Konerko, Sox brass mum on revered vet’s future with team
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter October 1, 2013 10:23PM
Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko waves to fans after his team's 4-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals in a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:25AM
This September a sound was heard at U.S. Cellular Field, and it was more chilling than the crisp Autumn air: boos for Paul Konerko.
It was one voice, it was brief — and isolated — and it probably had as much to do with the White Sox’ awful season in general as the face of the franchise himself, but it wasn’t pretty.
It was something nobody wants to hear. Konerko is revered and respected for all the right reasons, which we were reminded of when Sox fans, knowing it might have been his last game on Sunday, showered him with cheers and affection.
This past weekend was different than his previous possible sendoffs, because Konerko isn’t the same 30-homer, 100-RBI player he was the last two times his Sox future was uncertain. What he has left in the tank is something he’ll contemplate during the next few weeks as he decides whether he will play one more season.
Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell knows from experience the decision is the toughest one Konerko, 37, will make. Bell, a five-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove third baseman, hit .284 with 17 homers and 70 RBI for the Cincinnati Reds in 1987, his 16th season. In 1988 he dropped to seven homers and 40 RBI over 95 games with two teams.
At 37, Bell returned to the Texas Rangers as a free agent for the ’89 season, but he had arthroscopic knee surgery in April of that year and his role as a utility infielder and designated hitter was limited. With a .183 average and no homers over 93 plate appearances, he called it quits on June 25.
“You still believe you can do it,’’ Bell said. “I’m not speaking for Paul, but that’s the problem all of us have. I shouldn’t have played the last two years that I played. It’s hard to walk away from if you feel there is a chance.’’
Is there a chance for Konerko, who battled back issues while hitting .244 with 12 homers and 54 RBI in 126 games in 2013? He said productivity could extend beyond power numbers to mentoring young players. Sox business minds see value in the popular ‘‘KONERKO’’ across the back of the uniform of a team that might not be a whole lot better next season. Whether taking a roster spot impedes Sox progress is something for Konerko, general manager Rick Hahn and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — who is as fond of Konerko as any player has been associated with — to figure out.
This past weekend, Konerko sounded like he wants to play another year. But he doesn’t want a roster spot as a favor. He wants to feel like he’s earned it.
“I’m not quite sure I can say that right now for next year,’’ he said. “So that’s a problem with me, that’s a concern with me.
“If I’m back here, I want it to make sense.’’
On the same day, Hahn said the only trades or free-agent signings that will make sense this offseason will be made with long-term, sustainable success in mind.
Is there room for Konerko in that approach? Would taking up a roster spot be better utilized by a younger, developing piece of the Sox future? Would it matter that much? Konerko, who has 434 homers, 1,390 RBI and a lifetime average of .281, said he wants in only if the Sox see a fit.
“We’re going to let everyone get away for a few weeks and exhale,’’ said Hahn, who wants to know where Konerko stands by the general managers meetings in early November, “and we’ll sit down with Paulie face-to-face about what he wants and how he’s feeling and what he hopes to accomplish next year, as well as what the team’s going to look like and how he could potentially fit and what the plan would be going forward.
‘‘I think he needs some time now himself, just to get away and think through his options as well.’’