Paul Konerko’s 15 years with White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf rarest of prizes
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com April 13, 2013 12:40AM
Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko watches his solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the second inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Tuesday, July 5, 2011. (AP Photo/ Paul Beaty)
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Updated: May 15, 2013 7:02AM
CLEVELAND — Paul Konerko knew who was getting the ball. So when he handed the prized keepsake of the 2005 World Series — the final out, which he had gloved — to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, it wasn’t done on a whim.
‘‘I knew two, three weeks earlier,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘In the Detroit series when we clinched, or when we beat Boston [in the American League Division Series], I gave the ball to the winning pitcher. But I knew two, three weeks earlier — and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to jinx it — that if I was lucky enough to get it, that if it wasn’t a fly ball in the outfield or a strikeout, that he was going to get it.’’
Reinsdorf had won six NBA championships as the owner of the Bulls but never had won a title in baseball — his first love and his passion. At the Sox’ World Series parade, Konerko stood on a podium and handed Reinsdorf the ball. It was a move that, like everything else Konerko does, had been well thought-out.
‘‘It was kind of a pipe dream, two, three weeks away,’’ Konerko recalled. ‘‘But, yeah, big picture, there’s a guy who had been here 25 years without winning one. So that’s where it goes. He earned it. It wasn’t going to an owner or chairman who had come along two years ago. There’s something in sports when somebody has spent a long time trying to get a hold of something and [doesn’t] get it. He deserved it.’’
Konerko has tried for a long time to get a hold on excellence, so he knows the joy of enduring devotion to a cause. He has succeeded to the tune of hitting 432 career homers — 32 shy of tying Frank Thomas on the Sox’ all-time leaderboard — and driving in 1,341 runs, which ranks 87th all-time. He’s 46 games away from tying Nellie Fox (2,115) for second-most games played for the Sox.
That he has played for one team in one city and one boss for so long ranks second behind the World Series title on his list of ‘‘coolest’’ accomplishments. Free agency long ago ushered in an era in which players shuffle from team to team, often to where the best financial offer awaits. Konerko has been a White Sox for 15 years, an achievement that means more to him than the mounds of statistical feats he has conquered.
He can’t compare being a White Sox to anything else, except for his brief stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds. The long-term relationship says something about Reinsdorf. And it says something about him.
‘‘It’s a two-way street,’’ Konerko said, and it demands reciprocating respect. From Reinsdorf, Konerko has appreciated cashing about $127 million worth of checks, as well as the boss’ friendly manner. One day during spring training, Reinsdorf stopped in the Sox clubhouse, looked over the standings to see where he stood in the NCAA tournament pool, shared some musings over who stood where and then went over to Konerko’s corner of the room to chat.
‘‘Jerry comes down, he’s very personable, he’s around in spring training,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘It’s not uncommon for him to sit down and shoot the breeze. He’ll say, ‘Hey, what happened on that play?’ I don’t know if you get that kind of conversation in other organizations — they’re kind of too big. There’s more of a closer situation with that kind of stuff. It’s kind of old-fashioned.’’
The relationships he has formed over the years is what Konerko will miss if, after this season is up, he retires or signs with another team.
‘‘What you’d lose is you know everybody inside the organization, the people in the front office and the clubhouse,’’ he said. ‘‘Those relationships, that’s the good stuff, the people you get to know behind the scenes.
‘‘When any player thinks about changing teams, they think of those things. The baseball end of it, a lot of that stuff is universal. The game is the game. That will be the same wherever you go.
‘‘But truthfully, other than those two times that I came close to going somewhere else, I haven’t thought about it much. I’ve been lucky to not have to think about it. I’m grateful for that.’’
When Konerko, who was a free agent at the time, handed the World Series ball to Reinsdorf, the joke was that Reinsdorf would melt and give him anything he wanted after that. Konerko received a five-year deal for $60 million after being pursued by the Angels and the Baltimore Orioles, so there you go.
In 2010, Konerko seriously thought the Sox wouldn’t bring him back after they signed Adam Dunn for $56 million over four years. But he got three more years.
This is the third year of that deal, so the same scenario will unfold next offseason. Only this time, Konerko will be 37 and weighing whether it’s time to spend more time with his wife and kids. That decision wouldn’t surprise those who know him.
If he wants to keep on playing baseball, Konerko knows he may have to look elsewhere. He’ll consider his level of play this season, his desire to keep going on and his family.
‘‘As you get older, you have be more flexible if you want to continue to play,’’ he said on the first day of spring training, when the inevitable questions about his future came his way. ‘‘You have to be more flexible to move around, and it might be in a place you don’t want to go.’’