Chicago White Sox: Paul Konerko

Cabrera move gets White Sox into fast lane

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
12:43
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Not content to let 2015 solely be about the 10-year reunion of last decade's World Series championship team, the Chicago White Sox have managed to construct a brand-new title contender in a matter of weeks.

A roster rebuild that began at the 2013 trade deadline has added significant pieces since the start of November as Zach Duke and David Robertson have been added to the bullpen, Jeff Samardzija has been added to the rotation, and Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera have been added to the lineup. The news of the Cabrera deal started to break late Saturday night.

The White Sox have spent $128 million alone on Duke, Robertson, LaRoche and Cabrera, with $42 million of that going to Cabrera for three years, according to a source who confirmed the numbers with ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.

[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
AP Photo/Pat SullivanIn Jeff Samardzija, the White Sox got a top-of-the-rotation pitcher who won't break the bank. His one-year deal is likely what prompted a speed-up in Chicago's rebuilding plan.
Adding the $9 million to $10 million Samardzija is set to make in his final season of arbitration eligibility, the White Sox have made a serious investment to the on-field product this winter.

Where some believed the White Sox would extend the rebuild into next offseason, the front office had a quicker timetable for trying to turn around the fortunes of a franchise that has experienced back-to-back losing seasons and has been to the postseason just once since its 2005 title.

The White Sox's arrival to their current winter spending spree was two-fold.

First, the White Sox started erasing big contracts from the books starting with the Jake Peavy trade at the 2013 trade deadline. That deal is also known as the one that added current right fielder Avisail Garcia into the mix.

Subsequent big-money deals that came off the books were those of Alex Rios (he was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2013), Paul Konerko (his big-money deal expired after the 2013 season) and Adam Dunn (he was traded to the Oakland Athletics in August).

But there has been more to the White Sox's decision to start spending now.

Team-friendly contracts to Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have also been key in establishing a solid starting rotation. And after one season of Jose Abreu's six-year, $68 million deal, that contract so far looks like a steal.

It wasn't a coincidence that the White Sox's current slide coincided with the bloated contracts to aging former stars who still were on the payroll. The sense was that the club might not hurry to get into that situation again, and the front office possibly would take a look at it next year when the roster was allowed to stabilize for another year.

The offseason started slowly enough with the three-year, $15 million deal for Duke and the relatively safe two-year deal for LaRoche, which will pay him $25 million through 2016.

Even the move for Samardzija seemed relatively conservative, even for a player who could bolt via free agency after one season. Marcus Semien and Josh Phegley were considered expendable since the club had multiple options at both second base and catcher. Pitcher Chris Bassitt, who was also in the deal, did not project as high as a No. 2 starter, which Samardzija would be.

And the White Sox got a top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the deal with the A's, and one who won't break the bank at that, unless a contract extension is agreed upon before spring training, something that isn't expected.

But perhaps the one-year status of Samardzija is what prompted a speedup in the rebuilding plan.

Things took on a different aura when Robertson was added for four years and $46 million. Big-money free-agent deals have their inherent risk, and none are more risky than high-priced deals to back-of-the-bullpen types.

"We worked hard to get to the point we're at right now where we have some flexibility," Hahn said mere hours before a deal with Robertson was agreed upon last week at the winter meetings. "And we knew that entering the 2015 season was going to be a bit of a pivot point for the major league club, even going back a couple of years when you looked at us on paper when you knew that Dunn, Peavy, Rios and PK were likely going to be elsewhere for 2015. This was always going to be a time where we had some choices to make.”

In Robertson, the White Sox felt the roll of the dice was worth it. The 29-year old had been a proven set-up man with the New York Yankees and then proved his mettle by saving 39 games this past season as the Yankees' replacement at closer for Mariano Rivera.

With the need to fix the bullpen the greatest, the White Sox took the plunge on a proven performer who has been healthy throughout his career. In doing so, they bucked a few trends -- like the one that says relievers are the most volatile parts of a team, and the one that saw them develop their own closers for the past decade, from Bobby Jenks to Sergio Santos to Addison Reed.

In signing Cabrera, the White Sox have finally moved on from Dayan Viciedo, even though Viciedo is just 25 years old, and right-handed power is a prized commodity in the game today.

The White Sox's front office has gathered for some tough conversations this winter, and the answers have been that this offseason was the time to take some financial risks. Hahn outlined those conversations last week.

"Do we spend more for free agents? Do we try to acquire some high-priced talent via trade? And how is the best and most prudent way to put that club together?" Hahn said. "When we make a large commitment, whether it's a guy like [Jose] Abreu or [Chris] Sale or the next free agent we sign, it's not with the eye that we're going to necessarily have dead money on the back end of it.

"Does it happen? Yeah. It's part of the cost of doing business, and none of us in this industry are smart enough to identify on the way in where it's going to be. We sort of know, in our mind, that that's going to happen, but as a result we don't shy away from deals that have a reasonable chance to make us better for an extended period of time."

Now comes the task of blending it all together on the field. Hahn has done his job, and now it's up to manager Robin Ventura to make it all mesh.

The front office has remained solidly behind Ventura, even through 188 losses over the past two seasons. Ventura has the horses now, though, so is there pressure to have success?

"Hopefully," Ventura said last week, slowly looking around at the faces who will report all season on how he is handling that pressure. "That would be fine. I hope so."

Pressure means Ventura has a good team now, and he will gladly take it.

