Konerko: Not always the King

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Konerko: Not always the King

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Posted: 2:20 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO A spring training clubhouse is an odd thing.

When camp opens, one side of the room is filled with veterans who are unlikely to ever have to pack their belongings and take that walk down a long, dark hallway to minor league camp after being cut. The other side is steerage class on the Titanic, the non-roster invitees and bonus babies of a club, one or two of whom hope to make enough of an impression to warrant wearing the big-league duds until late Marchif not into Opening Day.

No matter how removed those veterans are from the steerage class of hopefuls, theyre always around. The two groups dress, play, and shower together. Once they leave the clubhouse, theyre all doffing the official White Sox cap.

So even the King, team captain Paul Konerko, tucked off in a corner of the clubhouse, is not immune to the sights and sounds of steerage class struggles. And those struggles evoke a time when he too was strapped to make a big-league ballclub, a player with no position and thus, perhaps, no future.

Sure, I remember what it was like to be scraping for a job, Konerko said in Glendale. Sometimes, it actually doesnt feel like it was that long ago.

Going by the authority of the Skybox Dugout Access card pictured, its been 13 years since Konerko was floating about the majors, a man with 1997 Minor League Player of the Year tools but nowhere to ply them. For this, he was honored not only with a No. 66 Los Angeles Dodgers uniform, but membership among the Little Dawgs.

READ: Predictions for the 2011 MLB season

Konerko started his pro career as a catcher, before moving to first and dabbling at third (in his minor-league career, Konerko would play every position on the diamond save for shortstop and pitcher). He mashed at every level, with a career OPS of .920 and never batting less than .277, which he did at age 19 at Single A San Bernardino.

Hitting was never a problem. Fielding, that was another issue.

In one of their first drills together this spring, Konerko recounted his fielding struggles to new acquisition Adam Dunn, who was taking grounders along with the captain on one of Camelback Ranchs pristine infields.

I was OK at third, Konerko said by way of navigating his history around the diamond for Dunn, if it was hit right at me.

Konerkos Little Dawgs card notes that he was blocked at the infield corners by Eric Karros and Todd Zeile and may be converted to the outfield, a position to that point hed never played. Zeile would spend just a month and a half longer with the Dodgers before being doorstopped into the Mike Piazza-Gary Sheffield trade, with the Florida Marlins shipping him to Texas two weeks later for a couple of Rangers farmhands. (Konerko was given less than a two-month audition in place of Zeile before being shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for closer Jeff Shaw.)

READ: Who could the White Sox least afford to lose?

Karros, blocking PK at first base, at least stuck around southern California for five more seasons, producing a modest 11.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a standard measure of overall player value) before a December trade delivered him to Chicagothe North Side, that is.

After being traded to Cincinnati, Konerko played a total of 21 games in the outfield (amassing a .912 fielding percentage) at AAA Albuquerque.

L.A. would suffer for having bailed on Konerko. Zeile obviously did little for the Dodgers before being dealt, compiling a 0.4 WAR in his six weeks remaining with the team. Shaw was the Dodgers closer until 2001, saving 129 games and producing 4.3 WARbut at a cost of 15.2 million over that time. Combining Zeiles and Shaws production with Karros, the Dodgers squeezed 16.0 WAR from the players blocking Konerko from the majors back in 1998.

Konerko? Well, after being swapped to Cincy for Mike Cameron in a much more even-handed trade, he settled in for 12 years on the South Side, producing 29.2 WAR for the White Sox in that span. Converting Konerkos WAR record to dollar value, PK has provided about 86 million in value back to Chicago on the field, at a cost of about 89.5 million in salary. For a longtime high-salaried player, thats an impressive ratio.

You can see in Konerkos eyes he hasnt quite forgotten those times long before the millions, or any of his 358 career homers for the White Sox. There were plenty of other Little Dawgs in that 1998 set, including future White Sox teammates Cliff Politte, Mike Caruso and Greg Nortonbut none who grew up into, ahem, big dawgs on the playing field like Konerko.

