The role of team leader might be open with the unknown status of White Sox team captain Paul Konerko. The veteran free agent will not decide until November if he will play next season. Regardless of his decision, a changing of the guard in the Sox locker room is inevitable.
Gone are the days of Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Jim Thome being the go-to guys inside the Sox clubhouse. Veteran designated hitter/first baseman Adam Dunn will automatically become a go-to guy. That said, Dunn has only one year remaining on his four-year, $56 million contract. Others in the organization point to Gordon Beckham as the next voice of the White Sox clubhouse.
“I think there are guys here that have the ability to [be a leader]," manager Robin Ventura said. “When things are going tough like this year, it is harder to do that. When it is going well for a guy, it is easy to do that. Usually at times like this, you see the true character of people. Guys like Gordon have stepped up and have been responsible and accountable."
The natural passing of the leadership baton from Konerko to Beckham would make sense in a few different ways. The 26-year-old second baseman has been a close friend and student of Konerko’s since he arrived on the major league scene in 2009.
"That is not something that is just going to be given to you," Beckham said. "You have to earn the respect of your teammates. The leader role will take care of itself. Some guys will be involved in managing the team, and that will evolve in due time.”
Beckham has established himself as a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman. He reinvented his batting stance in 2013. Working out of a deep crouch, he was able to have a more direct route of the bat to contact, taking away the loop in his swing. The end result was a batting average of above .300 for the first four months of the season. Having to deal with a leg and wrist injury altered his approach and cut almost 35 points off the season average.
Learning at the knee of the accomplished Konerko has prepared Beckham for the next step in his role with the White Sox.
"Going back to my time [at the University of] Georgia, that [leadership skill] was in me then," he said. "It hasn’t left me; it has been a matter of taking a back seat to the veterans like Paul, Dunn and Jim Thome. We let them run what was rightfully theirs to run. I have learned a lot from Paul. We spend a lot of time together, on and off the field. I am confident I have learned as much as I can from him in terms of how to handle the media stuff or just everyday things in here. I know he has taught me the right way to do it."
The maturity that Beckham has gained as a ballplayer has also helped in his off-field life, seen in his commitment to his religion and his pending marriage in November.