Thome is a player of stature, and not just because he ranks 12th on the all-time home run list with 564. He has been known for years as a stand-up individual and a terrific teammate. As a bonus in the case of the White Sox fan base, he is an Illinois native.
Thome was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers just before the Monday night deadline for a Minor League infielder. At the time, with the Sox falling further off Detroit's pace in the AL Central and in the midst of a miserable road trip that would eventually end at 3-8, there were suggestions in the local media that this was a "white-flag trade," the Sox signaling an end to their chances for 2009.
Williams, speaking on Friday in his first public comments regarding the Thome transaction, wasn't having any of that.
"I think that anybody that has spent any significant time with me whatsoever knows that not to be the case," Williams said. "But it was entertaining reading. No, there's no quitting."
Williams said he made the deal as part of a promise to Thome, that he would do everything possible to win a championship during Thome's tenure with the club. Failing that, in this instance, the trade to the division-leading Dodgers was a gesture toward giving Thome a better chance at a World Series championship. Williams said he was initially surprised that Thome, who no longer plays first base, would be willing to accept a trade to a National League club. But given the Dodgers' chances to win, Thome's willingness to accept the move was less surprising.
"I think he made the right decision," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We don't know if we're going to be in. Those guys [the Dodgers] are in."
The Sox will rotate designated hitters for the remainder of the season, and they have enough legitimate DH candidates to do that. Williams called the change from Thome to a committee of DHs "a wash as far as our ability to challenge for the division."
Pitcher Jose Contreras was also traded at the deadline to the Colorado Rockies, but moving his 5.42 ERA wasn't going to create any accusations of surrender. Contreras had pitched his way out of the Sox rotation, but the Rockies, with starter Aaron Cook out with a sore shoulder, are in a position to give him another opportunity to start.
"Here's a guy who pitched us to a championship [in 2005], and he was relegated to bullpen duties and bullpen duties alone," Williams said. "I just did not feel that was the way, going into a free-agent year, to pay him back for all that he has done and the sacrifices that he has made. So very simply, I wanted to find a spot for him where he could join a rotation and build up his value for the rest of this season."
"I think Kenny did Contreras a favor," Guillen said with complete accuracy.
Guillen suggested with a smile that Contreras and Thome were older than advertised. He estimated that Contreras was 49 and Thome 47.
"We traded 96 years," Guillen said. "We're getting younger now."
If you watched the White Sox on Friday night, the idea of them waving the white flag would not have come prominently to mind. They beat the Boston Red Sox about the head and shoulders, 12-2. There might be a modest amount of momentum being created here. While the White Sox were coming off a 3-8 road trip, they did win the last two games of that trip. Here was a three-game winning streak.
The evidence suggests that while the White Sox have done entirely too much struggling, they have not yet done a lot of quitting. Still, the Tigers are seven games ahead of the White Sox. The second-place Twins are one game ahead of the White Sox. It is not over, but it is all uphill from here.
"We have unfinished business here," Williams said. "I'm hoping like hell we can get the lead down to three, 3 1/2 games going into the games against Detroit, because Detroit has to play us six times, and if I'm not mistaken, they've got to play Minnesota seven times. There's a lot that can happen in this month of September. We have the talent to run off a streak. We have not done that all year, seemingly. But we certainly have the talent to do that.
"So what's so implausible about us going 8-2 for the next 10 games and one of the other clubs, or both of the other clubs, going 5-5? We're still in it to win it."
Or as Guillen put it, it isn't over "until the referee counts 10 and I can't get up."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.