The fate of Paul Konerko and his future in Chicago is not any clearer now than it was before he completed a 23-minute news conference on Friday. Winding down a forgettable season on a personal and team basis has the 15-year White Sox veteran contemplating his next career move. The four-time All-Star will take at least a month to decide if he has anything left in the tank physically and mentally.
If Konerko does decide to play again, he is hoping that the White Sox are interested in his return. For the first time on Friday, he said he might be interested in a part-time role in 2014. Konerko did say if he plays next season, it would definitely be his last season as a player. The message he sent to Sox brass was a strong one. Prior to today, the team's executives had no idea if the 37-year-old first baseman would accept a lesser role than in the past. After the Sox's iconic player put that possibility out there, general manager Rick Hahn, vice president Kenny Williams and chairman of the board Jerry Reinsdorf are suddenly in a more comfortable position to decide on the Sox's approach to an aging player's delicate situation. The club is off the hook for having to pay Konerko anything close to the $13 million he made in the last year of his most recent three-year contact.
With that smartly placed concept in place, both the player and the club have a tremendous amount of wiggle room to figure out what works for everyone’s best interest. Leaving baseball on the worst team he has ever played for most assuredly would leave a bad taste in Konerko’s mouth.
“That may be the hugest thing,” he said. “You only get to go through these careers once. The majority of the advice you get from guys who have been through it is, if you can play, play. The other side of it is, this is how careers are supposed to end. Not everybody gets to do it the way they want to do it.”
Former star players like Jason Giambi and Mark Kotsay have filled those lesser-type roles for clubs in 2013. The White Sox are getting younger; having the sage advice and presence of Konerko for one more season could help manager Robin Ventura and his staff turn things around in 2014.
Numerous injuries and two chronically weak hips might be the deciding factor in Konerko’s decision. That final word on his playing future will come sometime in November. Attempting to pass Frank Thomas for the franchise home run and RBI crowns will not be the motivation for the player if he returns to the Sox in 2014. Konerko wants to go out with a feeling of accomplishment, despite the fact he has nothing more to prove in establishing himself as one of the best players in franchise history.
The only injustice would be if Konerko plays for another club next year. He should have the right and Sox fans should have the chance to celebrate this wonderful player's great contributions with a yearlong tribute. The Yankees did it the right way with Mariano Rivera. Hopefully the White Sox and Konerko can get it right in the final act of a great career.