Paul Konerko's historically unique career

As Paul Konerko’s career wound down this month, in the shadows of all those trumpets blaring about Derek Jeter, I found myself wondering something: Has any player ever had a career quite like Paul Konerko’s?

And you know what? Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, we now know the answer: No. Nobody.

Here’s what I mean by that: Pretty much no one -- and by that, of course, I’m talking about Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on Trivia Day -- remembers anymore that the White Sox were actually Konerko’s THIRD team.

Take a look at his career. He spent 55 games with the Dodgers. He got traded to the Reds and hung around Cincinnati for like 15 minutes (OK, actually 26 games). And then he wound up in Chicago … for 16 fabulous years.

Who does that? How does that happen?

Seriously. How is it possible that any player could spend less than half a season with two teams, for which he was really just passing through, and then end his career by turning into a 16-year, iconic, face-of-the-franchise figure for a THIRD team? Never heard of that.

So I ran this by my friends from Elias the other day. And here’s what they told me:

There have been three players in history who spent 16 seasons or more with one team (not necessarily even consecutively) -- and also spent fewer than 100 games with at least two other teams.

One was Phil Niekro (Braves for 21 years, plus Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays).

The second was Don Sutton (Dodgers for 16 seasons, plus Astros, Brewers, A’s and Angels.)

And the third was Konerko.

Except there was one humongous difference between Konerko and those other two guys: Both Sutton and Niekro STARTED their careers by playing 16-plus seasons for their first team, then bounced around at the end of their careers. That’s the normal path. At least that’s a plot line you might expect.

But Paul Konerko did it in reverse, zipping through cameo appearances for his first two clubs and only then settling in for a lonnnggg run with team No. 3.

In other words, he’s had himself a unique, historically distinct career path, shared by no one else who ever played in the major leagues. And because he has, he got to do something this weekend that very few players ever get to do: go out as a beloved figure on the team he came to be most identified with -- but not the club he started with -- after an incredible 16-year run.

How cool is that?

Other than in Chicago, Paul Konerko hasn’t gotten the kind of send-off he deserves -- not this season and certainly not this month. Too bad. He’s been the kind of player, and human being, that any franchise would be happy to have on the payroll for a decade and a half.

He won a World Series in Chicago, hit a grand slam in a World Series, won an ALCS MVP Award. He isn’t a guy you’d elevate into the pantheon of all-time greats. But he did have one more excellent claim to fame that I haven’t seen enough hoopla about:

He’s one of just 10 players in history, whose primary position was first base, to make it into the 400-homer, 400-double club. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here are the others: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Eddie Murray, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro.

Perhaps you’re familiar with their work.

For some reason, though, I feel as though not enough baseball fans are as familiar as they ought to be with Konerko’s work. I hate when that happens. But now you can ask your buddies down at the old tavern tonight if they can think of anyone in history who ever had a career quite like No. 14 had.

And when they scratch their heads, you can tell them the correct answer: Nope. Nobody.