Rumor mill liking the White Sox

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
7:51
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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SAN DIEGO – On the first day of baseball's annual winter meetings, it was the Chicago White Sox who stood tall among the juiciest rumors in the game.

Reports on Monday had the White Sox linked to both top free-agent closer David Robertson and starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, in a revival of a previous development. There was even a report from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman that linked the White Sox with closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The White Sox also just missed on placing Billy Pierce, Dick Allen and Minnie Minoso in the Hall of Fame, while executive vice president Kenny Williams revealed he has no issue with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf denying his chance to interview with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Plenty has been made of the White Sox having money to spend after contracts such as those signed by Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn have come off the books in recent seasons. The question for general manager Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office is whether this is the best time to spend big -- or should the team start handing out big bucks when it has fewer roster holes to contend with?

“We’ve got a lot of conversations ongoing on multiple fronts right now,” Hahn said. “Some are frankly a little farther along than others, and we are in a couple of scenarios where we could get within a phone call or two of getting something done.

“That said, we’ve been in that position before and will be again where you get really close but it doesn’t quite come to fruition. I think it’s important we stay diligent and aggressive on numerous fronts until we get to the point that we’re able to convert on one of our higher-priority targets.”

[+] EnlargeDavid Robertson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDavid Robertson, the top closer on the free-agent market, is among the names linked to the White Sox.
The White Sox do need bullpen help, and Robertson would be the biggest fish in that pond, but does the front office want to venture into multiyear, high-dollar waters again when it was that kind of situation that coincided with the need to rebuild? Would it be smarter to wait to add those kind of players?

The White Sox have been targeting this offseason for a while knowing they would be free of a number of major financial commitments. The discussions about it have become familiar ones.

“Do we spend more for free agents? Do we try to acquire some high-priced talent via trade? And how is the best and most prudent way to put that club together?” Hahn said, ticking off the checklist the White Sox have been dealing with for some time now.

“When we make a large commitment, whether it’s a guy like [Jose] Abreu or [Chris] Sale or the next free agent we sign, it’s not with the eye that we’re going to necessarily have dead money on the back end of it. Does it happen? Yeah. It’s part of the cost of doing business, and none of us in this industry are smart enough to identify on the way in where it’s going to be. We sort of know, in our mind, that that’s going to happen, but as a result we don’t shy away from deals that have a reasonable chance to make us better for an extended period of time.”

As for the idea of trading for Samardzija, how much would the White Sox be willing to give up in a potential deal with the Oakland Athletics knowing the right-hander is determined to test free agency next offseason?

Hahn was asked about the chance of acquiring a right-hander, not necessarily Samardzija, via trade.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of free agents still out there as well, so we’re not committed to either path just yet, still talking to other clubs as well as agents. We haven’t really ruled out any avenue on any lead just yet. If a couple of these free-agent names come off the board in the coming days, then yeah, we may have to refocus on trades.”

Hahn, of course, isn’t giving out any names, and the fact that Robertson, Samardzija and Rodriguez have been linked to the White Sox hasn’t made business any easier.

“Selfishly, it makes it real hard, real hard,” Hahn said. “When stuff gets out, you then are subject to other clubs potentially jumping in and bidding up a price on a free agent conceivably or accelerating their timetables, whether it be on that target or on backup targets, because they’re worried they’re going to lose that person. You could have other clubs jumping into trade talks.

“Over the years it has proven much more beneficial for us to keep things out of the light of day. I get why it happens. It’s part of the business, and if I weren’t wearing my White Sox hat I’d be following it all and excited just like everybody else.”

With so many holes to fill, though, and money available to spend, staying out of the rumor mill was going to be tough for the White Sox. But the front office thinks the team can contend sooner rather than later, so it is exploring all options to see if it can speed up the timetable.

“I would like to think that if Adam Eaton, Nate Jones, Avi Garcia -- I’m just mentioning a few of the guys who went down and went down early for us -- I would like to think if they all played together, there weren’t very many occasions where we had the top of our lineup playing together,” executive vice president Williams said. “From that standpoint alone, you could find some optimism.

“The starting staff, at the top of the rotation, I think we are as good as anybody. We could use another right-handed arm, and we are here to try to find one. We are here to try to find some bullpen help. So we’ll see. But yes, I am optimistic.”

Next wave of Sox rebuild set to begin

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
2:22
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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James ShieldsRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsThe Sox's budget could include money for a top free agent pitcher like James Shields.


CHICAGO -- The end of the World Series sets the reset button for everybody, including the Chicago White Sox, who appear to be ready to do a little shopping this winter.

Free agents aren’t eligible to sign with new teams until Tuesday, and most won’t pick a club for another three to eight weeks, if not longer, but the White Sox’s front office has been putting together a roster plan even before the regular season ended.

Where the White Sox actually spend their money remains to be seen. Even if they get their No. 1 targets to listen to offers, there is no guarantee they will sign to play on the South Side. The club also knows that it won’t be feasible to afford everybody on its wish list anyway.

Then there are the trade targets the team has focused on as well.

“The board in my office has more than two names at each position, and that’s for a reason,” general manager Rick Hahn said at the end of the season. “Our intent is to convert on the No. 1 target at every spot and address every need with the ideal fit. Realistically there are 29 other clubs, some of which have similar needs to ours and similar resources, whether it be from a player to trade standpoint or an economic standpoint.

