White Sox

The end may be approaching, but Konerko's career keeps ticking


The end may be approaching, but Konerko's career keeps ticking

Paul Konerko isn't afraid to tell it like it is. There's little gray area in his words. What he sees, is what you get, which over the course of his career could fill a library of reporter notebooks.

The White Sox captain arrived at Sox Fest knowing that this could be his last as a player. It may not be the focus of his attention, but in the back of his mind, its there.

He knows the end is near.

When will the retire? Hes not sure yet. But with another year added to the back of his baseball card -- his 16th in the majors -- he says hes prepared to say good-bye.

"A couple years ago, I sat right here and I was ready for that to be the last year," Konerko told CSNChicago.com at the Palmer House Hilton, the site of Sox Fest.

He says he loved the approach of the 2012 White Sox.

"The concentration on the small things last year was as good as any team I've ever been on."

As for him, he admits that his hitting was a season-long struggle.

"I was lucky to do anything I did -- all year."

This is coming from a man who could possess a PhD in hitting. He's Dr. Konerko with a bat instead of a stethoscope. You can also call him Professor Konerko, the academic king of hitting. However, if you asked him to grade his performance from last season, he might give himself a D. Possibly even an F.

"I never felt that good from the get-go, so it was kind of one of those years where it was smoke and mirrors for most of it," Konerko admits. "Looking back on it, I feel like it could have been a disaster if I didn't grind through it probably as much as I can. I just didn't feel like I had it. You have years like that."

Konerko ended the season batting .298 with 26 HRs and 75 RBIs. Not great, but also not good for someone like Konerko, especially considering his red-hot start.

On May 27, he was leading the majors with a .399 batting average. He also had 11 HRs and 33 RBIs. Reporters started asking him about the chances of actually finishing the season batting .400.

But Konerko knew something that we didnt.

"Sometimes balls are falling for you. Things happen and the numbers say you're doing well and you just don't feel good. That happens too," he explains. "I'd say that's more of what was going on during the beginning of the season. I could tell by the way I was hitting. I could just tell."

So now we are left to ask the question: Was 2012 just a fluke year or was it the start of the final downward trend of Konerko's career?

"That's a good question. If I was listening to the interview, I'd say, well, that's called a trend of what's happening," Konerko says. "I understand that. That comes with the territory. I can't think like that."

Instead, Konerko, who turns 37 on March 5, can only think about the upcoming season. Nothing more, nothing less. Where's it all going? He doesn't have the answer. But he remembers how he felt after the 2009 season, another trying year at the plate when he thought about retirement for the first time.

"I wasn't that young then. It was a similar year where I felt okay but the game felt really hard to play all year. Then you come back for a couple years after that and feel like it's very easy to play, so you never really know where it's going to turn."

Here's what Konerko does know:

"I'm still good at this. This is what I do, and I still want to do it. That's another thing. Just because you can't do it anymore, doesn't mean that you don't want to play anymore. I think people should know that. Don't look at the numbers, that if things are going well in 2013, that necessarily means I would play after this season. And the reverse of that is true, too.

It has to start with you having a passion to get ready in the off-season. That commitment from early November all the way until spring training. If it was just playing a six-month season, guys would probably play longer if they could, because that's the fun part. Getting ready for a whole season is a huge commitment. If you say you're going to do it, you can't shortchange that."

Paul has seen many of his teammates from the 2005 World Series squad retire. Three of them -- Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand -- were there at Sox Fest.

Dye says you just know deep down when its time to leave.

Konerko believes hell know too, but hes not there yet. Theres more baseball to be played. Still, he cant help but think about the next chapter in his life, whenever that day comes.

"It's tough not to," Konerko says. "This time in your career there can be some heavy thoughts about that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day my job is no different than it was 10 years ago. That's to go out and do well for the 2013 Chicago White Sox. That is the goal. That's what I'm going to do. If I do that, the other stuff will sort itself out. Whether it's the game and the team sorting me out, or me sorting the rest of it out. Who knows? I have no idea how that's going to go."

Baseball doesn't have a clock. Careers do.

But for now, Konerko is still ticking.

Rick Renteria isn't going to change his 'don't quit' ways for anyone, 'Johnny Hustle' included

Rick Renteria isn't going to change his 'don't quit' ways for anyone, 'Johnny Hustle' included

LAS VEGAS — Manny Machado isn’t going to be Johnny Hustle, he told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal during the postseason. But if he gets $300 million to play baseball on the South Side of Chicago, will he reevaluate that stance on busting it down the line?

Because if he doesn’t, his new manager might do it for him.

One of the mighty interesting side stories to the White Sox aggressiveness this winter and their reported interest in Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on the free-agent market, is how Machado and his comments about distaste for hustling would mesh with Rick Renteria’s “don’t quit” culture on the South Side.

It’s all speculative, of course, because Machado does not, as of this writing, play for the White Sox. But as they potentially rev up to hand out one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, it’s worth wondering what would happen if Machado does what he did during the NLCS, when he failed to run out a ground ball against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Renteria made a habit of benching anyone and everyone who committed that cardinal sin during the 2018 season, be they a young player still learning how to be a big leaguer like Tim Anderson or an established veteran like Welington Castillo, a free-agent import in his own right. Heck, Renteria even benched Avisail Garcia, the team’s lone All Star from the 2017 season, during a spring training game.

Well, refusing to beat around the bush during his Tuesday media session at the Winter Meetings, Renteria said he’s going to keep being him and that any player signing up with the White Sox rebuilding effort will know what to expect.

“We've been ingraining this now for two years. And we've taken some steps where we'll pull a guy,” Renteria said. “But it has nothing to do with trying to embarrass them. It has everything to do with trying to set a particular standard of play or effort level.

