Can Paul Konerko hit 500?

Can Paul Konerko hit 500?
April 26, 2012, 2:22 am
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A 33-year-old Paul Konerko finished the 2009 season with 28 home runs. He hit No. 300 in memorable fashion, going back-to-back with Jermaine Dye in Detroit as both players hit that milestone dinger.

He had 326 home runs heading into 2010. It was the last year of his five-year deal, and the hope was that he would re-sign and hit career home run No. 400 with the White Sox sometime in late 2012.

Instead, Konerko hit the 400th home run of his career only a few weeks into the 2012 season. He's seen a power renaissance, hitting 70 home runs in the last two years -- 39 in 2010, 31 in 2011. Those totals came after a total of 50 home runs in 2008 and 2009.

Wednesday's home run put Konerko exactly 100 blasts away from the 500 mark, and what would probably turn into an interesting Hall of Fame debate. Few have viewed Konerko as a Hall of Famer throughout his 14-year career, as he's been overshadowed by the likes of Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez at first base.

In fact, since 2000, Konerko has the 13th-highest OPS of any first baseman with at least 3,000 at-bats. Ahead of him: Pujols, Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, Howard, Prince Fielder, Jeff Bagwell, Teixeira, Rafael Palmeiro, Gonzalez, Derrek Lee and Kevin Youkilis. Konerko hasn't dominated an extended period of time like so many other Hall of Famers.

But no player who hasn't been implicated as a steroid user with 500 or more home runs has been shut out of the Hall of Fame. And while anyone can cook up a steroid conspiracy to justify not voting for someone -- as has ridiculously been the case with Bagwell -- Konerko is, by all accounts, clean.

All Konerko has to do is hit 25 more home runs in 2012, then average that number for the next three seasons. That'll get him to 500. Doesn't seem like a very tall order, does it?

There's the problem of Konerko's age, though, and the injuries and regression that come with the late 30's. Yes, Konerko has stayed healthy for the last three seasons. And when he has picked up a knock (like when Andrew Miller drilled his knee with a fastball last summer), he's played through it.

No matter how good of shape Konerko is in, any player who's 37, 38, 39 is going to be an injury risk. Even one trip to the disabled list could derail Konerko's efforts to reach the 500-homer mark.

And then there's the question of exactly how long Konerko will play. His contract with the White Sox runs through 2013, and he's already openly talked about retirement.

"In all reality I would see it ending after next year or maybe another year," Konerko told Chuck Garfien at SoxFest. "I mean, at some point you got to go home and be around your kids and have other things to do."

Konerko added that he'd keep playing if teams wanted him -- and if he keeps marching toward the 500-homer plateau, some organization will take him. There's a good chance that'll be the Sox -- they don't have a viable replacement coming through the farm system just yet (Andy Wilkins could be that guy, but he's a ways off). And the Sox are a very loyal organization, so as long as Konerko keeps producing, he'd probably stick around for a few more years.

There does exist a chance for Konerko to hit 500 home runs in his career. And that could very well come with the White Sox.

But it'll be a long climb. Four years is a lot, especially for someone Konerko's age. But until he stops hitting, we'll keep believing.