Paul Konerko is a beloved member of the White Sox. He was a product of the Dodgers farm system but it is impossible to think of him as anything but a South Sider.
There are a bunch of players who became beloved for one team after being part of the Dodgers organization.
None bigger than Roberto Clemente, who was a Dodger farm hand before Branch Rickey, who moved from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh, decided to raid his former team and turn him into a legend for the Pirates.
Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez went into the Hall of Fame as legends of the Mets and Red Sox. They should have been Dodgers for life.
Dave Stewart was the heart and soul of the great A’s teams of the 1980s and 1990s after being dealt from LA. Rick Sutcliffe was a Dodger product before becoming a Cubs legend. John Franco became the captain of the Mets after being dealt away from the Los Angeles organization before playing a single game at Chavez Ravine.
Sure, lots of teams deal away players that they regret. But it seems like if the Dodgers held on to a few of these players, they could have had a few more legends.
I honestly do not remember ever purchasing a pack of Upper Deck Trading Cards, but evidently I got a hold of this one of Konerko, fresh off of his triumph in the 2005 World Series.
A native of Rhode Island, Konerko went to high school in Arizona where he was a first round draft pick by the Dodgers. He was named the organization’s player of the year twice. Baseball America named him the second best prospect in the minors for the 1997 season after a monster 37 homer season in Triple A where he slugged .621 and posted a 1.028 OPS.
In 1998, he continued to mash AAA pitching but the Dodgers bullpen needed help. So Konerko was sent packing for 31 year old reliever Jeff Shaw.
Now do not get me wrong. Shaw had a good solid career and made a few All Star teams along the way. But this would never happen today. No elite prospect would be sent packing for a reliever in their 30’s. But the late 1990’s were a different time. Shaw pitched his final game in 2001. By then Konerko, who was flipped to the White Sox before the 1999 season, was a legit major league slugger.
He helped the White Sox win the 2000 AL Central title with 21 homers and an .844 OPS. By 2002, he was an All Star, a 104 RBI man and a .304 hitter. In 2004, he socked a career high 41 homers.
Konerko was not an MVP. He was not a superstar. He just consistently got extra base hits and drove in runs year in and year out.
In 2005,with Frank Thomas out for most of the season, Konerko made up for the Big Hurt’s lost production. 40 more homers and an OPS of .841 set up another Division Title. This time, the White Sox were not swept as they were in 2000. Against the defending champion Red Sox, Konerko homered twice in the Division Series including a critical smash in the clinching game 3.
In the ALCS against the Angels, Konerko was named the series MVP, crushing a pair of critical homers and making the final out unassisted at first base as the city of Chicago had their first pennant since 1959.
In the World Series he hit a dramatic come from behind grand slam in Game 2 that set up a win and helped push the White Sox to a sweep of Houston and their first title since 1917.
After the postseason, he was a free agent and was offered huge deals by Baltimore and the Angels. After 7 years in Chicago, it was time to cash in elsewhere.
Except he didn’t. He returned to the South Side for five years and a lower price tag. He was named captain of the team and forever etched himself in the hearts of White Sox fans. Along the way, he helped the White Sox back into the post season in 2008 when they won a one game playoff against Minnesota.
Konerko was named to the All Star team six teams, as early as 2002 and as late as 2012. By the time his career wound up, Konerko won the Roberto Clemente Award, had his number retired and a statue erected. He helped deliver the World Series title White Sox fans craved for decades without the fanfare of the the Red Sox nor the Cubs.
He will never be a Hall of Famer but he will be a legend, beloved for all time in the South Side of Chicago. And to think all of those accolades could have been in Los Angeles with the Dodgers, if only they didn’t need a closer in 1998.
In the meantime, enjoy some of his highlights.