Every baseball player has his own shelf life in this game. Some know when their time is up. Others stick around long past their prime.
For Paul Konerko, his mind and body will know exactly when it's time to retire, and it might come sooner than you think.
Konerko has two years remaining on his contract, and while he's focused on having another big season for the White Sox, he gave his first hint that 2013 might be his last in a big league uniform.
"No doubt it could be," Konerko said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Yeah, in all reality I would see it ending after next year or maybe another year. I mean, at some point you got to go home and be around your kids and have other things to do."
At a time when most players see their hitting numbers decline, Konerko has been exactly the opposite. The 13-year veteran has had a career renaissance in his mid-30s, especially in the last two seasons in which he has averaged 35 home runs and 108 RBIs. Can he keep up that pace at age 36 and 37? That's a mystery. Will he continue playing the moment he sees his skills diminish? That isn't.
"There's obviously this year and I have another year left on the contract, and I would not have signed up for that if I didn't think I could pull it off," Konerko said. "But at that point I'll be 38 years old going into the following year. If someone wants me, and I'm willing to do the work it takes through the offseason, and through spring training and through the year, then I would be willing to play.
"But if any of those things don't exist, I would never just play to say, 'Well, this team wants me and I can kind of hang on for another year and kind of go through the motions here,'" Konerko explained. "I have to be doing what I know it takes for me to play. Otherwise, it's not for me. I have to do the crazy amounts of preparation. It has to be there. If I'm not willing to do all the grind, then I've got some other things I'd like to do."
When Konerko does retire, he will be sorely missed. Not just for his play and leadership, but for his keen perspective on the game. Few people see things the way he does. Even fewer can actually articulate them.
Let's start with the lost season of 2011:
"I don't think there was a moment last year from the word go where at anytime did we feel like, 'This is kind of special' or 'This is inspiring baseball.' There's always going to be a couple teams every year that has that happen to them, and unfortunately we were one of them," Konerko said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find four or five days in a row where it felt like things were starting to go. We'd have two or three maybe. That was the most we ever had. It was a grind. It was not what you're looking for."
If the 2011 regular season was bad, the current offseason appears to be worse. The Sox have lost Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin, and have question marks replacing all three of them. Fans and media sense utter doom. What does Konerko think?
"If I was one of the options, then Robin was a heck of a hire!-- Paul Konerko.
"The only time I have won a World Series, the offseason leading up to it was kind of similar to this where there were a lot people not happy with the moves that were made. A lot of people saying, 'What did we do this for?' And then we went out had a great year and won a World Series. I'm not saying that's going to happen again, but I always keep that in the back of my mind. Anytime you think on paper something is supposed to happen the next year."
Many thought the playoffs would happen for the Sox last year. Clearly that didn't happen. They got off to that terrible 11-22 start and finished 16 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Excitement and attendance nose-dived, leaving the franchise stumbling to get back on its feet. For the fans to return, Konerko knows exactly what the White Sox need to do: Win.
"It's kind of like we're starting fresh. We're really like at zero, and we have to build it back up and earn people's, the fans' trust to come back out and see us. The whole thing," Konerko said. "We're kind of just starting out at square one again, but that doesn't mean that you're conceding anything. I just think it means you're looking to get a fresh change, and just start everything all over again."
That means taking baby steps forward, starting with Opening Day in Texas on April 6. For the White Sox to make it back, Konerko believes it will have to be a slow, methodical climb throughout the season.
"I think for us, I think we should focus more on small goals. We're going to start off playing meaningful games Opening Day and let's just see how long we can be playing meaningful games. Not say that we're going to make the playoffs, not say we're going to do this or that. Let's just see how long we can play the game right, and stay in the mix, and if it gets to September or August, and we're in the mix, then great. Just start off with more smaller thoughts about how we're going to do everything is my opinion."
You wonder why Kenny Williams actually considered making Konerko the White Sox player-manager this season? This is why.
So what did Konerko think when he heard that idea? He chose to take the humorous, sarcastic route.
"I know that when they hired Robin Ventura everybody was like, 'Robin was a great big league player,' and what I'm hearing about his experience is that he coached his son's high school team for a while. That's his experience at managing or coaching. And then it comes out that they were considering hiring me as playermanager. Then you look at Robin and you say, 'That was a great choice,' because if I was one of the options, then Robin was a heck of a hire!"
But would Konerko ever consider managing?
"I'm probably going to be like Robin 10 years ago and say I'll never manage," Konerko said.
And then you'll manage?
"I don't know about that."
What we do know is that Konerko's playing time is running out. Knowing Paul, he's going to make the best of what's left and walk proudly into the sunset.
Few players leave the game just before their expiration date. Konerko seems poised to be one of them.