White Sox

Paul Konerko backs players in fight with MLB: 'Sometimes you got to push back'

Paul Konerko backs players in fight with MLB: 'Sometimes you got to push back'

As Major League Baseball finds itself in a maddening tug of war over the 2020 season, it’s time to hear from someone who was often a voice of reason inside the White Sox clubhouse, a former captain who can shed some light on why we’re into June and there’s still no deal between the owners and the players.

On the other end of the line, it’s Paul Konerko.

It’s pretty clear where he stands.

“I think you have to do what’s right. I feel like the players have bent over backwards in a lot of ways in the last few years on a lot of things. Sometimes you got to push back,” Konerko said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I think that the players just have a right to get what they want to get.”

Considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic with millions of Americans filing for unemployment, this might seem like the worst possible time for the players to be fighting for millions with owners worth billions.

But leave it to Konerko to peel back all the layers and get right to the core of what’s preventing the players from signing on the dotted line for anything less than the prorated salaries they agreed to back on March 26.

“It’s very simple for me. They signed contracts to play baseball and play baseball games. If you make $10 million a year signing up to play 162 games, if you play 81 games you should make 5 million bucks,” Konerko said.

He continued.

“As crazy as it sounds, when anybody buys a team or owns a team, it’s not like when they got into this they said, ‘OK, what happens if eight years from now there’s a global pandemic and if I get this team I’m going to have to deal with this and all that? That I should think at that point, somehow or another, make sure the risk is somehow assumed equally or shared by somebody else.’

“It’s like, listen, if you own a team, unfortunately when a global pandemic hits, that’s kind of like the problem. It’s the same way with the players where you decide you want to be a baseball player and you don’t prepare for anything else and you go out and blow out your arm in your first year. That’s the risk you assume by taking that path.”

Of course, the league sees things differently. Owners believe the March agreement called for new negotiations if fans aren’t allowed in ballparks. The two different interpretations of the language in that agreement is a big reason why the league and the players' union remain without a deal to start the season after all this time.

“I’m a player through and through, and you know when something looks right on paper and says, ‘This is it.’ And if it doesn’t look right, you’ve got to have the discipline to walk away and don’t feel the pressure and the urge because of what’s gone on over the last four or five months to be pushed around,” Konerko said. “I think the players are pretty unified. It wouldn’t shock me if there’s a handful of owners or more that are perfectly happy not playing the season because I think it might be better on the bottom line for them.”

RELATED: 2020 World Series could be won in fewer than 60 games in shortened MLB season

Though Konerko is siding with the players, you won’t hear him speak negatively about Jerry Reinsdorf.

After the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, it was Konerko who famously surprised the White Sox chairman by handing him the baseball from the final out at the victory parade.

“Jerry Reinsdorf I think is a great man. He treated me as good as anybody. He’s one of the best,” Konerko said.

But when it’s a battle between players and owners, Konerko gets down to the nitty gritty, explaining why owners are working in their comfort zone, while the players are not, and what that means for both.

“It’s a business. When guys in suits treat it like a business, it’s never a problem because that’s what guys in suits do. They do business. When players who wear uniforms that fans love treat it like a business, it’s a problem, and it shouldn’t be, because it is a business,” Konerko said. “So I have no problem. I admire the players.

“For me, you shouldn’t have to feel pressure that there has to be a season. I don’t know if the owners feel pressure. No one’s going to see them walking down the street if they don’t play a season. A lot of people don’t even know what they look like.”

Despite all the rancor, there is still hope there will be a baseball season at some point, even if they play only 48 games.

But what if the worst-case scenario occurs, where they can’t come to an agreement and the 2020 baseball season gets canceled?

We’ve heard predictions of irreparable damage to the sport. What does Konerko think?

“If they don’t play a season, no one is going to die. We’ll get through it just fine,” Konerko said. “We’ve gotten through a lot of things in this country over the last few months. If we don’t have baseball, we’ll live. We’re going to be fine.

“I don’t say that to bring a deal down. What I’m saying is I don’t think the players should be in a position to be the scapegoats to have to give so much to make a season happen.”

