As I listened to friends and co-workers fondly reminisce on Paul Konerko’s career, I found myself wishing I had something more profound or exquisite to add.
I probably could have found something deep inside me, but it was difficult.
From 1999 to 2014, Konerko was a worth adversary, posting a .281/.356/.491/.847 slash line with the White Sox to go along with 432 home runs, 406 doubles and 1,383 runs batted in.
Against my beloved Cubs, Konerko was often at his best. He owned a .300 average, .592 slugging percentage, 20 homers, 16 doubles and 59 RBI.
Extrapolate his stats over a season’s worth of plate appearances (I estimated 600 PA) and Konerko would have hit 41 homers and 33 doubles with 122 RBI against the Cubs.
With numbers like that, I should be thankful he wasn’t a Cardinal.
But for me, the thing that resonates as far as Konerko’s career goes is the journey. As a Cubs fan, his plight to become the player he became puts the Cubs’ rebuild in perspective.
Konerko made his first Baseball America top prospects list in 1995, ranking 38th in all of baseball coming up in the Dodgers’ organization as a catcher.
(That’s right, a catcher.)
And that’s when the Dodgers were churning out quality prospects and turning them into productive major league players on an annual basis.
He moved to first base in 1996 with Double-A San Antonio, played some third base at Triple-A Albuquerque in 1997 and dabbled in some outfield (21 games) in 1998 at Albuquerque. In total, Konerko played 166 games at first base, 145 games at third, 131 at catcher and 21 in left field. That kind of positional versatility would make a Cubs fan giddy.
By 1998, Konerko would soar to the top of the charts, becoming Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect — behind A’s outfielder Ben Grieve and in front of Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
But as you know by now, Konkerko’s progress wasn’t linear. The former 1st round pick (13th overall) of the Dodgers in 1994 was dealt to the Reds on July 4, 1998 in exchange for reliever Jeff Shaw.
(Aside: Prospect-for-reliever trades drive me crazy. Always have. Always will.)
Konerko played a whopping 26 games for the Reds before they shipped him to the White Sox in exchange for Mike Cameron. The Reds would later flip Cameron in a deal for Ken Griffey Jr., who played 41 games with Konerko in 2008 on the White Sox’s division winner — which happens to be the franchise’s last postseason appearance.
Konerko is Exhibit A on why I preach patience when it comes to the Cubs’ prospects bubbling in the system.
His tale provides perspective and a reminder that sometimes guys don’t get “it” right away.
Not all prospects pan out. But sometimes, it takes some positional (or organizational) change in order for a player to put it all together.
Konerko wasn’t an All-Star out of the box. He slashed .214/.275/.326/.601 with 7 homers and 29 RBI in his first 81 games (247 plate appearances). More than 2,200 games later, Konerko walks away from baseball having put together a borderline Hall of Fame career.
So, while Sox fans congratulate Konerko on what he did for their franchise, I would like to commend him on his perseverance throughout a remarkable career.