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updated: 8/14/2013 7:46 AM

Will Konerko's HOF case measure up?

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  • Paul Konerko's numbers on offense have shown a natural and considerable drop-off since his best season in 2010.

       Paul Konerko's numbers on offense have shown a natural and considerable drop-off since his best season in 2010.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Since he appears to be just about seven weeks away from the end, it seems a fair time to revisit the Hall of Fame case for Paul Konerko, a case he made only late in his career.

The bad news for Konerko is that his numbers have suffered a natural, considerable and annual drop-off since his best major-league season in 2010.

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The good news for Konerko is that his numbers have suffered a natural, considerable and annual drop-off since his best major-league season in 2010.

See, when it comes to making the Hall of Fame argument these days, voters tend to look at absurd offensive production past the age of 35 as a near certainty that the player is using performance-enhancing drugs.

And there are few holdouts among the electorate still delusional enough to believe that PEDs were (and are) good for baseball.

So what does that mean for Konerko's Hall of Fame chances?

Well, he wasn't in the conversation until 2010, when at the age of 34 he took his craft to another level. He posted career bests in OPS (.977), slugging (.584) and OBP (.393).

He was one point off his best batting average (.312), 6 off a career high in RBI (111) and 2 shy of his biggest home run total (39). Baseball took notice, and he finished fifth in MVP voting.

So in June 2011, with Konerko on fire again, I tried to project where Konerko might finish his career, adjusted for decreasing production and injuries, and with one more season beyond this one.

Then, to be reasonable, I subtracted another healthy percentage and I guessed that Konerko could finish his career with 475 homers, 1,500 RBI and 4,500 total bases. In MLB history, only 22 players have hit those marks.

In order of most home runs, they are Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Junior Griffey, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Frank Robinson, Rafael Palmeiro, Reggie Jackson, Manny Ramirez, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Thomas, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Mel Ott, Gary Sheffield, Eddie Murray, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial.

Every one of those players is in the Hall, will be in the Hall, or will be denied because of performance-enhancing drugs.

Had Konerko reached those levels, that was Hall of Fame worthy for a man never associated with PEDs, if he could have stayed healthy deep into his late 30s.

And therein, as they say, lies the rub.

It is abnormal for a player to do what Palmeiro did so late into his career, while it is relatively normal for Konerko to slow down the way he has, and the decrease began almost immediately after I put together those projections in mid-2011.

Each year since that huge year in 2010 has seen a significant drop in homers, RBI, OPS, hits and batting average.

While there is reason to think he's clean, he has slowed to the point where the Hall of Fame appears to be just out of reach, unless voters credit him for character and look at those on the list ahead of him who cheated.

Assuming these are the final weeks for Konerko -- an announcement he has not yet made -- he'll likely finish his career with about 435 homers, 2,300 hits, 1,400 RBI, 4,000 total bases, a .281 batting average, .850 OPS and career WAR of about 29.

First baseman Fred McGriff -- who was never associated with steroids -- retired with 493 homers, 2,490 hits, 1,550 RBI, 4,458 total bases, a .284 batting average, .886 OPS and career WAR of 52.6. He had a .917 OPS in 188 postseason at-bats, batting .303 with 10 homers and 37 RBI.

McGriff was better defensively than Konerko, much better offensively, and he has not sniffed the Hall of Fame in his first four years on the ballot, garnering around 20 percent of the vote.

McGriff should be in the Hall of Fame and maybe he'll get there someday. If McGriff does, Konerko's ranking in homers (about 40th), RBI (about 73rd), extra basehits (about 83rd) and total bases (about 82nd) might get him another look, but McGriff's low vote totals so far suggest Konerko will go down as a very good player who was great for a long stretch but perhaps not long enough for Cooperstown consideration.

As for his place in White Sox history, and in the hearts of White Sox fans, that is very much secure. He was the ALCS MVP in 2005 as the White Sox cruised into the World Series and defeated Houston.

In a city that has seen one World Series champion in the last couple hundred years of combined Chicago baseball, Konerko need not concern himself with his legacy in that regard.

His statue on the South Side will be evidence enough.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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