By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) He may be finishing in Chicago as unassumingly as he arrived.
One of the greatest professional athletes in the city’s history will see his contract expire at season’s end, likely concluding his 15 years with the White Sox, if not his major league career at age 37.
His team’s ragged stumbling should not distract us from seeing that Paul Konerko, the long-time face of the franchise, has 25 more games to go in that uniform after having played 2165 of them, second only to Luke Appling’s 2422. And it seems to matter less than it should around here, which is probably fine with him.
There will be no Mariano Rivera farewell road show of ceremonies, tributes and gifts, merely the simple completion of a successful tenure.
His work here is done.
He has been driven by stubborn perfectionism and commitment to routine even during the best of times, an approach developed after a game that had always come naturally to him quickly turned difficult. Many forget that the Arizona high-school phenom and first-round draft pick struggled as a big-leaguer, arriving in Chicago only after failing with both the Dodgers and Reds, posting an alarming slash-line of .214/.275/.326 and looking like a potential washout.
Since joining the Sox in 1999, those numbers have been .283/.359/.497, an OPS of .856. The six-time All-Star is second in franchise history in home runs with 425 and RBI with 1353, and third in hits with 2231. He has made $127,120,000. More significantly, he is the last player remaining from a World Series champion.
In 19 postseason games, he maintained his career performance at an .854 OPS. Of his seven home runs, none was greater than that of October 23rd, 2005: the first grand slam in MLB playoff history to vault a team into the lead when trailing as late as the seventh inning. The final putout of each series-clinching game that year was made by his glove at first base, and it was he who saved the last game ball and presented it to Jerry Reinsdorf, an act that moved the owner to tears.
A free agent in 2010, Konerko re-signed with the Sox for less than market value, declining more lucrative deals offered elsewhere. He promptly recorded his best single year, batting .312/.393/.584 and finishing fifth in MVP balloting.
He has battled through multiple injuries, including a strained oblique muscle, back problems, a concussion, and various contusions from his 97 times being hit by pitches. Twice he’s had surgery to remove bone chips from his left wrist.
Through it all, he has never stopped pushing himself or doubting himself, learning to better channel a natural state of dissatisfaction into a relentless focus on the next opportunity. Over time he learned how to meet his own expectations, only to keep advancing them.
He looks old now, though, because he is. And the results tell that truth: .246/.314/.361. Ten homers. There has not been reason to think about him much in the last few weeks, but that should change as we take time to appreciate what he has accomplished.
This baseball town celebrates so much less. Just hanging around for a while or having a mere association with a marginally memorable season is enough to ensure lifelong distinction. Familiarity alone breeds free dinners, broadcasting opportunities and paid appearances. Former players returning as opponents receive standing ovations, with crowds erupting in gratitude for no-talent scrappers, identifiable everymen and replacement-level grunts.
Now here’s an actual star who won’t seek any attention at all, but he deserves more than he’s getting.
Paul Konerko, the reluctant captain, powered a world champion and spent a decade and a half building a resume as one of the team’s best ever hitters, all while taking nothing for granted.
As his career winds to a humble conclusion, White Sox fans may be doing just that.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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