When the Chicago White Sox traded Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko in 1998, it seemed like a win-win for both organizations. It was, but Konerko brought more than his home runs and batting average to the Armor Square neighborhood.
The South Side of Chicago is full of city employees and blue collar workers. Many are underappreciated figures in the neighborhoods: Police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. All the national media talks about is the violence on the South Side, and how great the North Side is. They don’t hear about the family functions, barbeques, and softball tournaments.
Konerko is an Honorary South Sider
U.S. Cellular Field was a perfect setting for Konerko to play in. Full of (for most of his career) fans that appreciated the extra effort. Sox fans noticed the 100% effort, soaking in TWTW, night in and night out, whether the White Sox were in a pennant race, or if they were 18 games back during the end of September.
In 2005, Konerko led the White Sox to the playoffs with a .283 average, 40 HR and 100 RBI. The White Sox got to the World Series with great starting pitching, but also with Konerko’s two home runs and seven RBI’s.
In 14 of the 16 seasons in Chicago, Paulie had 20 or more home runs. No break out seasons. Just a consistent career that flew under the radar, playing in the second city’s second baseball market. There isn’t the national fanfare for the White Sox that there is for the Cubs, and fans want it that way. He was our hero, not theirs.
Konerko Overshadowed By Jeter
Just as Jeter was perfect for the Yankees organization and fans, Konerko was perfect for the White Sox faithful. Good guys wear black, and PK donned the White Sox jersey over 2,000 times. He never gloated. He took responsibility. His hard work paid off.
Now, fittingly, Paul’s retirement is being overshadowed by Derek’s. Jeter’s overwhelmingly staged Gatorade commercial will receive more publicity than Konerko’s overwhelmingly heartfelt video thank you to the fans. Jeter’s final hit (yes, it was awesome) was aired on the MLB network, and recycled 6,000 times on ESPN within 24 hours. Konerko’s final game will barely be shown, talked about, or aired, and Paulie is probably more comfortable that way.
Riding Off Into the Sunset
Paul Konerko will retire to Arizona with his family. He won’t have paparazzi following him around. He won’t be sleeping with Minka Kelly, or ScarJo, or Mariah Carey. Ever.
He will be missed in Chicago, however. He will have his jersey retirement ceremony, and now has a bronze statue erected in his honor. He will have his World Series ring to polish, but he won’t have the World Series ball, because he gave that to the owner of the White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf.
That is who Paul Konerko is – unselfish. That is how he played. Selfishly, though, the fans will miss him, and rightly so. 16 years is a lot of games. It’s a lot of wins, it’s a lot of losses, and it’s a lot of “Thank Yous”.
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