As grim as things might appear, the two sides are at least listening to offers. They might not like what the other is proposing, but there seems to be an overall willingness to have a baseball season, albeit under the right financial conditions.

How they eventually arrive at a deal remains a mystery, but Konerko has been around enough to know that an agreement could come at any moment.

“How many times does it look like a deal is so far away and then all of a sudden the announcement comes out?” Konerko said. “So it wouldn’t shock me if tomorrow they’re like, ‘We got it done. We’re going to play.’”

Can’t wait for that.

Play ball.

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Eloy Jiménez thriving in loaded lineup: 'Thank god I'm part of the White Sox'

Eloy Jiménez thriving in loaded lineup: 'Thank god I'm part of the White Sox'

Eloy Jiménez has settled into a nice routine for his media sessions.

He gives an exaggerated wave, usually with both arms, asks everyone how they’re doing and loudly exclaims about this writer’s facial hair.

Given that kind of thing is par for the course in every interaction with Jiménez, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time that the ebullient outfielder has ever been uncomfortable since arriving on the South Side at the start of last season.

But whether he was uncomfortable or just less comfortable, there’s no doubting he’s super comfortable now.

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Jiménez launched a clutch, game-tying home run Tuesday, an absolute bomb that traveled 428 feet to dead-center field. It was the biggest blast in the White Sox 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, the team’s sixth straight.

Like several others in the White Sox firing-on-all-cylinders lineup, Jiménez is off to a rip-roaring start. His homer Tuesday night was his third in the nine games he’s played this season. He’s slashing .333/.378/.667.

Things are going well for these White Sox, and Jiménez is right in the middle of it.

“It feels really nice, you know?” he said after Tuesday’s game. “This year, we have a different lineup. Everybody can have that moment, and that’s really good for the team.

“Thank god I’m part of the White Sox now.”

Even if you don’t get to laugh with Jiménez on Zoom calls or catch a glimpse of his camera-loving antics during game broadcasts, you should be able to glean from nothing more than the box score that he’s feeling better as a sophomore than he was as a rookie.

“I think he's starting to find his way at the major league level as a player. He's feeling more and more comfortable,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I know he always looks like he's happy-go-lucky. But it takes a little bit of time for guys to kind of sink in to understanding the depth of how good guys are at the major league level. And these guys are starting to show that they're capable of handling anything that's thrust in front of them.”

Jiménez showed off the kind of dead-center power he unleashed Tuesday throughout his rookie season in 2019, which he finished with 31 home runs. But even with that big number, that campaign was hardly a runaway success for him.

RELATED: White Sox proving they can win big or small: 'We have that belief now'

Renteria talked often about how Jiménez was just scratching the surface of the kind of big leaguer he was going to be. And Jiménez himself has admitted often since that, at least out of the gate, he wasn’t playing how he wanted to be playing.

This season’s just a week and a half old, but already things are going much better for the 23-year-old left fielder.

“I feel much better, more confident at the plate,” he said. “Last year, I tried to do too much. This year? Go out and enjoy. That pretty much helped me.”

In general, this White Sox lineup is looking much beefier than it did when Jiménez was a rookie last year. In addition to him flexing his muscles in the middle of the order, the White Sox are getting contributions all over the place.

Luis Robert has been a daily wow factor, showing off his hit tool, his power tool and, as of this week, his speed tool. Yoán Moncada has been a steady hit producer. José Abreu came through with two huge hits against the Brewers, a game-tying homer Monday and a go-ahead RBI single Tuesday. Yasmani Grandal has heated up after a slow start. Edwin Encarnación presents a constant power threat. Even unexpected contributors have emerged in Leury García and Adam Engel.

In other words, the White Sox offense can do a lot of damage. But you knew that after it produced a combined 20 runs and 35 hits in wins Saturday and Sunday in Kansas City.

Jiménez is playing a starring role, which isn’t terribly surprising, considering he’s got the camera-friendly personality to go along with the highlight-reel home runs.

“I think it's hard to be in a bad mood when you're hitting game-tying home runs,” starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said. “Eloy's one of the very positive presences, one of the very positive people in our clubhouse. He's always laughing. He always has a smile on his face, always looks on the bright side of things. He's definitely a great guy to have in the clubhouse, amazing teammate.

