He’s been the face of a big city franchise since the 1990s. He’s a world champion and All-Star. He serves as his team’s captain, respected in his own clubhouse and throughout Major League Baseball. He’s stayed out of trouble and he’s played the game the right way. Now he is retiring. No, we’re not talking about Derek Jeter (perhaps we’re the only ones). Instead, it’s another superstar who, like Jeter, deserves a grand send off.
Since arriving on the South Side of Chicago in 1999, Paul Konerko has epitomized White Sox baseball. Like Jeter, he’s led on and off the field. Like Jeter, he’s brought that gravitas and savoir faire to his team. Unlike Jeter, Konerko did it under the radar. The stats are as strong as anyone to ever play for the Pale Hose. Konerko belted 432 homers and drove in 1,383 runs. Both are good enough for second on the Sox all-time list behind Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. Other than Luke Appling, another Hall of Famer, no one has played in more games for the club. Konerko is third on the team’s all-time hit list. He’s the leader when it comes to total bases. What a career!
While Jeter enjoys the royal farewell tour at every ballpark he plays at for a final time, Konerko’s final season, like his career, has been less glitzy. You can understand why. Konerko has been the big bat on the Second City’s second team. Jeter has been the main man in the Big Apple playing for the most iconic franchise in sports history. Konerko is a family man who’s been married for a decade. He has three kids. He lives the life of an everyman away from Cellular Field. Jeter is still a bachelor. He’s dated countless celebrities. He lives the life many men envy. They’re different guys who both play the game at the highest level.
The way this season shook out also led to the anonymity of Konerko’s last campaign. Chicago has been pretty bad for most of the year and Konerko has missed loads of time due to age and injury. The Yankees were in the pennant race for most of the season and Jeter has started at his familiar shortstop position for most of the Bombers games. Plus, it’s New York City. Everything is bigger–Jeter one of the biggest. Of course, a man with Nike and Gatorade deals covered as much by entertainment outlets as he is by sports reporters will leave a bigger impression. That suits Konerko just fine. He’s comfortable in his own skin. While some of his contemporaries have expressed their wishes for Konerko to have a Jeter-like goodbye tour, Jeter himself has said he would’ve been happier with the toned down treatment Konerko has received. The grass is always greener.
The commercials, the articles, and the constant chatter surrounding Jeter this season is deserved. He is truly one of the top five or six men to ever don the pinstripes. Jeter has shined in the postseason again and again. All of the accolades are appropriate. But while it’s been “all Jeter, all the time” wherever he’s gone this season, Konerko’s year has been just like any other when it comes to fanfare. Perhaps the casual baseball fan needs to know what an impact he’s had on our great game.
The White Sox appreciate Konerko. Fans have been chanting “Paulie! Paulie!” for years. He’s been the constant during all the ups and downs. From 2005 World Series champs to seasons you’d rather forget, Konerko has remained that reliable force that spoke much louder with his bat than he ever did on any television or radio show. This weekend the team will honor Konerko and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has hinted that a statue of Konerko may very well grace the ballpark at some point. Konerko’s number 14 will be retired as it should be. Like Jeter, he is one of the greats of the game. Unlike Jeter, Konerko plugged along in a more intimate setting. Jeter’s exploits are known worldwide. Konerko’s are only truly appreciated in a section of the Windy City and by baseball aficionados. Jeter was perfect for the Yankees. Konerko was made to be with the White Sox.
Paul Konerko will leave the game and us with fond memories. His accomplishments have been vast. He’s an ALCS MVP. He hit the only World Series grand slam that came in the seventh inning or later and gave his team a lead after being down before the swing. No one has hit a granny in the Fall Classic since. The list of greatest hits is long and impressive. Konerko left his mark.
This weekend we will say goodbye to two of baseball’s best. Jeter will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Tom Seaver, a fellow New York legend contends Jeter has a shot at receiving 100% of the vote. Konerko making the Hall is more of a question mark. But if you ask those who have watched him give it his all in Chicago for the last sixteen years you’ll know for sure that he’s already enshrined in their view. He’s meant so much to the White Sox and to the game of baseball. So, this weekend when we marvel at one last glimpse of the great Derek Jeter and show our RE2PECT for the kid from Kalamazoo let’s not forget that Paul Konerko probably deserves some of our attention too. He had a terrific career.
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