By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Mark Grace is my favorite baseball player of all time.
He stole my fan heart by never really doing anything that made him seem to the naked eye leaps and bounds above a beer league softball player. Smooth, steady, not flashy. Very slow on the bases to the point of comedy. Fantastic glove. A team leader that never asked for more than he deserved.
Nobody fully appreciates our individual favorite players, or at least we tend to think so. Mention Lebron James in front of a Michael Jordan lover, for instance. Tell me Grace is not a Hall of Famer, and I’ll begrudgingly agree but try to save both of our reputations by arguing for his unique sort of greatness that does not merit traditional Hall of Fame votes.
Grace, though, was never the face of a franchise. His career stretched across the latter half of Ryne Sandberg’s and the massive years of Sammy Sosa’s before becoming the old guy riding off into the Arizona sunset. He was certainly the voice of the Cubs and then Diamondbacks, though. His sense of humor and gift of gab made him a media favorite and led to a post-playing career as a broadcaster.
Paul Konerko has been Grace-esque in a lot of ways mentioned above, with maybe the biggest discrepancy being many more home runs and less of an outgoing personality. “Paulie,” though, has been the White Sox’s ever since the departure of the franchise’s greatest hitter, Frank Thomas. A largely underappreciated player nationally on a team infamous for having a perception amongst its fans of underappreciation. It was his softly-spoken, big-stick-carrying ways that endeared him to White Sox fans more than any player since the Big Hurt and unfortunately maybe made him less of a celebrity across the baseball landscape.
And after several years of expecting a massive regression in his skills that he kept defying, Konerko seems finally too old to learn any new tricks and is expected to put some serious consideration into hanging up his spikes following the dumpster fire that is the 2013 White Sox season. Nothing about his future has been officially declared, but reading between the lines isn’t too difficult.
“We’re definitely not on the verge of clinching, so obviously everything is tougher,” Konerko said. “It’s just less fun. … As far back in the standings as we are, it’s tough to play games every night that you know probably have no effect — other than knowing you went out and did it right.”
Not exactly the talk of a guy that still burns with a competitive fire. Host of White Sox Pre- and Postgame on 670 The Score and Sergeant at Arms of The Score’s Handsome Persons Club, Chris Rongey, has his finger on the Sox pulse as much as anyone, and while he doesn’t know Konerko’s plan, he thinks he has a good idea. He wrote a few days ago, “In one week, there’s an excellent chance we’ll be watching Paul Konerko’s last game in a White Sox uniform.”
Notice Rongey didn’t say it would be Konerko’s last game ever. The first baseman may think he can still contribute to a team, but that probably conflicts with Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s unenviable task of rebuilding. Horrific to South Siders as it would be to see the consensus favorite player don another uniform, I cannot envision Konerko wanting to go somewhere else or another team feeling, after the obvious deterioration of his body and a paltry .355 slugging percentage, he is anything more than a guy off the bench and a clubhouse pick-me-up.
Regardless, this does seem the likely Konerko swan song as a White Sox. As the game celebrates the final appearances by the greatest to ever close games, Mariano Rivera, and one of the best hitters of a generation, Todd Helton (and maybe even Derek Jeter, though I doubt he and the New York Yankees would pass on an opportunity to milk a summer farewell tour for a Hall of Famer like we’ve seen with Rivera), there is little talk outside of Chicago about the end of a pretty great career.
Seven seasons of 30+ home runs, 6 of 100+ RBI, a career OPS of .848. Never involved in a controversy. Not a guy most would narrow their eyes at in terms of possible PED use. Really a model baseball player.
A Hall of Famer? I’d be very happy for him if it were so, but it seems less and less likely the more I look at his numbers and consider how voters treat guys like Konerko who are the All-American everything sports writers claim a player should be but not the mythic gods they actually love. Personality, or even just a lack of a salty one, doesn’t score many votes (ask Mark Grace). Ditto a first baseman with less than 500 home runs.
And I’m sure several Sox fans will defend their favorite player with reasons why he should be in the Hall. I’d expect nothing less regarding a player like Konerko.
But there is no shame in Konerko not being honored in Cooperstown. He’ll be honored at U.S. Cellular Field. Probably get his number retired. Definitely be offered a non-playing job in the organization as Jerry Reinsdorf’s favorite baseball son. Could even be the team’s manager someday.
And besides, White Sox fans will always love him, as they should. I think that’s something most important to a guy like Paul Konerko, to know that his people know that he “went out and did it right” and was pretty good at doing so.
We should all be so underrated.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.