Paul Konerko: The End of an Era?

I remember it like it was yesterday: an offseason trade that came with little fanfare and even less expectations. 

The White Sox had traded outfielder Mike Cameron after a disappointing sophomore season to the Reds in exchange for some guy named Paul Konerko. At the time, Konerko had played 81 career games in the big leagues between the Dodgers and Reds and was hitting .214 with 7 HRs and a lot of strikeouts. I read up a little on him once the trade was made and thought this could be a guy that could step in at DH or 1B depending on where Big Frank was playing that day. Some others around me dismissed him at the start of his White Sox career, but I quickly decided that Paul Konerko was going to be my new favorite Sox player not named Frank Thomas.

Fifteen years later, Konerko is probably the favorite White Sox player to an entire generation of Sox fans. 

There is a good chance that Konerko is about to begin his final homestand as a member of the Chicago White Sox and maybe his final series as a Major League Baseball player. Over his time with the Sox, there isn’t much that Konerko hasn’t accomplished. He has made six All-Star teams, finished in the top six in MVP voting twice, helped the Sox win three division titles, and most importantly, brought the franchise its first World Series Championship in 88 years in 2005.He twice re-signed with the Sox when it seemed all but certain that he would be lured away by the chance to play closer to home, something that helped endear him to Sox fans. When it is all said and done, Paul Konerko will have played in the second most games in a White Sox uniform in franchise history behind only Luke Appling, and his number “14” will certainly be retired and put up on the face of the Stadium Club in between Luis Aparicio (#11) and Ted Lyons (#16).

Statistically, Konerko ranks among the Sox all-time leaders in almost every offensive category:

Statistic Number Sox All-Time Rank
At-Bats 7,950 3rd
Plate Appearances 9,022 3rd
Runs Scored 1,125 4th
Hits 2,248 3rd
Total Bases 3,940 2nd
Doubles 398 3rd
Home Runs 426 2nd
RBI 1,360 2nd
Walks 893 4th

White Sox fans who were there will talk about his grand slam in Game Two of the 2005 World Series; the way the anticipation built as he came to the plate with the bases loaded and the White Sox trailing by two. The crack of the bat as PK connected sparked an instantaneous, deafening roar of the U.S. Cellular faithful as the ball sailed into the air before landing in the left field seats. Sure, Scott Podsednik’s improbable walk-off homer in the ninth inning would win the game, but Paulie’s blast off of Houston’s Chad Qualls was when everyone knew that something special was happening at 35th and Shields. 

As Paul Konerko prepares for what will probably be his final games in a White Sox uniform, it is time for everyone to remember what he has meant to this franchise for the past 15 years. He has been a rock, a solid force in the middle of the order, and a leader. He is the final remaining member of the 2005 World Series team, and when he is done on Sunday, there will be no one left to remind us of that great season. 

But maybe that is a good thing, as it is time to move on. After all, that was eight years ago this October.  It is time to stop living in and relying on the heroes of the past and move this franchise forward towards its next World Series Championship. 

Paul Konerko joined the White Sox after the 1998 season. It had been five years since the Sox were a top level team, and it would be two more before they would get back to the playoffs. They were in a rebuilding mode, similar to the one the Sox are in right now. It is a time for a passing of the guard. Who knows, maybe the next Paul Konerko will be joining the White Sox this November in a trade that those around the blogosphere deem a mistake. Maybe he is already with the Sox organization and is just waiting his shot. 

While there may be a new face of the franchise ready to step in, no one will replace Paul Konerko, who is probably the most beloved White Sox player since Aparicio and Fox. I take some level of pride in knowing that I was there ahead of the curve: that Paulie has been my guy since before he was “Paulie,” when people would mispronounce his name and wonder why the Sox traded a highly talented outfielder for him. It will be weird on Opening Day next year not seeing his name in the lineup card or hearing Harvester of Sorrow when his name is announced.

Those of us that saw his career will say that he was the epitome of what a White Sox player should be. He played hard, played well, was loyal, kept a low profile, and led by example. He was a ballplayer. He was Paulie, and I can still hear the roar of the crowd from Game Two….