OAKLAND – In Greg Walker’s perfect world, Paul Konerko will get a new deal to stay with the White Sox, finish his career on the South Side, and then have a bronze statue in his likeness on that outfield concourse of The Cell, forever a franchise legend.
Actually, the only part the hitting coach left out was the idea of Konerko riding off into the sunset.
Konerko, a free agent-to-be, sees himself playing three more years, but if he’s not given the type of deal he wants this offseason, he has no problem thanking everyone and calling it a career.
The 34-year-old insisted throughout the season that he had a ton of respect for former teammate Jermaine Dye, and the fact that Dye insisted he would only sign with a team under the right conditions. Those conditions never came, and Dye stuck to his guns.
Asked if Konerko would follow suit if his conditions weren’t met, the team captain replied, “I would say yeah. I would hope I’m in that place to say that because when you say that you have good perspective on … you know anytime you need something that’s when you can get into trouble. So I would like to think that I have it all in perspective that I think you get to a point in your career where for the most part when you sign when you’re 18 years old, the majority of the rest of your career is something you have to do. That’s a way to make a living and that’s something you have to do. You get to the point, and I think that’s where I am now, where it’s not something I have to do, it’s something I get to do. It’s a privilege to go out and play, and I get to do it.
“You start seeing it in a different way than you did most of your professional career. That’s a good place to be. I think I’m still productive, I think I can still do the job out in the field. It’s definitely a combination of saying, ‘Well, I feel like I’m still doing the job, well you play,’ that with, ‘OK, I have a family, a couple of kids, what do I really want to do in the real world?’ Those two things kind of collide when you get a little older.
“I do know this: once you’re 50 years old, if you decide you want to play again, it’s probably a little too late. So the window is small. Once you kind of get out, it’s tough to get back in. I would hope that I have enough perspective where, the game of baseball has been great, it’s been great for me, and I’ve worked hard at it and been good to the game, but I think I’ve had enough to where if I was out of the game for whatever reason, it’s not something that … I’ll have other things going on, you know.’’
There can be an argument made that this was one of Konerko’s best seasons, considering the 37 homers, 105 RBI, the defense at first, but also the leadership role he took with the younger players on the roster.
And Konerko appreciated Walker’s comments about the statue, but as far as he was concerned, he’s already on the one statue that matters.
“Anytime you’re in a place, this is my 12th year, and you know you don’t have too much longer left in the game, maybe a couple of years, three years, who knows, it seems that’s the sentiment that most people want, to finish up with the same team that you’ve been with, but to be honest, the statue I got out in front [celebrating the 2005 World Series run] with the rest of the guys is the one that matters,’’ Konerko said. “That’s not to take away anything from any of the other guys that have [statues on the outfield concourse], but if the first thing doesn’t happen we’ll always have that one out in front and to me that’s the one that holds the most weight in my mind.’’
Konerko headlines a Sox free agent class that also includes catcher A.J. Pierzynski and pitcher Freddy Garcia.
If it were up to manager Ozzie Guillen, all three would be back for 2011.
“Those guys mean a lot to this franchise, but this is a business and business sometimes when you talk about business you want to talk through your heart,’’ Guillen said. “When you make decisions you have to talk with your brain and what’s best for the ballclub, what’s the best for the fans and what’s good over all. I don’t know what’s going to happen to them. I hope they’re coming back, but in the meanwhile, years, money, talks, I don’t want to get involved in that because I don’t have to.’’