Konerko may not be dressing in steerage class any longer, but part of what makes him the King of the Chicago clubhouse is the fact that he hasnt completely forgotten being there.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Preview: White Sox continue series with Tigers on CSN

Preview: White Sox continue series with Tigers on CSN

The White Sox continue their road series with the Tigers on Tuesday night in the Motor City, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage from Detroit starts at 6 p.m. Then be sure to stick around following the final out for reaction and analysis on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Anthony Ranaudo (0-1, 7.88 ERA) vs. Daniel Norris (2-2, 3.63 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you're ready for the action.

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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Isaiah Wright, young fan with cancer, receives VIP treatment from White Sox

Isaiah Wright, young fan with cancer, receives VIP treatment from White Sox

Berwyn-native and White Sox fan Isaiah Wright entered the world fighting the odds. At just 14 years old, he has undergone multiple organ transplants and more than 50 surgeries because of a rare birth defect.

Isaiah and his family have an appreciation for just how precious life can be and they were able to make the most of a recent visit to the South Side for a White Sox game, where he received VIP treatment and met his favorite players, including a private meeting with Jose Abreu.

Check out the video above.

A Go Fund Me page was also created to help support Isaiah and his family. Click here to make a donation.

Tigers' late homer sends the White Sox to another tough loss

Tigers' late homer sends the White Sox to another tough loss

DETROIT — The White Sox still haven’t figured out how to beat their American League Central foes.

Short of a miracle run over their final 32 games, the White Sox can point to their failures within their division as a primary reason they’ve missed the postseason for eight straight seasons.

The middle of the White Sox order missed out on several key chances on Monday night and kept the Detroit Tigers within striking distance in a 4-3 loss in front 27,201 on Monday night at Comerica Park. Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s two-run homer off Nate Jones in the eighth inning dropped the White Sox to 11-27 against the Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals this season. The White Sox dropped to 21-25 in one-run games.

“Usually when you have aspirations to get in the playoffs your No. 1 priority is always taking care of the teams in your division,” catcher Alex Avila said. “That’s the best way to go about it, and we haven’t really done that too well this year.”

Much like their postseason aspirations, the White Sox had been hanging on by a thread through seven innings on Monday.

Starter James Shields stranded seven in six innings, and the combination of Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle and Chris Beck kept the White Sox ahead 3-2 through the seventh.

Jones took over in the eighth and issued a leadoff walk to J.D. Martinez. Two batters later, Saltalamacchia ripped a 1-0 fastball out to right to put Detroit ahead for good.

Melky Cabrera’s bid for a game-tying homer in the ninth off Francisco Rodriguez was caught on the track in right-center field.

“Any time you get that reversal right there late in the game it’s always tough,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Nate has been as consistent as anybody. It’s a tough one, especially when you know he has his stuff. You tip your cap to them, really.

“Salty has gotten us a couple times late.

“That was the tough one because you grinded your way through it.”

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It was made even more difficult given the White Sox offense missed out on several key opportunities.

Tyler Saladino drove in all three White Sox runs, delivering a two-run single in the fourth inning and putting them back ahead by a run with a solo homer in the seventh.

But in the first, Jose Abreu struck out and Todd Frazier flew out with two aboard.

Abreu later grounded into a double play in the fifth after the first two men reached and Frazier grounded out. Frazier also struck out with two in scoring position to end the seventh inning after Abreu doubled Cabrera over to third.

The White Sox finished 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine.

“It was a game with opportunities we didn’t cash in on,” Ventura said. “(Alex) Wilson came in and got a big double play really changed how that (fifth) inning developed. We did some good things but looking at it like this, that’s what makes it tough.”

Though he pushed the limit in nearly every inning, Shields finished a rough August on a high note. Much like he did when he posted a 1.71 ERA in six starts from June 29-July 26, Shields was most effective when he needed to make the big pitch.

Tigers hitters were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven against Shields. During the six-game stretch, opposing hitters went 0-for-28 against Shields with runners in scoring position.

He struck out six and allowed two earned runs in six innings, putting the White Sox in position for a much-needed win.

“The first couple of innings I was a little erratic, but as the game went on, I got a little more comfortable and just made some pitches when I needed to,” Shields said. “Overall, I felt good out there, and unfortunately we lost the game.”