MORRISSEY: Paul Konerko will be missed when he’s gone
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com | @MorrisseyCST August 11, 2013 8:10PM
Updated: August 11, 2013 10:18PM
Is this goodbye?
I wonder how many times media members have asked Paul Konerko that question over the last five years. I wonder how many times I’ve asked him.
I don’t believe any of us has been in a hurry to see one of the best players in White Sox history go to another team or into retirement. Duty simply required that the question be asked. A player reaches a certain age, and it’s almost a compulsory line of inquiry. One of these days, Konerko might actually answer the question in the affirmative, and our days of crying “wolf,’’ or at least asking it, will be over.
But even without him saying so, this feels like an end, a winding down, a prolonged goodbye, much more so than 2010, when it looked as if he was going to Arizona to play for the Diamondbacks.
He’s 37 and nearing the end of his 15th season with the Sox. Injuries have played a role in his .242 batting average, his third-lowest as a Sox player. He went 0-for-4 Sunday in the Sox’ 5-2 loss to the Twins. He’s in the last year of a contract that is paying him $13.5 million this season, though half of his 2013 salary is deferred. Money is one of the reasons the Sox might be interested in moving on, and it would be understandable. The team stinks, and it might be time to try something completely different.
But it’s not so simple. There’s the fact that, a season ago, he hit .298 and had 26 home runs. The year before, he hit .300 with 31 home runs and 105 RBI. Are we to believe that what he accomplished at 35 and 36 was the anomaly and that what he has done this season is the result of creeping old age? Perhaps. But who’s to say he won’t bounce back in 2014? And at a reduced salary?
But there’s a soul-sucking sameness to this game that can wear out veterans. Twenty-two-year-old Avisail Garcia bounds around right field with all the eagerness of a puppy. You can see he has absolutely no idea of what he’s up against, and maybe he’s better for it. Konerko’s day is a long, undeviating routine built on preparing to do battle in the moment. It’s not grim, but it’s not a party, either.
“He’s not going to play for another 10 years; that much everybody knows,’’ Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “How much he plays longer than this season really is up to him. He’s had spurts where it’s good. He’s had injuries and periods where it slowed him down a little. But I think that’s natural for everybody when you get to the point of the career that he’s at right now. Ultimately, he’s the guy that has to figure that out and decide.’’
There might be more interest in Konerko’s status after this season simply because there’s not much that’s interesting about the Sox’ season. Or the Cubs’ season, for that matter. The summer has turned into a buzz kill of players coming and going through trades. It’s not much of a spectator sport. You’d have a better time sitting in the parking lot at Menards and watching people carrying out 2x4s.
Then again, it’s still not bad watching Konerko swing a piece of maple.
He calls the Sox’ season (44-72) “as tough as I’ve ever seen.’’ As to whether it could have an effect on a decision about his future, he said: “There’s a million things. That could be one of them. We’ll worry about that when the time comes, but there are a lot of moving parts to it.’’
Ventura said Konerko should think about staying in the game after his playing career is over.
“Any organization would be lucky to have him,’’ Ventura said.
I don’t want this to sound like a eulogy because nobody died, and nothing seems to have been decided. But it will be a tough day for Sox fans and the people who cover the team when Konerko decides it’s over. Out of a sense of professional responsibility, he has been available for the media before and after every game. On Sunday, it looked like he would have preferred to be pulling weeds than talking with reporters, but talk he did. He wasn’t pleased about questions about his future and talked only in general terms.
But he was there, just like always.
He’s a pro. Present tense.