By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) — The essence of leadership is being selfless. Paul Konerko has proved one more time why he has been the ultimate teammate and leader of the White Sox for 16 years.
Konerko turned down a chance to be in the starting lineup for the last Opening Day he will wear a Sox or major league uniform as a player. What is significant about the gesture is not siting out what would be one last glorious day in the sun, but doing right by the team structure.
Adam Dunn, who will DH instead of Konerko, looked at the move by the Sox Captain as not a big deal as much as just following a plan.
“Hey, if we were going to deviate from the plan from day one, it wouldn’t be much of a plan,” Dunn said in a matter of fact look at the assignment. “He understands it, I understand it and hopefully it works out.”
It was the selfless act by Dunn in November that allowed Konerko that freedom of mind to return as a platoon player alternating with Dunn against left hand starters. Dunn told Konerko he would be okay sharing the role with him if that is what he and management wanted.
Since 2003 Konerko has assumed leadership of the clubhouse. One incident took him to another level with his teammates and White Sox management. In 2003 Manager Jerry Manual benched the iconic Frank Thomas without telling the Sox slumping star he would not be starting the next day. Thomas was in a fit of anger after learning of the decision through the media and did not show up for batting practice. Konerko, at that time a fourth year player struggling as well with Manuel’s handling of the team, stood up and called Thomas out for stiffing his teammates in batting practice.
He would ascend to the role of captain under Ozzie Guillen in 2005. He would forever be remembered for giving team chairmen Jerry Reinsdorf the ball from the last out of the World Series Championship in the same year.
Konerko does not think passing up his last Opening Day as a starter is a big deal.
“I signed up to do this (platoon with Dunn),” he said on Sunday. “If I wanted to start on Opening Day than I should have done better last year. That way it would have been a non-issue. It is pretty simple to me there is a plan of roles when guys play and when they don’t play. You just follow it. If I am not starting the twentieth day against Ricky Nolasco (Twins opening day starter) than it doesn’t matter that its the first game.”
Allowing Adam Dunn to feel like an important part of the team was more important to Konerko than getting that one last Opening Day ovation from a thankful and loyal White Sox fan base. Konerko should be admired for his skill and leadership qualities even more in the twilight of his career than in his more productive seasons. The true leaders among men like Konerko and Derek Jeter don’t come around often. Take the time to enjoy them and thank them one more time for doing the right thing as real leaders of men!