If this is Paul Konerko’s final season in a White Sox uniform, don’t expect to hear many testimonials coming out of the clubhouse.
It’s too painful.
“You don’t wrap your head around that,” Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale said. “You kind of look at it as an honor and a privilege to play with a guy like that. People like him don’t come around very often.”
No, they don’t.
Konerko first came around way back in the spring of 1999 after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in a Nov. 10, 1998, trade for Mike Cameron.
As he approaches his 37th birthday (March 5), Konerko is entering the final season of a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the White Sox.
Players come, players go, and baseball always presses forward.
But when you consider this could very well be Konerko’s 14th and final season on the South Side, it’s OK to stop for a moment and take it all in.
A career .282 hitter, Konerko ranks second in White Sox history with 415 home runs and 1,307 RBI, third with 382 doubles and fourth with 2,135 hits.
In 2005 he led the Sox to their first World Series championship in 88 years.
He’s a six-time all-star, and one day Konerko is going to be a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.
He also has been the Sox’ captain since 2006, is always insightful with the media, and is so highly thought of that former general manager Kenny Williams (now executive VP of baseball operations) seriously considered asking Konerko to serve as player/manager before hiring Robin Ventura shortly after the 2011 season ended.
It has been a remarkable run, even if the final lap has possibly come into view.
While he always prefers keeping the focus on baseball and the job at hand, Konerko did let himself reminisce a bit at SoxFest last month.
Now that catcher A.J. Pierzynski is gone (Texas Rangers), Konerko is the lone player remaining from the 2005 world champs.
“It already is weird being here without A.J.,” Konerko said. “Usually by now he’s wearing you out about something. It will be odd not having him. But you kind of get used to the natural regression and cycle of the game — Jermaine (Dye), then Mark (Buehrle). It’s how the game is.”
Konerko has not ruled out returning to the White Sox in 2014 and possibly beyond, and neither has new GM Rick Hahn.
But after a frustrating 2012 season — when he had to deal with a lingering wrist injury, being hit in the face by a pitch from the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija and taking an Jarrod Dyson elbow to the head — Konerko said retiring at the end of the upcoming season is an option.
“You know at some point your career is going to end,” he said. “I don’t know right now. My thing is just have a solid season and do my job. That’s all it boils down to.
“I signed a contract to do a job, and I want to make sure I do what I signed up for. That has nothing to do with the other distractions of, ‘What are you going to do?’”
When the end day does come, Konerko is always going to be welcome back by the White Sox in any capacity. But he is going to be missed, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
Sale cannot picture Konerko in anything but a Sox uniform.
“To see the accomplishments and to witness the accomplishments and to play with him and see what kind of leader and role model he is for baseball and everybody, I think all of us can kind of agree that he has some good years left in him, and quite a few,” Sale said. “We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully he doesn’t hang ’em up.”
Younger players such as Sale, Gordon Beckham, Tyler Flowers and even John Danks credit Konerko for helping them become major-league players.
“He showed me around the clubhouse and introduced me to guys,” said Sale, who first visited the White Sox in the summer of 2010 after being drafted No. 13 overall.
“I’ll never forget I called him sir one time and he said, ‘Don’t ever say that again. We might be teammates one day. Don’t ever call me sir again.’
“But he’s awesome. He’s the best. If you take a step back and look at the White Sox, he’s kind of what makes the Chicago White Sox who they are.
“It’s an honor and privilege to play with him and see him play.”
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