Captain Konerko returning to White Sox in 2014
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Paul Konerko doesn't need the money. And with 434 career home runs and 1,390 RBI, he doesn't need to keep playing to pad the statistics.
When deciding to accept the White Sox' offer to play one more year before calling it quits, the overriding factor for returning was going out on a much better note. Not only did Konerko establish career lows in homers (12) and RBI (54) last year while batting a tepid .244, the Sox went 63-99 — their worst season since 1970.
"Last year was a terrible feeling, not only personally," Konerko said Wednesday after agreeing to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, $1 million being deferred to 2021. "I've been here so long. I'm a White Sox for life and it killed me to see what went on last year. And helping along with that, it killed me.
"So it's tough when I have an opportunity to come back to turn my back on that and help make it better. That's a big portion of that. That will make me feel good when I'm gone."
There seems to be a near 50-50 split among Sox fans about Konerko's return, with half all in favor and half wondering how a physically beat-up veteran of 17 major-league seasons is going to help turn things around.
In truth, Konerko isn't planning on carrying the White Sox on his 38-year-old back next year. During a November lunch near his off-season home in Scottsdale, Ariz., with general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura, Konerko was basically offered the chance to return — but as a part-time player.
Instead of logging the usual 150-160 games per year like he did in his prime, Konerko will split time with designated hitter Adam Dunn, give newcomer Jose Abreu a break at first base from time to time and probably do a lot of pinch-hitting.
Not only is he completely fine with the diminished role, Konerko actually started envisioning going out in such fashion last season.
"Being around the game and seeing the natural progression of game, the evolution of a player, I knew last September or August that if I was going to play again it would be something like this," Konerko said. "I had to come to grips with that. I'm probably way ahead of everyone else because I knew this is where I was headed.
"I'm excited about it because truthfully, I wouldn't be coming back to any situation if I knew I was slated to play a lot. I've never done this role. I've had the same role since I was a kid, being a guy in the middle of the lineup trying to hit home runs.
"To have this role, there are a lot (of times) where I can have a great year, a great week and it might not show up on the score sheet. For 130 or 160 games, I couldn't sign up for that because if I did, that was something I probably couldn't deliver on."
In addition to getting 250-300 at-bats next year — assuming Dunn stays put with the White Sox all season — Konerko is looking forward to dropping some knowledge on his younger teammates off the field.
"What we spent a lot of time talking to Paulie about just his presence in the clubhouse and being able to continue to mentor some of our young players as we transition this roster over the next several months," Hahn said.
Konerko admits he drove himself hard over the course of his standout career and that took time away from his ability to communicate. On the field and off, he's just looking to help the Sox turn it around in 2014.
"I was really planning on last year being it for me," said Konerko, who ranks second in White Sox history in home runs (427), RBI (1,361), total bases (3,944) and games played (2,187). "Having a good year, the team doing at least good if not better and saying, 'That's it.' But everything went to shambles; every single direction you could equate something last year was a disaster. To come back in a lesser role, I look at it like I'm a good employee to have because I have no future or agenda.
"You never know what's going to happen on that field next year. I hope I can impact some games in a good way. I know where this team ended up and I just feel like I have something to offer and do something good. I had a hard time turning my back on that.
"My only goal is at every turn to get this team going in the right direction. At every turn be pro-team, get this team rallied up and in the right direction."
• Follow Scot's reports on Twitter @ScotGregor and check back later today for more analysis and reaction to Konerko's decision.
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