Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Captain Of This Ship

On Monday, as I'm wont to do, I stirred the pot a little bit on Twitter. I had no reason to do this other than the fact that I haven't tweeted much at all at @SouthSideAsylum over the offseason, and with the season starting in -- holy shit! -- less than a week, I wanted to get myself back in "game shape."

So of course I went after the easiest topic I could: A.J. Pierzynski.

A.J. Pierzynski is the budget deficit, gay marriage, health care and abortion of White Sox fans right now. You're on one side or the other. You either think the Sox would have been idiots to bring him back or you think the Sox are idiots for not bringing him back.

But what one person brought up to me during the middle of this debate -- and by debate I mean me yelling at people on Twitter for like an hour -- was that, if the debate over Pierzynski is this intense, what's going to happen next season with Paul Konerko?

Which I'm not even ready to think about right now, particularly if Paulie goes out and has himself a Konerko-like season and stays healthy and decides he wants to keep playing. I do not envy the decision Rick Hahn will have to make at that point.

But I'm not here to talk about the future of Paul Konerko as much as I'm here to reflect on what he's done in a White Sox uniform and what he could still do.

Konerko's situation here with the White Sox really isn't all that different than what Tyler Flowers is currently going through. The biggest difference is that Konerko replaced the greatest hitter in franchise history in Frank Thomas. Tyler Flowers isn't replacing a great player as much as he's replacing a cult hero.

Konerko was drafted in the first round of the 1994 draft with the 13th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had a successful minor league career but made only 166 plate appearances with the Dodgers before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds with Dennys Reyes for closer Jeff Shaw in July of 1998. Considering that Konerko had been ranked as the #2 prospect by Baseball America before the 1998 season began, it was a high price to pay for a closer. Sure, Shaw would go on to record 129 saves for the Dodgers, but Konerko's career proved to be slightly more productive, and it seems like the Dodgers have been looking for a power-hitting first baseman ever since.

Paulie would only play in 26 games with the Reds before being traded to the White Sox for Mike Cameron after the 1998 season. A trade I hated at the time. I mean hated.

You see, I was only 18 and the internet wasn't quite what the internet is today. While I knew about White Sox prospects I didn't have a whole lot of knowledge about prospects from other teams. All I knew is that I loved Mike Cameron and thought he was going to be a great outfielder for the White Sox and that I'd never heard of this Paul Konerko guy.

It's a good thing Konerko would prove his worth before that night in May of 2002 when Mike Cameron returned as a Seattle Mariner and hit four home runs in one game against the Sox.

Konerko had proved his worth before that night, and he's continued to prove it ever since. Whether you want to call it luck or great planning by the White Sox, it's insane to think that Frank Thomas' replacement was a man that would pretty much join him as one of the greatest hitters in franchise history.

All I know is that, as a White Sox fan, I feel lucky to have grown up watching both of them enter the league as kids and then seeing their entire careers play out in front of me. And while I don't know what the future holds for Konerko, or even what he's going to do this season, there are a lot of milestones within reach entering the 2013 seasons.

If this is The Captain's final season in a White Sox uniform these are the things he already has and is about to accomplish:
  • Paulie is currently fourth all time in plate appearances as a White Sox with 8,514. He trails Frank Thomas by 89 and, barring injury, should move into third place in April.
  • He's already third in at bats -- Paulie draws his walks, but never like Frank did -- at 7,494, but he's 992 at bats behind Nellie Fox, so barring some kind of miraculous offensive season for the White Sox, he won't be moving up.
  • Paulie is fourth in runs scored with 1,085, but he's 102 runs behind Nellie Fox. Considering he's never scored more than 98 runs (2005) in any season, odds are he won't be passing Nellie here either.
  • He's also fourth in hits with 2,135, only one behind Frank Thomas' 2,136. So, yeah, Paulie's going to pass Frank here, but the 335 hits he needs to catch Nellie Fox won't come this season.
  • He's third in career doubles (382) and he's going to stay there as he trails Luke Appling by 58 and Paulie's never hit more than 35 doubles in a season. Though if they counted doubles-turned-into-singles-by-sloth-like-speed, Paulie might already be the franchise leader.
  • The most amazing stat of all? Konerko has eight career triples, which ranks 160th all-time. More amazing? Four of those eight triples came in Paulie's first season with the Sox in 1999. He's hit four since, with none between 2001 and 2007.
  • The biggest milestone Paulie has left to chase that can actually happen? He comes into the 2013 season with 415 homers as a White Sox. Frank Thomas is the franchise leader at 448. While I'm not all that optimistic that Paulie is going to hit 34 home runs this season I'm not going to rule it out either. I mean, he hit 39 two years ago and fucking A.J. Pierzynski managed to hit 27 last year.
  • Fun fact that has nothing to do with Paulie or Frank: of current White Sox players not named Paul Konerko the player to have the most career homers in a White Sox uniform is Alexei Ramirez at 78. Only 337 behind Konerko.
  • Funner fact: Looking at the projected starting lineup for this year's White Sox, if you add up all their homers as White Sox you get 297. Only 118 behind Konerko.
  • While 159 RBI is likely too much to ask for, if Paulie can somehow do it he'll surpass Frank's franchise mark of 1,465.
  • Paulie is ranked fourth in career walks and since he's 116 walks behind Eddie Collins he's going to stay there too.
  • What does Paulie already lead the franchise in? Strikeouts. Which is kind of like being the tallest midget, but it's not entirely without prestige as you have to be good enough to stick around a long time in order to strike out 1,224 times.  However, Paulie will be looking over his shoulder as Adam Dunn is only 825 strikeouts behind him and still has another year on his contract after this sseason. Seriously, though, Adam Dunn is already ranked 33rd in strikeouts and he's only been here two seasons.
He's been amazing, hasn't he? I don't know that he'll ever make the Hall of Fame like Frank Thomas, but it's a foregone conclusion he'll have his number retired and a statue at US Cellular sometime in the near future. Maybe one day -- let's say 2025 or 2030 -- he'll even have somebody dressed up in a Paul Konerko sausage costume racing along the warning track on Sunday afternoons.

The task of replacing a legend like Frank Thomas was a gargantuan one, but Paulie did it. He did it so well that now I just feel sorry for the son of a bitch that's going to have to replace him.

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  1. If the Sox tank early in the season is there a chance PK ends up finishing the season elsewhere?

    1. That's entirely up to Paulie. He has a full no-trade.


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