“So, we’re realistic and know that we’re not going to be able to necessarily convert on every top guy. At the same time, our scouts and our analytics people are fairly well-versed and skilled at being able to target, perhaps, I don’t want to say second-tier, perhaps less notable targets who’ve been able to develop into integral parts of championship clubs here. So, the list is long. It continues to be vetted. It’ll continue to be vetted over the next few weeks.”

(Read full post)

Konerko's memorable slam turns 9

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
2:27
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko's career was defined by hard work, consistency and his leadership skills, all of which were lauded as his playing days came to an end last month.

But boiling it down to the single-best moment of his career, it would be hard to beat his go-ahead grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series against the Houston Astros.

[+] EnlargeKonerko Seat
Doug Padilla/ESPNChicagoA blue seat marks the spot where Paul Konerko's grand slam landed in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.
That memorable blast, which was commemorated with a blue seat in the left field stands near the White Sox bullpen, happened exactly nine years ago today on Oct. 23, 2005.

Konerko’s slam turned a two-run deficit into a 6-4 lead and the White Sox eventually won the game in the ninth inning on a walk-off home run from Scott Podsednik. That home run is also commemorated with a blue seat to the right side of straightaway center field.

Konerko would only get one more hit in that World Series and wouldn’t drive in another run, but the damage already had been done as the White Sox were off and running toward a four-game sweep and the end of an 88-year White Sox championship drought.

The memorable grand slam was a major theme on Paul Konerko Day, the Sept. 27 pregame celebration of the captain’s productive career.

Not only was he presented with the ball he hit into the stands for his World Series slam, a statue was unveiled on the concourse of Konerko thrusting his fist into the air, just as he did while jogging to first base during one of the defining moments of his career.

Konerko had a hunch about these Royals

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6
3:39
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- While much of the country is catching Kansas City Royals fever, retired Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is probably the least surprised of anyone.

Konerko
When Konerko boldly claimed nine days ago that the Royals look an awful lot like the 2005 World Series champion White Sox, he probably didn't have a white-knuckle wild-card victory in mind. The Royals needed 12 innings to dispatch the Oakland Athletics 9-8 last week and advance to the division series.

Now that the Royals have swept the Los Angeles Angels in the division series, though, the 2005 connection is becoming clear again, and not just because of the composition of Kansas City's roster. The White Sox also tallied a division series sweep in 2005, blowing through the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox to do it.

Keeping the comparison going is only going to get tougher for the Royals. The White Sox not only went on to win four of five games in the 2005 American league Championship Series, they closed with four consecutive complete games from their starters.

But Konerko's comparison was more about a Royals team that was pitching well heading into the postseason, especially from its bullpen, with an offense that might not be one of the best in baseball, but knows how to deliver when it needs to.

Konerko made the connection at none other than his speech to White Sox fans during Paul Konerko Day, one day before the club's season ended. Konerko took a moment early in his speech to congratulate the Royals for earning a postseason spot.

"Good luck to you guys," Konerko said, microphone in hand while turning toward the Royals dugout. "Represent the (American League) Central. You guys remind me of a team I played for once. You guys can go do it. Represent."

Now the Royals sit eight victories from their wildest dream, while Konerko is closer to saying, "I told you so," if he ever did things like that.

Asked about recognizing the Royals in his speech, Konerko stood by what he said. He wasn't giving praise, just because the Royals were in the room.

"What I told them was true," Konerko said. "That team right there looks a lot like the team that won the World Series here as far as how they're built. Good luck to them. I hope they do it. I hope they get the same feeling I had. It was great."

Paul Konerko enjoys rousing send-off, even without hits

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
6:14
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko has played in six All-Star Games and a World Series and was an MVP of an American League Championship Series. Yet the three games he played this weekend against the Kansas City Royals may have been the toughest of his career.

The longtime team captain went 0-for-10 in his farewell weekend, grounding out to third base in the fifth inning on Sunday in his final major league at-bat.

With a sore hand after breaking a bone earlier this month and a tight back that stiffened up on him over the weekend, Konerko also had to deal with the emotions of his final start that included a statue presentation and other gifts, an on-field speech in front of a sold-out stadium and one standing ovation after another.

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

"It hasn't hit me yet," Paul Konerko said Sunday of the impact of no longer playing baseball. He said that might be different by the time spring training rolls around. "Maybe I'll find out then."

“Everything I did this weekend was something I really hadn’t done the whole year as far as back-to-back games, [hitting against] righties, the whole nine yards,” Konerko said. “It was kind of, I was beat mentally and physically. But I knew it and I tried to get ready as best I could, absorb all of it. I hung in there on Friday night, took a couple good swings, didn’t get [a hit] and then the last two days it was just kind of, I was there but I wasn’t kind of thing.”

This weekend was never about what kind of production Konerko could give. It was a celebration of all the things he had done in the past. He leaves the game with the Chicago White Sox record for total bases (4,010) and is second in franchise history with 432 home runs and 1,383 RBIs.

That he was humble and so self-aware while doing it, all while being a determined leader in the clubhouse, only heightened his appeal with White Sox fans and baseball fans, in general. Konerko did it the right way all the way to the end and only in the final weekend of his career did he let outside factors get the best of him.

“That’s such the beauty of this game, there is no switch,” Konerko said. “You gotta be good. You gotta have your act together. And it’s almost in a way for me, just a nice, gentle reminder on the way out you don’t get what you want all the time when it comes to on the field stuff. But everything else couldn’t have been [better]. This whole thing blew me away.

