Paul Konerko says playoffs aren’t only measure of success
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org February 28, 2012 10:00PM
Paul Konerko is hitting only .242 with nine home runs and 40 RBI. | Getty Images
Updated: April 1, 2012 8:19AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Paul Konerko arrived at spring training Tuesday and delivered a sound bite that might not resonate well with Sox fans.
“I hope I don’t throw anybody off with this, but this can be a very successful year without making the playoffs,” he said.
Someone in the Sox’ ticket-sales department might have been thrown for a loop, to name one.
That said, Konerko made it clear he wasn’t making a white-flag speech a month before Opening Day.
“They’re trying to build something that’s a little more sustainable,’’ Konerko said on the first day of full-squad workouts at Camelback Ranch. “If we go out and compete this year, and it doesn’t happen — you see this with other teams — they kind of pick up the next year with that momentum they built the year before. That’s why I said it could be successful.’’
Konerko clarified that the goal of making the playoffs is attainable.
“I’m not conceding anything,’’ he said. “In today’s game, there’s way too many teams, especially now that there’s another wild-card spot.’’
This middle-ground phase the Sox are in of cutting payroll by $20 million or so — they traded Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor for prospects to inject into a thin farm system and let Mark Buehrle walk in free agency during the offseason — has created more ho-hums than buzz from a fan base in wait-and-see mode.
It won’t affect Konerko’s approach to his job as he enters his 14th season in Chicago.
“It doesn’t slow me down,’’ Konerko said. “Sometimes a guy gets unhappy because a team turns direction. It doesn’t affect me. I hope someone doesn’t take that as ‘I don’t want to win.’ I know how I prepare to play.’’
Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski are the two remaining players from the 2005 World Series champion Sox.
“I would love to get another one, but if I don’t, that’s cool, too,’’ Konerko said. “I look at this stage of my career, if I have to play two or three years so I can leave here and help people and try to get this organization back on track, and I leave and those guys do the job, then that’s fine. I feel that’s what I owe the team.’’
Konerko, who turns 36 on March 5 and has two years left on his contract, can see the finish line.
“At this point in my career, it’s kind of a sprint,’’ he said. “I can see the end. I’m trying to battle and get out there and leave it all out there.’’
Talking about the popular Buehrle, Konerko appeared to get somewhat emotional.
“I’ve been here for an hour and a half, but definitely, not seeing Mark, that’s not ... I don’t know what to say about that other than it doesn’t seem right.”
Konerko’s last days with Buehrle will not go down as his best. The best interests of individuals superseded team, and the involved parties included general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, coaches and players. In the end, Guillen left with two games left at the urging of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to become manager of the Marlins, and Robin Ventura became the surprise hire as the Sox’ new manager.
“The last couple of years and especially toward the end last year, we were just giving away games because of people worrying about things that were not related to baseball,’’ Konerko said. “I don’t see that being an issue [this season].
“Big-league players should be mentally tougher than to have that stuff bother you. And for the longest time, we were as a group. … It all came to a head. But that’s how things end. If it didn’t go like that, then no one would see a need to make a change. Some stuff like that has to happen to make a change.’’
Ventura, the biggest piece of the change, winced a little when asked to comment on Konerko’s “success” quote.
“I know what he means,’’ Ventura said. “He’s talking about the expectations from the outside of us being young and not even in contention. But we’re looking for more than that.
“He’s looking at it matter-of-factly. But he wants more than that, too. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. He wants to win, too. I get what he’s saying.’’