“Obviously we saw what he can do on a baseball field tonight.”

RELATED: What José Abreu knew was coming: White Sox wins and playoff-style baseball

This is what the White Sox envisioned all along, of course, since the second they got Jiménez from the Cubs in that 2017 trade. A methodical rebuilding project was always supposed to end in a lineup as potent as this one, and Jiménez was to be right in the thick of it, alongside Robert, Moncada, Abreu and the rest.

But this is a long-term endeavor, too, one that's supposed to set the White Sox up for success years into the future, not only in 2020. Jiménez is supposed to only get better as only gets more comfortable.

This guy? More comfortable than he already is?

To borrow from Jiménez, who reacted to the final two questions he was asked Tuesday with playful confusion:

“Huh!?!?”


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White Sox proving they can win big or small: 'We have that belief now'

White Sox proving they can win big or small: 'We have that belief now'

The White Sox have proven they can beat teams big. Now they’re showing an ability to win close, intense ballgames.

Both contests in Milwaukee were nail biters, but the White Sox found a way to win 3-2 Tuesday night at Miller Park after an equally impressive 6-4 win Monday.

“Just grit and determination,” Tuesday’s starter Lucas Giolito said. “We have that belief now that was kind of missing the last couple years that we trust how good we are. We trust our talent. We know that if the game is close, we have a very, very good chance of winning it.”

Belief in baseball is a dangerous weapon and Giolito did his part to run the White Sox’s win streak to six games, allowing just two runs and four hits in six innings of work. But for the second straight night, it took clutch pitching and clutch hitting to hold off the Brewers. The White Sox trailed by two runs in both games, but one night after José Abreu tied things up with a two-run home run in the seventh inning, Eloy Jiménez did the same thing Tuesday in the sixth inning.

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“You’re seeing a different cast of characters contributing, so that’s nice to see and that’s actually a good sign for our team,” manager Rick Renteria said after the win.

Indeed, it seems like the White Sox are always one swing away from getting back in any ballgame, which is a sign of a competitive team. The Brewers might not be at full strength right now, but they still threw some good pitchers at the White Sox the last two nights. Corbin Burnes was a handful on Monday, but Abreu used an 11-pitch at-bat from the fifth inning to help him finally crack the code in the seventh. A similar event played out Tuesday, as Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff was pitching a gem before Jiménez tagged him for a 428-foot blast to center field. In his first two at-bats, Jiménez chipped away with singles before getting the big one.

"We get out and play hard for nine innings,” Jiménez said. “We can win with (many) runs and with one run. We are a really good team and we just try to go out and play hard.”

The White Sox are backing up the hype, surviving a slow 1-4 start to improve to 7-4 after a six-game win streak. That has allowed them to stay two games behind the red hot, 9-2 Minnesota Twins, despite the White Sox dealing with mounting injuries.

The two days in Milwaukee proved to be costly for left shoulders, as Carlos Rodón, Nick Madrigal and Edwin Encarnación all left Wisconsin with left shoulder soreness. Rodón was placed on the 10-day Injured List Tuesday, but there appears to be some legitimate optimism that his injury might not be too serious.

“It wasn’t too crazy or anything. Hopefully we’ll have him back soon,” Giolito said.

Madrigal left Tuesday’s game after injuring his shoulder on a slide into third base. He was attempting to go from first to third on a Luis Robert single and Renteria admitted it was probably a play where Madrigal should have pulled up at second base. Encarnación suffered his shoulder injury on a swing. Both players left the game and will be reevaluated Wednesday in Chicago.

The depth is certainly being tested, but the White Sox are hardly flinching. That was proven by overcoming the 1-4 start and a doubleheader sweep in Cleveland a week ago. The White Sox haven’t lost since.

“We didn’t even need to talk about it,” Giolito said. “That last game against Cleveland, we knew we had to go in and do our job. Going into Kansas City it was all about taking care of business.”

And in Milwaukee it was about riding the momentum. They did exactly that, showing they can win in a variety of ways.

Now the Brewers visit Chicago, where Dallas Keuchel awaits. And the only question is, who will step up next?

 

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