“I know I’ve been here awhile, and I knew there’d be something at the end that would be commemorating me being here for a while. But this whole thing, the fans and all that [celebrating Paul Konerko Day on Saturday] night, I never thought that I was one of those guys that gets that. I just didn’t think I was, but I guess I was.”

Konerko walked off the field the last time before the start of the sixth inning when he was replaced at first base by Andy Wilkins. He had one last curtain call before the sixth inning started, then watched his final game unfold from the bench. The White Sox fell 6-4 to the Royals.

“The thing is, I didn’t feel it was such a dramatic thing to stop playing baseball,” Konerko said. “And maybe it hasn’t hit me yet; maybe it won’t hit me until spring training rolls around and I’m not getting ready again, I’m not going with the team and all that. Maybe I’ll find out then.”

To show his appreciation, Konerko finished a postgame television interview and ran around the field to thank the fans, shaking hands for at least 20 minutes after the last out was made.

“You have the support as you’re going through, you know the fans are there, you know it but you don’t,” Konerko said. “What just happened out there on the field like at the end there going around, you see other people doing that. You don’t ever think that’s you. I don’t know. It’s going to take me a while to digest all of this stuff. It’s pretty crazy to me.”

Perhaps Konerko’s biggest show of thanks came early in the game, when he scratched the names of his family members in the infield dirt near first base. There was Nick and Owen for his two sons, J for his wife Jen and A for his daughter Amelia. Then he finished it off by drawing a heart.

“I thought about it probably 20 minutes before the game,” Konerko said. “I don’t know why, I just did. It was as a thank you, because your family is always in the back seat. Your mom, your dad, your wife, your kids. You do the best you can, but if you’re a big league baseball player you have to be selfish. You have to leave the house early. You’re traveling. You come home late. You just miss a lot.

“It’s not a normal thing, so it was kind of a) a thank you and b) to remind me that when this all ends today, that’s what really matters. That’s what’s waiting for me all the time on the other side, and that’s pretty good.”

Rapid Reaction: Royals 6, White Sox 4

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
4:47
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko's career came to a close Sunday in the Chicago White Sox's 6-4 defeat to the Kansas City Royals.

How it happened: Konerko ended his 18-year career Sunday with an 0-for-3 performance. He played 16 of those seasons in a White Sox uniform. With standing ovations in his honor all day long, Konerko struck out twice and grounded out to third base during his final at-bat in the fifth inning. Konerko took his position at first base before the sixth inning started, but he was replaced by Andy Wilkins before a pitch was thrown, getting a standing ovation as he left the field one last time.

What it means: Although Jose Abreu played the majority of games at first base, Konerko’s departure officially passes the torch to the new slugging first baseman. Abreu’s numbers this season (.317 batting average, 36 home runs, 107 RBIs) are on par with what Konerko produced in his prime. Abreu already has one All-Star Game appearance to his credit. Konerko played in the All-Star Game six times.

Outside the box:
Konerko finished his career as the White Sox’s all-time leader in total bases at 4,010. He ranks second in home runs (432), RBIs (1,383), games (2,268) and extra-base hits (846). He is third in team history in hits (2,292) and doubles (406). Konerko is the White Sox’s leader in 20-homer seasons with 12, 30-homer seasons with seven and 100-RBI seasons with six. Konerko’s 10 grand slams are tied with Robin Ventura for the club record.

Off beat:
Konerko had a touching tribute of his own to deliver as he recognized his family in the dirt. During the first inning, Konerko scratched the names of his sons Nick and Owen on the skin part of the infield near first base. As the game proceeded he added a letter “J” for his wife Jen and a letter “A” for his daughter Amelia. He finished it off with a heart. The names easily could be read from the Konerko family suite above first base.

Final record: The White Sox finished 73-89 on the 2014 season, a 10-game improvement on last year’s 63-99 mark. The White Sox had consecutive losing seasons for the first time since they finished under. 500 for three consecutive years from 1997-99.

Abreu sits with record in hand

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
1:10
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- With the Chicago White Sox rookie record for home runs already his, Jose Abreu was not in the starting lineup for Sunday’s season finale.

Abreu broke a tie with Ron Kittle for the rookie mark when he launched his 36th home run in the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals.

Where it once looked like Abreu would be a lock to own the record, a significant power outage took the matter down to the final weekend of the season before the slam-dunk rookie of the year found the strength for one more long ball.

“I think we see great things,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Any time a guy gets into his first year and has the impact that he had, you’re very excited to see what comes of it. Just his mechanics, who he is and everything. You can sit here and say next year might be not as good, but with his work ethic and everything that he brings to the table on a daily basis, I see him staying consistent. I feel very fortunate that he’s in the middle of our lineup.”

Abreu headed into the final day with a .317 batting average, 107 RBIs, a .383 on-base percentage and 176 hits to go along with his 36 homers. All of those led the White Sox. In addition, Abreu’s .581 slugging percentage was tops in baseball.

Those numbers have provided a smooth transition from Paul Konerko at his heyday, to the next generation of White Sox first basemen. Taking over first base from somebody like Konerko has not been lost on Abreu this season.

“It’s very tough to replace a captain,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “Everyone knows him and loves him here and all I can do is to go out there and do my best every day and hopefully the fans will grow to love me as well.”

Outside of run production if there is a trait that runs deep in both Konerko and Abreu, it is modesty. Is there a leadership gene in both of them as well?

