The End of Era: Saying Goodbye to Paul Konerko

Paul Konerko at his best. (Photo: Louis DeLuca)

Paul Konerko at his best. (Photo: Louis DeLuca)

Chicago, IL – So he is retiring after this weekend. He is retiring as an all-star, as a playoff MVP and most important as a champion. He’s been around for sixteen seasons in the American League of Major League Baseball. No he is NOT a Yankee and he is not Derek Jeter. But he none other than our southside first baseman Paul Konerko.

I’m no Chicago White Sox aficionado. Yeah I know my baseball history, still play fantasy baseball (which I took 3rd this out of 10 teams to be in the money) and go to White Sox games but the sport has such a dense history that it truly is impossible to know all there is to know. I grew up more of a Cubs fan. I never disliked the Sox at all. In fact I went to quite a few games games at the original Comiskey Park. That of the old exploding scoreboard, roofed upper decks, left field patio areas and golden box seats. South siders know. I know they know.

But I grew up more of a Cubs fan. It had to be WGN TV which would broadcast all the day games during the summer. I grew up with: “There’s a long fly to the shortstop Shawn Dunston.” Or “Hey Steve. Look at the kid there in the Sombrero.” or “Hey Arnie (Harris, WGN Cubs producer) this Bud’s for you!” These words were uttered by none other then Hall of Fame Broadcaster Harry Caray. His partner was baseball analyst and guru Steve Stone. I can attribute most of what I know about baseball to these two. One for the enjoyment the other for the knowledge.

The Cubs…ugh The Cubs. This is where I confess I left Cubdom. Year after year after f—ing year no playoffs and if they do put it together for the playoffs, they go nowhere. The Chicago Cubs have not even made it the championship series since 1945. That’s like World War II! And teams then didn’t have all their players because some were serving (see Ted Williams). But I think more then this was just the personal moves that Cubs made and their basic acceptance (and glorification) of mediocracy. Take for instance the their severing of radio contract with WGN which had served the team for 90 years! The Cubs have become so bad that no one wants to buy advertising space. WGN had no choice to cut them because the franchise refused to restructure a new contract based on incentives on how the team performs.

In the last 16 years the Cubs have made the playoffs 3 times. To be fair The White Sox have only made the playoffs 3 times. But the difference: the Sox won the World Series in 2005 in large part due to one Paul Konerko.

Konerko was drafted by the LA Dodgers and traded to the Cincinnati Reds before being traded to The White Sox in November of 1998. His first season with the team was 1999. He made the playoffs in 2000 where he and Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas switched duties between first base and designated hitter. Proceeded to take over for Frank Thomas at first base and continued to excel. Konerko had a bit of a down year in 2003, became Sporting News’ Comeback Player of the Year in 2004 and then came 2005.

Paul Konerko’s batting line in 2005 reads like this:

158 games 575 AB 98 runs 163 hits 24 doubles 40 home runs 100 runs batted ing .283 average .375 on-base percentage .534 slugging percentage .909 OPS All-Star,MVP 6th in voting.

My only thought here is: ONLY sixth? But he rectified that in the playoffs when he won the MVP of the American League Championship Series (or MLB’s Semi-Finals) against the Anaheim Angles. And then there is this little number on a cold and rainy October night in Game 2 of The World Series on 35th and Shields:

Iconic. Glorious. Champion. Truly Champion. The Chicago White Sox went on to sweep the Houston Astros in 2005 in 4 games to win the World Series. And really in baseball NOBODY so it coming. In the off-season prior to 2005 season the Sox were anywhere from 20-to-1 to 60-to-1 favorites in Las Vegas to win the Championship. Yet they did it and this Grand Slam by Konerko basically broke the Astros back. The seats in the now US Cellular Park (The Cell) have since changed their color from baby blue to a more tolerable green with the exception of the seat where his home run landed.

The White Sox went to the playoffs again 2008 but haven’t made a return trip since. Nor have the Cubs for that matter. Konerko was involved with a bit of history twice in the past five years though. He recorded the last out of 2 perfect games (where a pitcher and defense does not allow a batter to reach base at all). They were 2 of only 23 perfect games in major league history. So yeah there’s that.

Throw in 439 career home runs, 1412 runs batted in and a .280 batting average and you have an impressive career. Konerko will finish like this in Sox history: 1st in total bases; 2nd in games played, home runs and runs batted in; and Top 10 in seven other major categories. That is an impressive career and kudos on the Sox and chairmen/owner Jerry Reinsdorf for rewarding for it.

Konerko never embodied a flashy demeanor. And by all accounts of teammates, coaches and opposing players worked extremely hard at being good at his job and contributing to community in Chicago.

Joup lately has not been know as a “sports website” as most of our pieces come in the form of arts and culture. Which is ok. But Sport and Art somehow do mirror each other at times and this perspective is good to have and appreciate at times. Baseball has defined so much of American culture, it should be recognized as such. It shows us what we as humans can do in our physical forms. And for this and Paul Konerko I can stand behind.

*Tips cap*

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

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