Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010
By Chuck Garfien
Somewhere in the state of Ohio lies a baseball tuckered out after traveling a far distance. It started the day buried anonymously in a sack with a dozen other balls, all set to be used, all with different fates.
Some would stay fair. Others would go foul. But this one had another destination in mind: Lake Erie.
Unfortunately, it didnt make it that far. A few fans got in the way. But if the man who tried to put it there keeps it up, the ball might end up representing something bigger.
The start of an MVP campaign.
For the last few weeks, Paul Konerkos name has casually been mentioned as a candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, up there with Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera. But lets be honest, he was a country mile away from getting enough votes to actually win it.
With the national media tuned in to watch Manny Ramirez make his White Sox debut on Wednesday, there was Konerko doing what hes done all season, blasting a massive three-run bomb in the eighth inning, giving the Sox a thrilling come-from-behind, 6-4 win over the Indians.
Its a captain whos been driving a car with his clutch stuck on clutch all season, and its time the rest of the country knew about it.
Youre excused if you happened to ignore Paulies red-hot April, when he quietly belted 11 home runs to lead the majors. At 34 years old, and in the twilight of his career, who actually thought he was on the verge of an MVP season?
I didnt.You didnt. Konerko probably didnt either.
But game-after-game, week-after-week, the prolonged slumps that have traditionally dogged Konerko in his career have yet to arrive. He just keeps raking, and considering hes in a contract year, hell soon be raking in something else. Tons and tons of dough. But thats a subject for another day.
This is about a mans quest for an MVP award, and here are some numbers to back it up.
Lets start with his home runs which are starting to reach Roy Hobbs Hollywood-type proportions. Of his 33 homers, which is currently second in the American League, 12 have been hit in the eighth inning or later. Three have tied the game. NINE have given the White Sox the lead. Konerko has also helped the Sox breathe a little easier, as four of his home runs have occurred with his team ahead by one.
But its not just when Konerko has been hitting, its who hes been hitting against. Here are the top teams on the White Sox schedule. Has Konerko been there for his team? You bet.
vs. the Twins .390 4 HRs 12 RBIs
vs. the Yankees .400 3 HRs 10 RBIs
vs. the Rangers .344 4 HRs 11 RBIs
vs. the Rays .308 1 HR 3 RBIs
vs. the Braves .417 1 HR 3 RBIs
Throw in the Crosstown Series against the Cubs, which is a playoff-type atmosphere no matter how bad one of the teams might be, Konerko batted .333 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs.
Have you heard about the dog days of August in baseball? Konerko hasnt this year. He just completed the month batting .387. Thats number-one in the major leagues.
And how did he start September? See the top of this very page.
A couple weeks ago, Konerkos season numbers paled in comparison to his toughest competitors, but hes quickly closing the gap:
Konerko .319 33 HR 98 RBI
Hamilton .361 31 HR 97 RBI
Cabrera .340 33 HR 107 RBI
Cano .325 26 HR 90 RBI
In the end, itll come down to those in contention at the end. So you can take Cabreras name off the list. The Tigers are going nowhere. Robinson Cano has had a great season with the Yankees, but lets see if someone from New York can build a case for him thats stronger than Konerkos. You can try, but you'll inevitably fail.
That leaves Hamilton, who has put the Texas Rangers on his back and has kept them in first for weeks. Hes currently in the lead. But if this was a golf tournament, he and Konerko still have a few holes to play. A lot can happen, and watching Paulie all season, you can bet that something will.
My job is a sportscaster. I write with my ABCs. Konerko plays baseball. He's my MVP.