“I feel that if the team feels like I should be the captain of the leader of the team, I’ll take that with great strides and with much respect that comes with that,” Abreu said. “All I want to do is win as many ballgames [as possible] so we can have a championship here.”

Spoken like a true leader.

Paul Konerko spent after emotional day

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:08
AM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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video

CHICAGO -- There was a moment early in the first game of the 2005 World Series when a Houston Astros player reached first base and remarked to Paul Konerko about the excitement of the pregame ceremonies.

At that point, Konerko has said, he knew the Chicago White Sox were better prepared mentally to win the championship.

Well, on Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field, Konerko was that Astros player, who he always has declined to name, except the stakes weren’t nearly as high.

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesFrom a farewell speech and his bronze being unveiled early to receiving a remarkable package of gifts and actually playing in a game, Paul Konerko had a night full of excitement at U.S. Cellular Field.
A 30-minute pregame ceremony designed to celebrate Konerko’s storied career was filled with love, emotion and appreciation, and it left Konerko drained before the contest even started. That he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts wasn’t a surprise. In typical Konerko, self-aware fashion, he apologized for his performance.

“The place felt really small,” said Konerko, who gave a nearly nine-minute speech of his own and received gifts that included the ball from his Game 2 grand slam in the 2005 World Series, while the club unveiled a statue of his likeness on the concourse.

“It felt like everybody was right on top of you. You know, for me, here, playing for the team and just everything that’s gone on since I’ve been a player here, it’s not like I needed anything. I have it right in my head and the fans, we have it in our heads. It has been good. That was kind of icing on the cake -- beyond icing on the cake. I have to apologize for the game. To go out and try to play a game after that, I mean, I’m pretty good about distractions, but no way. I was a mess out there.”

By mess, Konerko did not mean sad or teary eyed, just a bundle of emotions all at once that he had a problem containing. Excitement, pride and embarrassment were probably just a few of those feelings.

“That was probably the toughest circumstances to go play against a good team, against good pitching and still trying to win a game,” he said. “Hopefully, they will cut me some slack on that one. I apologize. It was just very odd. As many games as I’ve played, none of them ever felt like that going into it. It was awesome.”

Because Konerko also has an ability to recognize things around him, he was hyper-aware of Saturday’s opponent, the Kansas City Royals. Whether it was the ceremony or Friday night’s celebration of their first playoff berth in 29 years, the Royals were unable to match the early energy of the White Sox, who used that advantage to ride to a 5-4 victory.

“Yeah, I mean, I expected maybe a couple of [Royals] guys to maybe be out there; their whole team was out there,” Konerko said. “It was kind of an odd time. It threw things off. We’re creatures of habit. It was kind of odd that there really was no start time. It was like, whenever it’s done, we’re going to play.”

In front of Saturday’s sold-out crowd, Konerko said the Royals look very similar to the 2005 White Sox team that stormed through the playoffs. After the game, he reiterated that thought.

“In some weird way, I’ve seen those guys grow up, too,” Konerko said. “I’ve been around to see the [Eric] Hosmers and the [Mike] Moustakases and the [Alex] Gordons, and you play so many games against these guys. Of course, you’re always trying to win, but you see their careers kind of happening, too, and now you see them going to the playoffs.

“What I told them was true. That team right there looks a lot like the team that won the World Series here, as far as how they’re built. Good luck to them. I hope they do it. I hope they get the same feeling I had. It was great. But just for all of them to be out there, really cool. It was nice.”

Along with the surprise of the World Series ball, the White Sox also unveiled a bronze Konerko statue on the left field concourse. He received an oil painting of his greatest moments, a framed collection of baseballs signed by every player on the 2005 team and two guitars -- a 1976 Gibson and a 1963 Fender Stratocaster.

During the game, the White Sox played video clips of current and former teammates congratulating him on a successful career. There were clips from opponents, opposing managers and even players in other sports, such as Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp and Bulls Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Metallica’s James Hetfield even offered his congratulations during the pregame ceremonies.

“I’ve done a really good job of keeping my head down and playing and not thinking I was anything while this whole career went on,” Konerko said. “Now you look up, and you have all these people going out of their way for you and all that, it’s just, I don’t know.

“I feel uncomfortable about it sometimes, but to see Derek Jeter up there or Terry Francona. I mean James Hetfield from Metallica said my name. It’s crazy. Just because you can hit a ball with a bat. It’s pretty cool. I don’t know how else to say. I’m blown away by it.”

Konerko eventually left the game in the seventh inning and walked off the field after being replaced by Andy Wilkins at first base. The fans roared and Konerko took a curtain call, then was left with just one game to play before his career ends.

“I feel less anxiety about going into [Sunday] than I did today because of the ceremony and all that and having to talk and speak and all that stuff,” Konerko said. “What am I going to do? Strikeout twice? I did that tonight. At this point, you’re just going to go out there and try to go a couple at-bats, two, three at-bats, see how it goes.

“What I want to do is go out there and hit a couple of balls hard, [and] hopefully they’ll get down. With this outfield, these guys that play for Kansas City, they seem to be everywhere, so hopefully if I hit a couple, they’ll get down. But if they don’t, that’s fine. I think we all know at this point, it’s kind of irrelevant the result, but I just want to go out there and attack for a couple more at-bats, a few more innings, and then I’ll be seeing you guys.”

Rapid Reaction: White Sox 5, Royals 4

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
10:20
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- In front of a sellout crowd that came to celebrate Paul Konerko’s career, the Chicago White Sox powered their way to a 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals in the second to last game of the season.

