larry Sherry that was 53-44 in an 11-year career, who won more than eight games in a regular season once in his career, who had a career ERA of 3.67 and who started only 16 games in his career and was a decent middle reliever... THAT Larry Sherry.
That was the Larry Sherry that won two games and saved two more as he won Most Valuable Player honors in the 1959 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers without starting a single game. A guy that had one regular season shutout in his major league career allowed one earned run in 12.2 innings pitched in the Series that fall, breaking the hearts of Sox fans everywhere.
5. What if Ozzie Guillen wasn't loco?
So much of what made Ozzie special was the fact that he was a wild card on a daily basis. Who would he offend before the game? Who would he throw under the bus if they lost? And how much did he help his players by personally taking almost all of the media attention away from the play on the field while he was managing the Sox? He was a wonderful, loved player for the Sox. And he brought a World Series championship to Chicago - something most fans on both sides of town thought wouldn't happen again ever. So credit must be given. There was clearly some method to his madness. But there was a lot of madness.
4. What if they didn't wave the white flag in 1996?
It was supposed to be a special summer on the South Side. In 1996, the Sox signed Albert Belle to a big time deal and retired Carlton Fisk's number 72. Everything was supposed to be big time for the Sox.
But on July 31, with the team only 3.5 games out of first place in the division, the White Flag Trade sent shockwaves through Chicago. The Sox sent closer Roberto Hernandez and starters Danny Darwin and Wilson Alvarez to the San Francisco Giants for Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry, Mike Caruso, Ken Vining, Lorenzo Barcelo and Brian Manning. Foulke went on to have a nice, albeit too-short, career for the Sox, and Howry became the focus of a lot of anger on the South Side. Caruso was a miserable failure, and the other guys in the deal amounted to even less than he did.
The Sox made a bold move, trying to jump-start their team in spite of their place in the standings and financial commitments to star veterans like Belle and Frank Thomas. It didn't work out very well.
3. What if the Sox had kept Sammy Sosa?
On March 30, 1992, the White Sox traded a young outfielder across town for a veteran bopper to put into the middle of their lineup. After signing a big money deal to leave the Blue Jays in favor of the Cubs, George Bell had an... OK... season at Wrigley. He did hit 25 home runs, and drove in 86, but he left a lot to be desired. So the Cubs traded him down the red line for a kid named Sammy Sosa. In 257 games with the Sox over the next two seasons, Bell hit 38 home runs and drove in 176 runs (112 of which came in 1992). Immediately, the deal looked like a win for the Sox.
In 1992, Sosa hit eight home runs in 67 games with the Cubs. He was a stolen base threat with some pop. That was about it. But thanks to "hard work" (wink wink), he developed into one of the great home run hitters of the steroid era. His 1998 season was legendary, and he left the Cubs after hitting 545 home runs for the team on the North Side of town.
What would Sosa's career have looked like if he had played in a clubhouse with a leader like Frank Thomas, who didn't need substances to make him great? And what would a natural 30-30 guy like Sosa have meant to the Sox in the mid-1990s? We'll never know.
2. What if the commissioner hadn't banned Shoeless Joe Jackson?
Shoeless Joe was banned from the game for his role in the Black Sox scandal, but when he was banned as a 32-year-old, Jackson had unbelievable career numbers. Today, his .356 career batting average is still the third-best of all-time. He's also among the 20 best in on-base percentage and 30 best in OPS in the history of the game.
The bans for the other players involved in the scandal are understandable and warranted. But evidence has been presented on more than one occasion that at least opens the debate regarding how involved he was in those Sox selling their souls for dollars. Certainly as baseball writers across the country do some soul searching with their ballots in the coming years with regard to players like Sosa, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and the steroid era, the debate regarding Jackson's place in the Hall should be re-visited as well.
1. What if the 1994 season had been completed?
Frank Thomas had a magical career, and put up huge numbers while staying away from the steroid cloud that soiled his era in the majors. But 1994 was his best season... only to be cut short by the strike.
Consider, in only 113 games, that Thomas led the league with 106 runs, 109 walks, a .487 on-base percentage, a .729 slugging percentage, a staggering 1.217 OPS and an unreal OPS+ of 212. He had 38 home runs and 101 runs batted in already when the strike hit, and might have pressed 50 homers and 150 RBI if he had another 40-50 games to play. Only one right-handed hitter since World War II - Mark McGwire in 1998 - has had a better single-season OPS than Thomas' mark that season.
Thomas did win his second straight MVP Award, but he didn't get the chance to continue his incredible season through to completion.
He wasn't the only storyline for the Sox that year, though. When the season was cancelled, the Sox were 67-46, in first place in the division, and on the heels of the Yankees for the best record in the American League. Backing up one of the best offenses in the game was a strong pitching staff that included Jason Bere, who was 12-2 when the season ended. He was only 10-9 when the strike started, and the work stoppage also ended Jack McDowell's tenure with the Sox; he threw for the Yankees in 1995.
Oh, and the strike also ended the "baseball career" of White Sox "prospect" Michael Jordan...