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Konerko's Classy Season Finale Evokes Smiles From Serious Sox Captain

Will Paul Konerko be back in a Sox uniform next year?

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Perhaps the emotion from Sunday's season finale that promoted smiles before and after the game from a normally concentrating, serious Paul Konerko will carry him all the way into a new contract with the White Sox.

Walking in the service tunnel after the game, wife Jennifer Konerko was appraised of hubby's uncharacteristic festival of grins. "He's pretty serious," she said. Jonathan Toews, move over, you've got a rival in town for furrowed brows.

At least for a little while before Konerko officially declares free agency. But in the sendoff Sunday, he rode the wave of fan adulation, first by doffing his helmet as he was pulled from the game in the seventh inning, then doing a curtain call seconds later without the benefit of a home run to celebrate.

And speaking of power, Konerko pulled off a last act of sportsmanship around that time. Manager Ozzie Guillen wanted to leave in Konerko to have one more shot at his 40th homer, but the Sox captain selflessly pulled himself from the game so first-base replacement Mark Kotsay could have one more at-bat.

“Honestly, I’ve hit 40 a couple of times,” Konerko said. “I was swinging the bat better as the game went on. I just said…it meant more to me just to have him to have that at-bat if that’s it for him. I just felt like I hope he’s not mad at me for saying that.

“The odds against hitting one are always slim. I’ve hit 40 twice and the world didn’t change. I just felt at that moment I could tell he wanted to get an at-bat and I wanted to give it to him. But he didn’t want me to let him give it to him. That’s him. We’re both kind of arguing back and forth.”

Although recent comments suggest Konerko is non-committal so far about coming back to the Sox despite obvious emotional ties, he took pains after the game Sunday to remind us all the door is still open, from his end. It takes two to make a deal, and the Sox seem willing on their end.

“As I just told him (Sunday), under my tenure at least, the classiest player who has put on a uniform,” Sox GM Kenny Williams said. “You’ll never hear me say a disparaging word against Paul Konerko.

“We don’t know how it’s going to play out. There are variables in play we have to go through. We have to see where we are with revenues. He’s got some things that he’s got to work through his mind as well. At the end of the day, even if we are the ones that choose him and he doesn’t choose us, you will never hear…a disrespectful word against Paul Konerko.

“Let’s be clear on something. I think Jerry Reinsdorf and myself and Ozzie Guillen would like to have him back.”

So with the possiblity of a return -- an action that can't happen any sooner than mid-November if all the stars were aligned right -- Konerko was almost embarrassed that he received such fan adulation.

"I feel almost guilty now because if was to come back and this was to happen a couple of years from now, no man should get what I got today twice," he said. "It's very possible I could be back, it's possible I could go somewhere else. Who knows? I don't walk out of here today saying, I'm glad I'm done wtih that, this city.

"I'm totally open to everything. It's just got to be right on all accounts."

And then Konerko issued the money statement that should prompt his bosses to, well, show him the money.

"I think I was a better leader this year than I've ever been" due to the way he went about his business "the right way from Day One of spring training."

How can Konerko think of leaving after saying that? How can the Sox not meet his price and lock him up for the rest of this career? This sounds like the best player-management relationship in baseball.

Sunday should be a beginning of a new deal, not an ending of a great relationship. Time for Reinsdorf, the greatest master of financial management in all of sports, to crunch the numbers to ensure the captain comes back to steer the clubhouse ship right.