“And there are going to be situations in which I might have to have conversations with guys that are coming from the outside. But I will venture to say this, I've said it enough publicly, they know how we want to play the game here. I think anybody who is thinking or contemplating becoming a White Sox, that we go about it a certain way.”

As much attention as Machado’s comments about hustling not being his “cup of tea” have received, they weren’t expected to impact his free agency in some super dramatic way. Meaning, he’s such a good baseball player, that the excerpt from a public-relations professional’s nightmare probably was going to pale in comparison to the numbers he just posted during a career year: a .297/.367/.538 slash line with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. He’s a four-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glover, and he’s finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting three times.

Machado has an incredible track record of production. But he also has a track record of not looking like the model baseball player. In addition to these comments about effort, he got called dirty by the Brewers for dragging his foot across the leg of first baseman Jesus Aguilar during the NLCS, he's thrown a bat and a helmet on the field in separate incidents of anger, and he injured Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-up slide.

And so Renteria admitted he would have a managing job ahead of him. Machado isn't a wide-eyed youngster who came up through the White Sox farm system. He's a major league veteran with an entire different background in the game.

"I think that it's a learned attitude, so to speak," he said. "When players get to the big leagues, in my humble opinion and in my experience, you take care of all of those issues in the minor leagues, period. It's a philosophy that you have as an organization. Every organization is different. So when they get to us, what they do has already been taught. So I don't have to deal with any of that.

"It's a little more difficult at the major league level to change an attitude of an individual if they've been doing that their whole life, if they're not giving you the effort all the time, absolutely. But it requires conversation. That person is that person. My job is to get the most out of that individual to the best of my ability.

"Will I be able to do that 100 percent? Probably not. But I'm going to give it a shot. But I've got to be creative and find ways to communicate with the players."

Machado's comments might have created a postseason and offseason firestorm — there are a lot of Twitter-using White Sox fans who went from all aboard the Machado train to wanting no part of him — but it's also not difficult to see him putting this behind him with excellent play no matter where he ends up. Adam Jones, who played with Machado in Baltimore, told our Chuck Garfien on Tuesday that Machado "plays the game hard and the right way." Machado attempted his own mea culpa earlier this winter, but those comments from a former teammate mean a little bit more.

It's very possible that if the White Sox are the ones to give Machado his big contract that he runs every batted ball out for the next decade.

But in the hypothetical situation that he doesn't, Renteria doesn't plan to shy away from doing what he does because Machado is a $300 million man. As long as he has the backing of his bosses — and he believes he will — he's going to keep sitting guys if they don't play the way he believes the White Sox should play.

"Everybody has to be comfortable with me making and taking an action like that," he said. "And when I do, I think we'll be backed."

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Favorites or not, White Sox will still make their pitch to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

Favorites or not, White Sox will still make their pitch to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

LAS VEGAS — The words coming from White Sox brass at these Winter Meetings show an aggressiveness in pursuing the biggest names in the game and a confidence that the rebuilding process is moving toward an incredibly bright future.

But reports from some of the national writers who break all kinds of news during this kind of event show something different.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal wrote about the White Sox on Tuesday, reporting that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has given his front office the green light to pursue Harper and Machado, who are expected to receive a couple of the biggest contracts in baseball history, even though he has doubts about winning a bidding war. Then came a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale on Wednesday, indicating that the South Siders are set to meet with the two big-name free agents, even though they don't see themselves as the favorites.

Humility is always good, but it's a stark contrast between those couple bits of reporting and the description of the White Sox and their aggressive winter to this point.

That being said, both pieces of information include the fact that the White Sox are still going to make their pitch to these guys and try to get them to play 81 (and eventually more) home games a year on the South Side.

It's already been reported that Hall of Famer Jim Thome came on board to help the White Sox pitch Harper, and the White Sox were reported to have a meeting with Machado soon, though whether that's here in Vegas or back in Chicago remains unclear, as Machado was reportedly going to take his free-agent tour to teams in their home cities.

The White Sox will be in the room with these guys, pitching them on why an impact talent like themselves should sign up with a team that lost 100 games last season. Certainly the metaphorical dump truck full of money will have an awful lot to do with it, and the team's virtual lack of any long-term financial commitments has made them seem such a realistic option to so many in the know. The White Sox sure seem willing to offer that kind of monstrous contract. They'd have to be, otherwise there'd be little point in an aggressive pursuit.

But their pitch will likely be focused on something else.

"It's the future. The talent we have," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday when asked what the White Sox biggest selling point to free agents is. "We've got some really good-looking young players that are not far from being here and impacting us and helping us hopefully do what we're searching to do, which is win ballgames."

Hahn thinks that's a winning pitch, too. The chance to do something special from the ground up, to join a rebuilding team, buy into the future, watch the minor league talent ascend around you and then win a bunch of championships. That's what the White Sox will say to Harper and Machado.

Will it work?

The Philadelphia Phillies have vowed to "spend stupid," perhaps the reason they're the favorites to land Harper and one of the favorites to sign Machado. The New York Yankees can sell Machado (they took themselves out of the Harper running, it seems) on joining a 100-win team and being a part of the next Bronx dynasty. The Los Angeles Dodgers always seem willing to spend a huge chunk of change and are reportedly trying to make some moves that would clear room in their crowded outfield, perhaps for Harper.

That's tough competition. The Dodgers have been to back-to-back World Series, the Yankees had the third best record in baseball last season, and the Phillies made big strides in their rebuilding effort. It's hard play at that table with mere plans for the future.

But, as mentioned, the White Sox seem confident in their pitch, and they'll get to make it. The good news is their future does not dim at all if they don't hit on Harper or Machado. But getting one of those guys would certainly make it neon bright.

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