How it happened: Konerko went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts as the man of the hour, but others got into the swing of things for him. Josh Phegley hit two home runs and Jose Abreu added another in the victory. White Sox starter John Danks was solid in his final outing of the year, giving up two runs on five hits over seven innings. The bullpen bent but didn't break as Javy Guerra recorded the save.

What it means: A 30-minute pregame ceremony for Konerko seemed to put a charge into the White Sox. And a night after clinching a spot in the playoffs as at least a wild-card team, the Royals’ division chances took a blow. The Royals remained a game behind the Detroit Tigers for the American League Central top spot with one game to play.

Outside the box: Abreu’s power has diminished considerably over the last two months, but the rookie was able to deliver a dinger Saturday. His 36th home run of the season gave him the club rookie record all to himself. He entered the game tied with Ron Kittle for most home runs by a White Sox player in his rookie season.

Offbeat: The Royals had plenty at stake Saturday with the division lead still in question, but could not have been classier with the Konerko celebration. The Royals' dugout was packed for the pregame salute, something Konerko acknowledged in his farewell speech. And when Konerko was taken off the field in the seventh inning, the Royals’ Alex Gordon stayed far away from the batter’s box, leaving the stage all to Konerko as he walked off the field, then took his curtain call.

Up next: The White Sox will send right-hander Chris Bassitt (1-1, 3.65 ERA) to the mound Sunday in the final game of the season. The Royals will counter with right-hander Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.07) in the 1:10 p.m. CT start from U.S. Cellular Field.

2005 World Series ball is one grand gift for Paul Konerko

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
9:24
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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video

CHICAGO -- The ball Paul Konerko launched into the seats for a grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series got a new home Saturday.

The souvenir's owner, Chicago White Sox fan Chris Claeys, presented the ball, which had been displayed at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse for the better part of the past nine years, to Konerko as part of Saturday’s pregame ceremony to celebrate the first baseman's career.

It was part of a package of gifts that included a bench of bases, bats and balls made by former White Sox player Ron Kittle, an original Konerko-themed oil painting and a display of baseballs signed by each of his 2005 teammates.

In addition, the music-centric Konerko received two guitars: a 1976 Gibson and a 1963 Fender Stratocaster.

On Friday, the team said a statue of Konerko was in the works. But the White Sox pulled ofF a surprise Saturday by unveiling a bronze of Konerko on the concourse, and they gave his family trophy-size replicas of the statue.

Claeys said it was a no-brainer to present the ball to the retiring team captain. The White Sox first approached him with the idea three weeks ago.

“I just totally agreed with the concept of Paul getting this ball,” Claeys said. “I think Paul is a class guy. There was no money passed. The Sox just gave me perks: a suite tonight for 20 friends and family. I said I just really want a photograph of me and Paul, and Paul to write, 'Chris, thanks for my 2005 World Series grand slam ball. PK.' Whatever. That's really all I wanted was that.”

Claeys said he was sitting in the left-field stands for Game 2 of the 2005 World Series just three days after shoulder surgery. The ball bounced off a fan, who was sitting where the now-popular blue seat is in Section 159, and rebounded right to Claeys, who was standing in the aisle.

The White Sox tried to make a deal with Claeys to get the ball before the game even ended. But when the Houston Astros tied the game, everybody in the room trying to make a deal with him scattered. He was with his friends on the field-level concourse when Scott Podsednik hit his eventual game-ending home run (also remembered with a blue seat in right-center field), and he left the ballpark with his buddies.

The ball had been his ever since, until Saturday. Claeys walked out to home plate during the Konerko ceremony, and in front of a sold-out crowd he turned over his cherished memento.

“I was nervous as heck out there,” Claeys said. “I walked up to him, I gave him the ball, and I said, ‘Paul, this has been my prized possession for nine years, and tonight it becomes yours. Thank you for 16 years of great memories.’

“He gave me a hug and said, ‘You know, I think we’re the two most nervous guys out here on the field.’ And I said, ‘I think you’re right.’”

Konerko's dad: Chicago was ideal locale

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:39
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO – Paul Konerko was born in New England and grew up in Arizona, and his father, Hank, said that a lengthy baseball career in Chicago was the perfect fit for his son.

“He’s half Italian, half Polish,” Hank Konerko said not long before the team celebrated his son on Paul Konerko Day. “Where else would God want him to play but Chicago?”

During his nearly 9-minute speech to the crowd before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Konerko acknowledged a quick bond with Chicago White Sox fans. Perhaps they could feel he was one of their own.

“You know, for some reason, when I got here early in my career, I don’t know what it was, I really hadn’t done anything, but you guys treated me like I had been here, and there was some kind of a connection I felt,” Konerko told the crowd just one day before his career was set to end.

Hank Konerko said the love White Sox fans showed his son was beyond measure.

“That’s priceless,” Hank Konerko said. “For the city of Chicago – and I’m talking North Side, South Side – it was a great thing. Just to be able to put a World Series championship in this town was great. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He did it the right way. I just couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Self-aware and hard-working, Konerko showed characteristics that helped him connect with fans. Just don’t try to compliment Hank Konerko on the way his son was raised.

“It’s his mother,” Hank Konerko said. “Let’s get her in here and embarrass her. His mom, Elena, they talk about what inspires Paul and all that, she has been the base of the triangle. She has given him the spirit, the congeniality. When they say Paul is shy, humble and all that, that’s where that comes from.”

