The revel is in the details for reborn White Sox, Ken Williams
BY JOE COWLEY email@example.com July 10, 2012 10:38PM
White Sox captain Paul Konerko, who played in his sixth All-Star Game, likes the franchise’s direction. | Getty Images
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:43AM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Paul Konerko’s brain doesn’t work like most major-leaguers’. Hearing him is often like listening to a philosophy professor and not a first baseman. There are long pauses, there’s thoughtfulness, there’s preparation in his reply. Sixteen years in The Show has been his classroom.
So heading to the All-Star Game for a sixth time this week, Konerko was more than well-versed in what to expect from reporters.
‘‘I’m not one of those guys that is like, ‘The media is out to get me,’ ’’ Konerko said. ‘‘But I know they are looking to get the quick story line at an event like this, and the easy one with us is Ozzie [Guillen] left [for Miami] and now we’re good again. It’s the easiest thing to say, it’s lazy, but there is so much more to it than that if you’re on the inside.’’
The media didn’t disappoint. During a Q&A session Monday, Konerko spent most of the 40 minutes being asked about the influence of new Sox manager Robin Ventura, who took the reins following Guillen’s departure after eight seasons. We are a society that needs the answers to our questions to fit in a nice little box, so if Guillen left, Ventura came in and the Sox entered the All-Star break in first place, one plus two has to equal four.
‘‘I hate to disappoint everyone, but it wasn’t as simple as making a switch to a new manager,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘What’s being missed is a complete change in the organization’s philosophy.
‘‘Without going into too many details, I think the main thing is there are a lot of good things going on in here now. Wins and losses are great; we’re in first place. But besides that, the way they are handling things now, it’s not just about this year.’’
Finally, just maybe, the Sox get it.
Since the World Series title in 2005, general manager Ken Williams has been searching for an identity for his team. In 2006, it was focusing on the long ball, adding Jim Thome. In 2007, Williams became infatuated with power arms in the bullpen. In ’08, it was guys with high on-base percentages, such as Nick Swisher.
Last season, it was about throwing checks at the wall and hoping they stick. ‘‘All in’’ became an all-out mess.
Now Konerko thinks the Sox are onto something with staying power long after he leaves.
‘‘The players will come and go, but they’re building something where it’s about the culture and a way of doing things, kind of like Tampa Bay,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘I think Tampa is the model. They’re above everyone when it comes to that mentality, and we’re all shooting for that. It’s about a feeling that you know how things are going to be done each day you get to the park, there’s a way you go about your business, and, yeah, there will be changes to the roster, but that mentality doesn’t change.
‘‘I think we’re on the right track here, which is great. It’s not just about this team; it’s about the future as well.’’
Moving toward that future hasn’t been smooth. Early in spring training, there was a lot of eye-rolling by veterans who thought Ventura and his staff were too militant in the way they ran drills over and over.
‘‘There are some things that I know people don’t like, but for however many things people don’t like about it, the big picture so far has been everything is awesome,’’ slugger Adam Dunn said. ‘‘I guarantee we’re the only team in the big leagues that takes infield as much as we do, and sometimes we take it without using a ball. Now that looks funny.’’
Not as funny as finishing the 2011 season 16 games out of first with a $127 million payroll.
‘‘It’s about an organization paying attention to detail,” Konerko said. “Even going back to spring training when we were doing drills, there were some looks like, ‘Oh, they’re making us do this again?’ Yeah, it was probably needed with where we were as a group. If you didn’t do a drill right, you had to do it again.
‘‘There’s an understanding about the little things. We have a good team, but there are teams out there with more talent. So it comes down to the little things. The goal from the beginning was paying attention to those details.’’
Starting at the top. A newfound calmness in both his professional life and personal life has allowed Williams to focus on being a GM again. There’s not a lingering jealousy, no longer a need to be ‘‘Hollywood.’’ More important, after watching his $127 million project crumble last season while the small-market Rays again took a champagne shower in October by winning the AL wild card, there was an awakening: It’s OK to sweat the details, focus on the fundamentals.
‘‘Fundamental-wise, this is the best team I’ve ever played on,’’ Dunn said.
Konerko hopes the Sox stay in their lane now, and that’s his message to the organization.
‘‘As players, we’re all going to come and go,’’ he said. ‘‘This mentality? It has staying power.’’
Let’s hope the organization is listening.