How do you replace a "king?"
That royal tag is Sox teammates' past and present nickname for Paul Konerko, denoting his stature in the clubhouse and on the field. He is the ulimate leader by example, team spokesman and MVP-calibre first baseman.
And he deserves to have a different ending than Frank Thomas, who departed the Sox in 2005 in acrimony and ended up playing in Oakland and Toronto. Konerko should end his career with the White Sox.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is a big believer in loyalty. His most loyal and professional player is Konerko. This is a no-brainer. A two-year contract take take him to age 36 would be appropriate. I don't think Konerko will stay one day past his status as a quality run producer.
And he has leverage, beyond just the team leadership role that Thomas never possessed in his Hall of Fame-bound career. On Sunday, manager Ozzie Guillen said Dayan Viciedo is not ready to be a regular in the majors, scotching the concept of the Cuban as a young, inexpensive replacement for Konerko at first. A trade or signing a free agent won't produce a player of any better ability or better economic value than Konerko.
If the Sox want Viciedo to watch a complete player do his work on and off the field, they'll have him apprentice under Konerko. Guillen loves rookie third baseman Brent Morel's defense, so why not have a steady man save him errors if Morel works his way into the lineup next season? If the Sox can swing a left-handed stick in a deal, there's Konerko to provide protection in the batting order.
Always, always, there's a steady, cool customer in the clubhouse, the man who holds daily press briefings to take the pressure off his teammates. A big personality occupies that locker in the corner, near the food room. Guillen the player once had it. Then Thomas. More recently, Jim Thome. And, finally, Konerko, out of whose mouth the next baseball cliche will be his first.
Cinching Konerko's return should have been his brave revival from being hit in the face by Carl Pavano last Thursday. Waving away trainer Herm Schneider, Konerko took his face after some minor first-aid. Then he homered against Pavano in his next at-bat. If that wasn't old-school, if not the school itself, I don't know know what is. A player like that needs to be the face of the franchise, even if Guillen has talked his way into that role.
Even though the feeling is almost unanimous (there may be a rogue difference of opinion somewhere in the Sox executive suite) about re-upping Konerko, the first baseman has kept his own counsel by design. Playing out the season without contract distractions was his priority.
“We have a homestand to end the season after next week," Konerko said. "I know before I leave town here for the off-season, I’m going to have to address things. I’ll do it then and answer questions everybody’s been good about (not asking and) leaving me alone. I’ll answer it then.”
But make no mistake about it, whether he stays or goes, 35th and Shields will always be remembered as his baseball home.
“Regardless of what happens, (at) this stage of my career and my age, I’ll be thought of as a White Sox," the captain said.