Paulie. The King. The Captain. Harvester of Sorrow. Class Act. One of the nicest players ever. Hard Working. Generous. Unassuming. Even keel.
When I think about Paul Konerko, the first baseman for the Chicago White Sox, the above are many of the words that come to mind when I think about him. And I probably have seen his last game as a member of the Chicago White Sox. Fortunately, the team ended the 2010 season at home so I was able to go to the last few games and see him play. As it was the final game, I had to go and am glad I did. Admittedly, I had thought about not going to the game because I could have done a ton of stuff at home, but given that it could very well be the last time I see Paul take an at-bat in a sox uniform, hear Harvester of Sorrow by Metallica played as his walk-up music. I had to attend this game. It was also potentially the last game that A.J. Pierzynski plays as a member of the White Sox as well, but with Paul, it felt more like saying good-bye to a really reliable friend who was leaving.
On thursday, Sept. 30, 2010, Paul had a session with the media where he discussed his upcoming free agency and what the future may hold for him. The comments that Konerko made struck me as extremely honest and frankly quite refreshing to hear. Granted, they were not exactly something a long time fan of his would want to hear, but I greatly appreciate his honesty as over the years, I feel that I have come to expect nothing less of him. A few things that struck me that Konerko said with regard to his free agency had to do with what he was looking for in terms of expectations, the “home town” discount and how to catch the Minnesota Twins.
With regard to catching the Twins: “The Twins are a good team, a great team, and more than that they go about it the right way. You have to go out and catch them. They’re not going to come back to you. With the talent and the people here we can do that if we tidy up some tings and get a little better with some things and move their way, move toward. them.” With regard to tidying things up and whether that meant on or off the field, Konerko said, “A little bit of both, a little bit of everything.”
I can only speculate about what he means when he says a little bit of tidying up off the field, but it does make me wonder if the drama off the field between Kenny Williams, the GM for the White Sox and Ozzie Guillen, the manager did actually get to the players and potentially mess with what the players were trying to do. The off the field drama was in my opinion ridiculous. I really hope it wasn’t a distraction to the players, despite it keeping the Chicago sports media busy with things to talk about on a never ending basis. The statement also makes me wonder if there is still some anger in the fact that Ozzie said no to the idea of Jim Thome, who is an incredibly close friend of Paul’s coming back to the sox for the 2010 season. As much as Ozzie has said blame him for the decision, I think Kenny is to blame just as much since as the GENERAL MANAGER who brings the players to the team to be managed, he could have brought Jim Thome back if he really wanted to do it. Unless the ultimate motive was to make Ken Williams look as good as possible while throwing his manager under the bus.
In terms of expectations for free agency, I like and appreciate that Konerko is not going into things thinking he should get a particular number of years and / or money to continue playing. He seems to want to see what the market is for his services and then go from there in deciding what to do next. Last off season was not kind to veteran players. Jermaine Dye ended up not playing in the 2010 season because of what he was looking for in terms of position (not keen on being a DH), length of contract, etc. He had offers to play, but for him the situations presented were not to his liking, so he sat out. Perhaps he will play again in 2011, but who knows. Johnny Damon was another veteran who it took some time to sign because of what he was looking for in terms of salary and playing time. He eventually ended up with the Detroit Tigers, but for only one year. While things were unkind to veterans in the 2009 off season, I did hear that Konerko could set the market for the 2010 free agent first baseman class. Either way, I hope he can get what is most beneficial to him and allows him to enjoy playing the game a few more years.
The most surprising of the comments is that money isn’t a huge factor. In discussing his future, Konerko is very honest in that he has his family to think about since he has a 5 year old and a 2 year old. Or as he said, real little people walking around. From the comments, it really seems that he is probably going to leave Chicago, even though he would like to stay. In his comments he said that even if the white sox give more money / years, he still may end up leaving. In other words, there isn’t necessarily a home town discount to keep him. This is because of uncertainty in the direction the team is going, where he would fit into those plans and something that he stressed, but whether there is a need for him from any team.
Overall in listening to his comments, I get the sense that while he feels he has a few more years left to play, he would be ok with not being offered anything this off season. He said his goal when he was in the minors was to make the majors and play in one place for 10 years at the same position. He’s accomplished that with 2 additional years to boot. And as a long time white sox fan, I greatly appreciate everything he has done for the team. Mainly though, based on everything in total, I feel as though I have seen the last of Paul Konerko playing in a White Sox uniform. The comments regarding more years / money from sox vs. another team really do it for me. Surprisingly, I am ok with that. For some time, I have felt the team needs to move in a different direction to get back to the world series and if in order to accomplish that goal, Konerko and the White Sox need to part ways, then so be it.
He has given me immense joy watching him play with my favorite team and for that I will always be grateful for what he did. I have never attended Sox Fest so I have never met him, but from those who have, they say he is a wonderful person. I do have an autographed photo and signed ball by him and I love that I have these items in my collection of white sox stuff. Thank you Paul for the time you’ve been here and I really do hope things align in the universe so that you can finish your career and retire as a member of the White Sox. Whenever you do hang it up, I have no doubt that Jerry will erect a statute to commemorate your service on the outfield concourse.