By TIm Baffoe-
(CBS) It was a fine career on the South Side. Nary could a negative word be said about him away from the game, and on the field he was long a leader, a pillar, a producer, and the face of a franchise.
Seeing a formerly-great athlete retire is always bittersweet. It allows us to reflect on the great times, the highlights, the fun moments, while at the same time knowing that we’re seeing a death of sorts, even if it’s just a professional one, though it also makes us sort of face our own mortality, maybe of our own pasts or our own careers.
Such is the case as Paul Konerko hangs ‘em up. As a baseball fan I’ll miss his steady presence at first base and his rare perfect existence as a baseball player and not being known more for his personality—positively or not so much—at his locker in front of microphones or on TMZ or as fodder for screaming heads shows.
And, so, as he rides of into the sunse—
Sources: Konerko will return to #WhiteSox.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 4, 2013
What the fungo?
Unfortunately, this son of the South Side also rises.
We waited year after year for the massive drop-off that comes with age to occur with Paulie, and for a while he kept laughing in our faces and putting up head-scratching numbers befitting a much younger man. Then 2013 happened, and the rest of us were finally (though not happily) proved right.
He had a .298 wOBA. Konerko’s power fizzled, and with that his walks dipped. His OPS was the worst of the regular starters save for the fantastically bad Jeff Keppinger. At age 37 that wasn’t a fluke.
And it won’t be a fluke at 38, which Konerko will be on Opening Day of 2014.
Call me selfish, but I don’t want to watch more of a sad slow death that has already started. If he is literary, as the world of sport and art are wont to criss-cross, I want Paul Konerko to be a Hemingway-esque, showing grace under fire and facing his death with dignity rather than struggling to prolong the inevitable. A farewell to games.
There are those that will argue his return to play another year at U.S. Cellular Field is dignified, that he’s going out on his own terms. I’m sure 2013 has left a bitter taste in his mouth, and no proud man like Konerko wants that to be his last chapter in an otherwise damn fine story. But is the risk of two bad chapters to end this novel greater than the chance of a reward of a redeeming one?
I don’t want one more year of young kids that have no concept of 2005 etching old, creaky, tired Paulie into their memories. I don’t want one more year of Jerry Reinsdorf’s favorite player’s glove eroding and his foot speed becoming some sort of morbid negative velocity where he would actually be faster running backward.
Konerko will bring leadership to ballclub of which not much is expected. That has value. Signing for just $2.5 million for 2014 is a price that isn’t insulting to him and probably doesn’t hinder Rick Hahn spending elsewhere. But is a cheap price and “intangibles” as or more important than a roster spot occupied by someone who didn’t have a WAR of -1.8 and projects better than a generous 0.5 next season, as Konerko does? There is greatness in the old man bringing in the great fish, but I see 80-plus games of failure at sea coming in this case, and the inevitable sharks with pens like me will need to feed on something.
Is it worth going from debatable Hall of Famer to bench/platoon player, which I assume he’ll be unless Hahn unloads Adam Dunn, who despite drawing most of White Sox fans’ ire (sometimes unfairly) is right now a better player than the White Sox captain? Or would 100+ starts expose Konerko even more? If my desire to not have my most recent memories of him be sad ones is selfish, my desire to not have another sad year of an overall happy career hinder any chance Konerko has of being enshrined in Cooperstown someday, even if it’s a slim chance, is not.
The great works of literature in the Western canon often don’t have happy endings. Instead they leave the audience satisfied in a conclusion that, while not creating the warm and fuzzies, had to be for the parties involved.
2014 doesn’t have to be Paul Konerko in a White Sox uniform, and I fear his story would end much better if it wasn’t.
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). Got a comment for Tim? E-mail him at email@example.com. 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.