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Following Frantic Frank Lane

The bad news was the "dreaded lead-off walk" that Matt Thornton yielded in the bottom of the 11th inning yesterday. Of course, the good news was the color of his Sox - Red and not White.

In case you missed it, Thornton strode to the mound in a 2-2 game in sun-drenched Oakland for his first appearance since 2005 in anything but a White Sox uniform. Matt walked the first hitter who advanced to third on a sacrifice and ground out. Thornton walked the next guy before Oakland's Josh Donaldson delivered a soft single to right field, sending Thornton and his new Boston teammates down to defeat.

After making a team-record 512 relief appearances for the White Sox and giving up fewer hits than innings pitched in six of his eight seasons with the South Siders, Thornton was the first to be traded last week in what is rumored to be an active period for general manager Rick Hahn before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

Thornton had a great run with the White Sox. In 2008 his WHIP (total of walks and hits divided by innings pitched) was less than one. That's very, very good. He averaged as many as 12 strikeouts per nine innings (2010) and he walked fewer than four batters per nine innings. He was an American League All-Star in 2010.

However, at age 36 without a contract beyond this season, Thornton's most valuable asset is the arm he throws with, his left. If Thornton were a right-hander, he would have attracted little interest.

Since Thornton most probably will pitch for the Red Sox only until the end of the season before becoming a free agent, the Sox weren't able to get much for him - Boston's 11th-rated prospect, outfielder Brandon Jacobs. Apparently the 10th-round draft choice has some pop - 47 homers in five minor league seasons - but he's also struck out as many as 128 times in a season.

"[Jacobs's] performances since 2011 have left something to be desired," noted Red Sox blog Over The Monster after the trade.

While Hahn ostensibly is a busy guy these days, fielding calls from contending teams, he pales in comparison to another Sox general manager. Retired Tribune sportswriter Bob Vanderberg has written an entertaining book, Frantic Frank Lane, tracing the frenetic career of a man who bartered players for five major league teams, the White Sox, Indians, Cardinals, A's and Brewers, between 1948 and 1972. In total, Lane engineered more than 500 transactions.

When Lane was working for the Sox (1948-55), no one would have been shocked if his phone bills approached the entire payroll of the thrift-conscious, Comiskey-owned franchise. The man rarely met a deal he didn't like.

As poorly as this season's edition of the Sox have played, Lane inherited a club that was far worse. They had played subpar .500 baseball for five seasons and would continue to do so in the first two years of Lane's tenure with the Sox. But, oh boy, that seven-year drought ended as Lane traded for players such as Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso and Nellie Fox, who became the core of the team's success in the 1950s.

Fox and Pierce each were obtained for journeymen catchers, while Minoso was part of a three-team deal that Lane loved to create. The guy was innovative, and he was as perceptive as anyone at recognizing rising talent; the club reeled off 17 consecutive seasons where they won more than they lost.

The appendix of Vanderberg's book lists Lane's "Five Rules of Trading," which The Sporting News published in 1960. Among them are:

* "Don't cry about a bad deal. The worst thing a general manager can do after a bad deal is to stand pat."

And:

* "Never trade a young, established pitcher. When you've got a gem, keep it and protect it."

Perhaps Lane's most famous - or infamous - deal came just prior to the 1960 season when he was the GM at Cleveland. After a contentious contract negotiation with Rocky Colavito, whose movie-star looks, 42 homers and 111 RBI the previous season made him an icon on the shores of Lake Erie, Lane unceremoniously shipped Colavito to Detroit for American League batting champion Harvey Kuenn, who had hit .353 in 1959.

The outburst of rage in Cleveland registered on the Richter Scale as far away as Sandusky. As well it should have. The oft-injured Kuenn played in just 126 games in 1960 for Cleveland, batting .304. What's more, Lane traded him to San Francisco after the season, the last trade Frank made before resigning and moving on to Kansas City.

And Colavito? He wound up playing four seasons in Detroit in which he stroked 139 home runs and was amongst the league leaders in RBI.

Of course, Rick Hahn has no one of Colavito's stature to peddle. Aside from Chris Sale (see the second of Frank Lane's rules above), there isn't anyone on the present-day Sox roster whose trade would shock.

However, in this fan's opinion, Hahn might be wise to look at history in terms of what the Sox require to improve. It may not be as much as many folks think.

The past week - winning two of three in Detroit before dropping two of three against the Phillies - offers a realistic snapshot of the team's strengths and weaknesses. The four left-handed starting pitchers Jose Quintana, Sale, John Danks and Hector Santiago all turned in strong performances, giving the team a chance to win in the late innings.

None are in danger of opting for free agency any time soon. Again, see Lane's second rule. Add Jake Peavy who is signed through 2014, and - barring injury - the team could have a formidable starting five although, if you believe the rumors, Peavy's departure is imminent. Possibly Hahn shouldn't be too eager to trade Peavy because the team could begin 2014 with a solid starting five - something most teams crave.

Although the Sox lost 4-3 in ten innings yesterday, they battled back from a 3-0 deficit against Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, not exactly guys who just got called up from Triple-A. What's more, the Sox's new catcher Josh Phegley delivered a ninth-inning, two-out hit to tie the game.

Phegley can be excused for thinking he's in the wrong clubhouse, surrounded by guys who rarely come up with a big hit as he did yesterday or Thursday in Detroit where his sixth-inning grand slam turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead. (The Sox went on to win 6-3.) That one came against Anibal Sanchez, a very tough left-hander with a 2.93 ERA.

As for weaknesses, how about some of the stupidest baserunning in memory or the inability to move runners and hit in clutch situations? And, of course, the defense has been dismal.

That's not to say that Hahn should stand pat. Frank Lane sure wouldn't have. But Lane, for the most part, was shrewd and discerning. Granted, he didn't have to consider free agency 50 years ago. However, he did have to size up what his ballclub needed to improve and where he might gain an edge in negotiating with other GMs.

One season doesn't a decade make, nor does it necessarily indicate a trend. We're not talking about the Miami Marlins or Houston Astros here. Nor even the guys across town. Rick Hahn purportedly is a bright guy who has been schooled well. We're about to find out.

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Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Jun 24, 2017

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