When Konerko’s father knew his son would be a baseball player, he thought he would be proud of the on-field accomplishments. Turns out, pride comes from where you're not expecting it.

“Things that affect me the most is when someone comes up and tells me a story about what he did for their daughter or son that didn’t relate to baseball,” Hank Konerko said. “Something that he might have given somebody in a wheelchair, a bat or a ball. Those are the things that really make me proud.

“Yes, I want to see one more home run. But he has just been a good player. He did it right and how often in pro sports do you see a guy with the same organization for this long and not have any animosity to each other?”

What made Paul Konerko a success on the field, though, might have been a good old-fashioned sibling rivalry.

“His brother [Peter] is probably to this day a better athlete than Paul,” Hank Konerko said. “He played college baseball. He could run. He was your typical wiry shortstop. He hit .350 from T-Ball to college, but they were singles and doubles. One thing Paul learned early in the game and I drummed it in to him: The team with the most points at the end of the game wins the game, so change the scoreboard.

“That’s what’s important as a position player. Paul always felt as though he needed to change the scoreboard to be effective to help his team win. That’s what he concentrated on mostly. It’s true.”

Paul Konerko addresses 'friends' instead of fans in farewell speech

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:06
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
video

CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox celebrated Paul Konerko's career Saturday night, and the captain gave a nearly nine-minute speech that touched on family, coaches and players, both present and former.

Konerko wrapped it all up by thanking the fans and referring to them as "friends."

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
Matt Marton/USA TODAY SportsPaul Konerko delivered a farewell speech Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field.
Here is the full text of Konerko's pregame speech:

Thank you, guys. This is way more than you ever dream could happen when you pick up a bat. You’re 6 years old, and you find yourself here, 32 years later, with all this going on; it’s not something that you think is going to happen. I’m guessing it’s too late to ask for a day off, Robin, because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get out there tonight. I’ll do my best. I’ll get out there.

Before we go into what I’ve got, I just want to say congratulations to these guys over here. They should be very proud. They ended a long streak to get into the playoffs. This whole thing is keeping them from getting this game going, and I appreciate them being out here, No. 1, and having to change up their schedule. Good luck to you guys. Represent the Central. You guys remind me of a team I played for once. You guys can go do it. Represent. Thank you.

Let me start off thanking a few people here. My family -- we have a bunch of them all over the place in the stadium. My mom and dad. There you go. My wife, three kids: Nick, Owen, Emilia. My brother, Pete. Tom and Holly Wells, my wife’s parents. And all their kids. You want to talk about real heroes. Right there.

All these guys that came in back here that I used to play with and were kind enough to take time out of their day to join us here tonight. There were more who couldn’t get here because of what happened, which is a shame. Believe me, they’re here in spirit. But all the guys back here, there’s a story. I could stay here all night, and they know I could, telling stories about these guys. Cliff, you know. I really appreciate that. That’s what it’s all about right there: People coming in after you play with them for years, and they want to come out to help you out and represent for you here.

The whole Chicago White Sox front office, I mean, just everybody involved from the PR. It’s just been a crazy year with all that. But the whole time I’ve been here, they have gone above and beyond. Brooks Boyer -- with this whole year, with what’s going on tonight -- he’s gone above and beyond what I ever thought I was getting. I didn’t expect anything, but the way this went down, this will be something that, obviously, I remember forever. I’m still trying to digest it all. I don’t understand some of it sometimes, but it’s all great.

Kenny and Rick, you guys were great, you guys were fair to me. I tried to show up and play as hard as I could for you. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it wasn’t. But the intent was there, and I did my best for you.

Jerry Reinsdorf, I could go on forever with this one here. But the best thing I can say about him is he’s old-school, and it’s still nice to know there are people out there in the world that you don’t need a contract with, you just need a handshake. That man right there is a loyal man, and I am forever indebted to him.

My teammates here. Let’s start with the coaching staff. Robin, where are you? There you are. If you are a retiring player, and you are going through your last season, you could not pick a better manager to have than Robin Ventura. First of all, this man had a great career, and he knew at every turn this year what I was feeling, what I was going through, and he took that into account. I’m telling you, it made it a lot easier to me, and I will always appreciate it. I will always owe him one for the way he dealt with me, not only this season but in the offseason leading into this year and in past years, but specifically how he handled me this year. Robin, man, I owe you some good wine for how you treated me this year, man. I love you.

The coaches, starting with Mark Parent and going on down the line, these guys were behind me every night. This role I was in this year was all new to me, so they’re probably happy they only have two more days of me asking questions, like in the third inning, “Am I going to pinch hit tonight in the eighth?” And then having to figure out all the scenarios and wear them out every night. So I appreciate them putting up with me for the year.

Herm and Brian Ball, where are you at? Stand up. I want these two guys to stand up right here. I’m taking down as many as I can with me tonight. I’m going to embarrass a lot of people. These two guys right here, I don’t know how many times they put me back together to get out here to play. It’s really unbelievable their dedication. These guys are the first ones here and the last ones to leave. There are so many nights, hundreds of nights, you couldn’t make it out on the field, and these guys get you right, get you ready to go. I owe so much to these two guys, so thank you, guys.

All my teammates here. Obviously, all my former teammates, but these guys in particular; I caught a great team to catch my last year with. I had a lot of fun with them, just very receptive to want to learn the game. These guys are hungry. Going back to these guys over here, hopefully they’re coming after them next year and getting things in line. It’s about that time again.

