Spiegel: Konerko and Jeter on the goodbye tour

Leaving with grace is difficult.

Paul Konerko thought he'd done it last year. He was finished, and he was OK with that.

But for a season without title aspirations, no matter how publicly this truth remained undeclared, Rick Hahn wanted him back. Come help the Sox transition to a younger core. Help the new Cuban slugger learn the big leagues. Help us sell a few tickets in a challenging time.

So Paulie returned.

His season has been quiet, his stats have been bad. Now there is a broken bone in his hand, which will limit his options in the final month. Everyone hopes and assumes he will play on the night dedicated to say goodbye officially: Saturday, Sept. 27.

But goodbye already has begun.

On May 6, the Cubs were the first team to give Konerko a pregame ceremony and gift, a "14" from Wrigley's scoreboard. I wondered how many teams would honor him this year, and set the betting over/under at 5½.

The Twins did so this week. The Indians, Royals, and Tigers will still get their chance.

The Yankees were the team I did not expect. Two weeks ago, they gave Konerko a base signed by the entire roster, handed over by Derek Jeter. The Rhode Island bred Konerko, who grew up a Yanks fan, was moved.

Of course, the Yankees have been a living farewell tour, this season and last.

As Jeter gets gifts in every stadium, like Mariano Rivera before him, it's telling to look at the different circumstances surrounding these men.

Rivera performed at an incredibly high level last year, going out with true excellence like very, very few.

Konerko knows he is part figurehead. He initiated the off-season conversation defining his role, fiercely intent on making sure he would not be hurting the ballclub.

Jeter is in the middle. It is a deeply unproductive, somewhat embarrassing, damaging middle.

The Yankees have spent the entire season hovering around .500. They've never been more than seven games over, never been more than two under.

There are lots of reasons. Masahiro Tanaka got hurt in the midst of a brilliant debut. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have been disasters at the plate. Only one Yankee (Brett Gardner) has an OPS above .769.

But the retiring shortstop has been an undeniable hindrance. It's not that a bad season from a 40-year-old shortstop coming off a broken ankle should be a surprise; it's that he continues to play that crucial defensive position and hit at the top of the order.

By Wins Above Replacement, Jeter is the 16th-best shortstop in the American League.

He has batted in his customary No. 2 spot in the lineup 121 times. Three times he hit leadoff. This while compiling an OPS of .621. That's good for 15th, on his own team.

This is not a hack-job column on Jeter, who is one of the great Yankees of all time and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But a captain of his stature should see what's best for everyone, and offer to DH every once in awhile. Offer to hit sixth, seventh, eighth. He should be as secure in his place as the rest of us and realize his legacy would not be harmed.

Paul Konerko is nowhere near the hitter he once was, with an OPS of just .616.

But he had to be begged to return and has just 202 plate appearances. He has started 22 games hitting sixth, and eight games hitting seventh.

Selflessness is in the eye of the beholder.

I'm really glad I was at the Cell on May 7 when Konerko cleared the bases with a double off Travis Wood in the fifth. The crowd went wild.

As the Cubs made a pitching change, Konerko stood out there on second base, alone, in the middle of an electrified ballpark he'd called home since 1999.

It's the image I'll take from this final breath of his baseball life.

And I hope the man inhaled deeply.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel and Mannelly Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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