The days are running short for Paul Konerko. There is a month remaining in his Major League career and then the long years of retirement stretch ahead as he tries to figure out how to fill his time and what might be as fulfilling as playing professional baseball.
Konerko is 38 and before the 2014 season began he told anyone who would listen that this 18th year in the majors would be his final season. It has not exactly been a victory tour. Konerko has been less than a half-time player for the Chicago White Sox, who are nowhere in the American League Central Division race.
No Jeter-like send-off
Well-appreciated and well-liked in Chicago, Konerko has not received the Derek Jeter treatment around the league. Jeter, a no-brainer future Hall of Famer, has been feted wherever his New York Yankees travel for their final appearance of the season. Teams have presented Jeter with plaques and trophies and gifts to thank him for his marvellous career.
Konerko is worthy of a notable send-off, but no one predicted he would receive Jeter-level special recognition and he hasn’t. No doubt in the waning days of the summer the White Sox will do something special for Konerko.
A six-time All-Star, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed swinger played a significant role for the 2005 White Sox, one of the greatest teams in franchise history. Local fans chanted “Paulie! Paulie!” when he came to the plate on the path to a World Series title and later when he had the opportunity to go elsewhere in free agency, they pleaded with him to continue to make his home at U.S. Cellular Field. He did so.
It is long-forgotten that Konerko made his Major League debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997 and even played part of 1998 for the Cincinnati Reds. But he has been a cornerstone of the White Sox since 1999.
Konerko has enjoyed a fine career. As of Sunday he had 439 home runs, 1,412 runs batted in and a lifetime .279 average in 2,341 games. Those are not Hall-of-Fame stats, but they are numbers to be proud of, as well as his World Series ring and those All-Star selections.
Team selection problems
It is likely that Konerko expected more out of himself and the White Sox this season. But with the rise of rookie Jose Abreu at first base and the bigger bat of Adam Dunn clogging the lineup at designated hitter, he has been a part-time player, and one that could not have had very much fun. That’s because he was hitting just .219 with five homers and 22 RBIs as the weekend ended.
Intriguingly, reports burst out on the eve of Labor Day that Dunn was being shipped to the Oakland A’s. That pretty much leaves the DHing to Konerko for the final month of his career if manager Robin Ventura is generous with playing time.
Just maybe Konerko will get into another couple of dozen games, find a hitting groove, and go out in style, bashing some more homers, sending some more runners across the plate, and lifting that average a little bit. Using Konerko more, and Konerko lighting up that exploding scoreboard at his home park a few times, would make his departure from the game a little bit sweeter.