Lost in all the hype about Derek Jeter retiring was the retirement of another player who had played the last sixteen years of his career with the same team. Paul Konerko, the Chicago White Sox veteran first baseman and Team Captain from 2006 until his retirement, who came to Chicago in 1999 and never left, played his last game on Sunday, September 28, also.
Konerko, was born in Providence, RI, on March 5, 1976, and attended Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, AZ, after his parents moved there. In Arizona, he had the advantage of the longer playing season and was drafted, at age 18, in the first round of the 1994 Amateur Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He came up through the Dodgers farm system and made his debut with them on September 8, 1997, playing only six games that year. In 1998, he started the season with the Dodgers and was traded to the Cincinatti Reds on July 4. He played in 75 games between the two that year, hitting just .217, and was traded to the White Sox for Mike Cameron on November 11.
In his first full year at Chicago, in 1999, he played in 142 games and had 24 homers and 81 RBI’s. His homer and RBI total continued to increase and, in 2002, he hit .304 with 27 homers and 104 RBI’s. He had an off year in 2003, missing several games with an injury and only had 18 homers and 65 RBI’s. He came back the following year and hit 41 homers with 117 RBI’s and was named Comeback Player of the Year. He had 40 homers and 100 RBI’s in 2004 and 35 and 113 in 2006. He had over 100 RBI’s in 2010 and 2011, with 39 and 31 homers respectively.
He was named to the American League All Star Team six times between 2002 and 2012. He was the Most Valuable Player in the American League Championship Series in 2005, the year the White Sox roared through the playoffs and World Series, sweeping the Red Sox in three games in the Division Series, beating the Angels in the Championship Series 4-1 and sweeping the Astros in the World Series.
He played in a career total of 2,349 games, 2,268 with the ChiSox and had 2,340 base hits, 439 homers, 1,412 RBI’s and a lifetime batting average of .279.
His first year in Chicago, he was paid $215,000. and, in 2013, he earned $13.5 million. He was released as a Free Agent and resigned by the White Sox in 2014 for $2.5 million and found himself playing behind Jose Abreau, the rookie sensation first baseman who hit .317 with 107 RBI’s.
On the final day of the season, he started at first base and went 0-3 at the plate, striking out twice and, in his last at bat, grounding out third to first. After grounding out, he was replaced in the field by Andy Wilkins and was given a huge standing ovation sendoff by the appreciative Chicago fans. I saw Paul Konerko play on several occasions, both in Spring Training in Arizona and in various regular season venues and he brought a level of dedication and class to the field that was similar to that of the Yankee Captain.
Paulie, as he was affectionately known by the Chicago Faithful, will be missed by his fans but his time had come. If anything, he waited a year too long to pull the plug instead of going out while he was still productive.
His number will eventually be retired by the White Sox and don’t be surprised if he ends up in their front office.