By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) White Sox legend Paul Konerko’s jersey retirement Saturday is going to be really cool. Such a ceremony is a validation, but not just for the player himself on a fantastic career.
“It will be cool,’’ first-year White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija told the Sun-Times. “It’s always great to bring a guy back and acknowledge him for everything he did during his career. And it’s great for the player, to have a cherry put on top to acknowledge what you did and all the hard work you put in.’
These ceremonies are also for those of us who journeyed with his career. We witnessed greatness from one guy on a long timeline in the same uniform in our own backyard. That’s a sports rarity these days, and number retirements in sports will likely become events that future generations of fans will only grow less likely to be familiar with save for the maudlin exceptions of a player “earning” it through premature death or teams forcing them for PR stunt purposes.
As is my nature, though, the deserved pomp and circumstance this weekend is going to create a tiny pinprick of frustrating reality in the back of my brain. Konerko is and will always be the face of the 2005 White Sox, the only World Series winner in Chicago in my lifetime. So while clapping it up for Paulie, I will be hit with that pesky fact that I’m witnessing a period on the sentence of an admirable career and also a sort of grave marker of Chicago baseball a decade since.
Granted, I didn’t grow up a White Sox fan, so my investment in the ceremony will be a bit different from those who had a weighty burden lifted from them 10 years ago. But I always admired Konerko the way any of the game’s consistent stars get that respectful head nod from an emotional distance. I want No. 14 hanging up at U.S. Cellular Field as balance for the baseball cosmos. Some random utility infielder wearing it would just be wrong.
But here then lies a last thing for Chicago baseball fans to hang their collective hat on. Celebrations of individuals are great. Parades are better. And since Konerko led his team to a title, there have been some dark years on both sides of town and hardly a hint at confetti black and white or red and blue snowing between the steel and mortar caverns of downtown.
Being constructed under general manager Rick Hahn, the White Sox will be a good team probably sooner rather than later. Yet right now at 18-20, while not terrible, they have severely underachieved with a roster that many believed could make playoff noise. They’re dead last in the American League in home runs and are the only team in baseball with a negative offensive WAR on Fangraphs. Before the season was a fifth of the way completed, there was a drum banging in the distance calling for manager Robin Ventura.
Glasses are more half full on the North Side, but the Cubs have shown for periods of time more than once this year that their youth deserves tempered excitement. The St. Louis Cardinals have every right to chuckle for now at the sometimes rash exclamation points that Cub fans end their sentences with in 2015. Several promising talented individuals in blue pinstripes at the moment doesn’t together make a very good team.
Hearing the “Paulie! Paulie!” chants on Saturday will stir up some warm and pleasant feelings in my chest, and that hot sensation of pragmatism will make its way down the back of my neck. I’ll be witnessing the honoring of one of Chicago’s best. That’s so cool, and I’m glad I’ll get to appreciate that.
At the same time, it will feel like the conclusion of a piece of Chicago baseball greatness and some more finality to the last (and only) modern World Series title, which only magnifies the lack thereof in the meantime.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.