If you don’t live on the South Side of Chicago and follow the White Sox, Paul Konerko won’t be on your radar screen.
If you do, his value can’t be overstated, because he’s been a constant power source for the team since 1999, when dealt by the Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds, who shipped the right-handed hitter to Chicago in the fall of 1998.
Now a fixture at first base and designated hitter, Konerko has fashioned a stellar career, and the White Sox are in contention with the Minnesota Twins for the top spot in the American League Central.
Without Konerko, it’s hard to imagine the White Sox being anywhere near first place. Through last Saturday, Konerko is second in home runs in the AL with 28, ninth in runs batted in with 78, and is hitting .300 with 23 doubles.
In 14 big-league seasons that included a World Series title in 2005, Konerko has a .279 batting average and a .495 slugging percentage.
Considering that Konerko is trying to drive the ball, and fanned 82 times with 53 walks, he shows excellent plate discipline.
Some may have questioned why the Dodgers unloaded Konerko, selected 13th overall in the 1994 draft. The thinking was the club had enough young power hitters in Mike Piazza and Eric Karros.
What they needed was a proven closer, and Jeff Shaw was the man Tommy Lasorda targeted.
Konerko played in 55 games for the Dodgers, hit four homers with 16 RBIs and batted .212.
Looking back, the deal worked out for the Dodgers, who had a genuine shut-down reliever. But the Reds had Konerko for one season, and then sent him to the White Sox in exchange for Mike Cameron, a splendid outfielder now with Boston.
How was it that no one saw the need to have a third big stick in the lineup? Imagine if the Dodgers had Konerko in their lineup today?
In short time, Konerko became a bonafide slugger with the White Sox, hitting 24 and 21 homers in his first two seasons, and then ripping 32 in 2001 with 99 RBIs.
Aside from hitting homers, Konerko has averaged 30 doubles and 85 runs scored. But it’s the long ball Konerko is known for around the Junior Circuit, twice cracking 40 or more homers, and two times surpassing 30.
The White Sox hadn’t been to the World Series since 1959, when the Dodgers beat them, but the city turned on its head in 2005 after Chicago downed Houston for the grand prize.
That drive to the World Series put Konerko, who has eclipsed 100 RBIs four times, on the map.
In the opening round against the Red Sox, Konerko, a four-time All-Star, smashed two homers and drove in four runs.
Next in line were the Angels, and Konerko, who has averaged 32 homers and 101 RBIs, delivered by knocking in seven runs and bashing two homers with a double.
In the four-game sweep of the Astros, Konerko drove in four runs, with one homer and a two-base hit.
Considering the Texas Rangers seem a lock in the AL West, and the New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East, the White Sox will have to win the division in order to make the playoffs. If they get there, and Konerko is hitting, watch out.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.