All right, lastly, you guys. I’m not even going to say fans -- I’m going to say friends. All my friends in this building right now. You know, for some reason, when I got here early in my career, I don’t know what it was, I really hadn’t done anything, but you guys treated me like I had been here and there was some kind of a connection I felt. I could have gone on. I was with two other teams before I got here. I could have had a good career with anybody, but there was no way that ... the relationship between myself and you guys, it just fit right. I tried to earn that as best as I could for you guys. Like I said, I could have had a good career anywhere, but it never would have happened in this city and this stadium without all of you guys.

It just fit, and it worked, and I tried to run with it as long as I could, and I really appreciate all the support. Just know that when that statue is out there, it’s easy to cheer somebody on when a guy hits a home run or drives in a run or does something good. But I don’t think of that. I think of all the bad streaks, the bad months, the bad halves, some bad years. The double plays I hit into when you guys were wondering, “How the hell is this guy that slow?” All that stuff -- there are millions of things I could come across -- that’s when you guys lifted me up and kept pushing me through to get to where I am today. So when you look at that statue out there, or you look at that number that’s going to go right there, just realize when you look at that when I’m not there and you’re at these games, your fingerprints are all over it. It wouldn’t be there without you guys, so thank you.

(Cheers.)

Alright, let’s play some baseball here. Let’s do this. Come on.

Rapid Reaction: Royals 3, White Sox 1

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
9:54
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

 
CHICAGO – The Chicago White Sox fell 3-1 on Friday as the Kansas City Royals wrapped up their first postseason berth since winning the 1985 World Series.

How it happened: The Royals got off to a quick start with three first-inning runs and made it stand up behind starter Jeremy Guthrie. White Sox starter Hector Noesi settled down, giving up just those three runs in six innings of work and allowing just three more hits the rest of the way. The White Sox were held to six hits. Guthrie gave up just four hits over his seven scoreless innings. Greg Holland closed it out with an 11-pitch ninth.

What it means: The victory sent the Royals to the playoffs for the first time in 29 seasons, ending the longest playoff drought in baseball. The Royals clinched a wild-card spot and moved to within a game of the Detroit Tigers' lead in the American League Central with two games to play. The Royals are also on top of the wild-card standings, a game up on the Oakland Athletics.

Outside the box: Paul Konerko, who is retiring after Sunday’s season finale, went 0-for-4 Friday while starting at first base. The veteran received standing ovations before each at-bat. He struck out in the second inning, hit a comebacker in the fourth, flied out to the edge of the warning track in the seventh and lined out to left in the ninth.

Off beat: White Sox reliever Maikel Cleto hasn’t had a season to remember, but he has been closing with a flourish. The right-hander struck out all three Royals batters he faced in the seventh inning, on 11 pitches. He has not only struck out the side in his past two outings, he now has 12 strikeouts over his past 6⅓ innings.

Up next: The White Sox will send left-hander John Danks (10-11, 4.82 ERA) to the mound Saturday in the third game of the four-game series. The Royals will counter with left-hander Danny Duffy (9-11, 2.32) in the 6:40 p.m. CT start from U.S. Cellular Field. The White Sox will have an on-field ceremony to celebrate Konerko’s career at 6 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Royals 6, White Sox 3

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
10:18
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

 
CHICAGO – In the opener of their final series of the season, the Chicago White Sox fell 6-3 on Thursday to the Kansas City Royals.

How it happened: The Royals scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning when the White Sox were unable to complete a double play, then added an insurance run later that inning and another in the ninth. Jose Quintana gave up five runs on 11 hits over 7⅓ innings in his final start of the season. Josh Phegley hit a two-run home run for the White Sox in the second inning, his first of the season.

What it means: The Royals, whose 28-year playoff drought is the longest in baseball, clinched at least a tie for the American League second wild card with the victory. Kansas City could officially wrap up a spot in the postseason with another victory during the four-game series or a Seattle Mariners defeat. The Royals did move to the top of the wild-card standings after another Oakland Athletics defeat, and now control their own destiny in the race to host Tuesday’s one-game showdown.

Outside the box: Quintana ends his season with a 9-11 record, but the true measure of his campaign is his 3.32 ERA. He also finished the season with 200⅓ innings, the second consecutive season he reached the 200 mark. He became just the fifth White Sox left-hander since 1991 to finish with 30 or more starts and 200 or more innings in multiple seasons. Mark Buehrle did it 11 times, while John Danks, Mike Sirotka and Wilson Alvarez each did it twice.

Off beat: Paul Konerko wasn’t in the starting lineup, but he still received a curtain call Thursday and it happened before the game even started. Fans were reacting to a Konerko farewell video played in the ballpark, in which the veteran team captain thanked the fans for all his memories. The three-minute clip was followed by a lengthy cheer from the crowd and brought Konerko to the top step of the dugout, where he waved his cap. Konerko is expected to start at first base in the final three games of the season.

Up next: The White Sox will send right-hander Hector Noesi (8-11, 4.76 ERA) to the mound Friday in the second game of the series. The Royals will counter with right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (12-11, 4.28) in the 7:10 p.m. start from U.S. Cellular Field.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jose Abreu
BA HR RBI R
.317 36 107 80
OTHER LEADERS
HRJ. Abreu 36
RBIJ. Abreu 107
RA. Ramirez 82
OPSJ. Abreu .964
WC. Sale 12
ERAC. Sale 2.17
SOC. Sale 208