What could have been Paul Konerko’s final game with the White Sox was limited to just over an inning on Sunday.
The veteran first baseman was removed in the top of the second inning after he re-aggravated a back injury on Saturday night. Konerko, who fouled out in his only at-bat, was given a rousing standing ovation by the crowd of 22,633 on hand at U.S. Cellular Field who realized it could be the last time they see him in uniform. He followed the ovation with a tip of the cap before he returned for a curtain call.
Konerko, who has played for the White Sox for the past 15 seasons, is set to become a free agent several days after the World Series concludes.
The team’s captain still hasn’t made up his mind if he wants to play again — “at this point I don’t know,” he said — and also faces the uncertainty of whether or not he’d have a job in 2014.
“It always feels good,” Konerko said of the ovation. “The fans here have treated me great over the years. In a year like this, they treated me better than probably I deserved, really the whole team when you think about it. There were moments where they hung in with us where I knew they were antsy about what was going on. It always feels good. It certainly feels better when you're doing World Series parades, but I don't take it for granted at all. It's always good, but this year was a little different circumstances.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura acknowledged that’s why he wanted Konerko to play if only for an inning. Konerko was lifted late in Saturday’s win for a defensive replacement.
Conor Gillaspie, who took over for Konkero on Saturday, also replaced him on Sunday after the first out of the inning was recorded.
“Especially for the fans to show their appreciation for him,” Ventura said. “I told him that was going to happen. Getting him out first to do it wasn’t all that easy, but it was appropriate. We don’t know where he’s going. I don’t know if his mind is made up yet, and I think knowing its up in the air, it’s best to err on that side.”
Konerko has had several could-be final moments with the White Sox before. There was no certainty he would return to the 2006 White Sox when he reached free agency, nor was there any promise at the conclusion of the 2010 season.
One factor that could sway Konerko’s decision to return is the sour taste left in his mouth by the team’s 99-loss season.
“At this point I don't know whether I'm going to do it,” Konerko said. “This just doesn't seem right, the way this has gone down, so that lends itself to playing. But I also don't know about the team and all that kind of stuff, so you still have to throw that in and say that's a possibility, that even if I want to, that they don't want it. Nonetheless, (fans have) given me more over the year, it's not about this one day. Baseball's never summed up in one day. That's what great about baseball: It’s summed up over a whole season of games, a whole career of games. That’s how it is with me and the fans.”
Even though he hasn’t wanted to let his guard down, Konerko admits at times he has tried to take in a moment when it was appropriate. Never one for sentimentality, Konerko said on Friday he said he doesn’t need “the bells and whistles” of a retirement ceremony. But he has at several times over the last month realized it could be his last stop in Detroit or his last time in the White Sox clubhouse.
Were he to return in 2014, Konerko admits the way he walks off the field would be a little different than it was on Sunday.
“I didn't want to make a big spectacle out of it,” Konerko said. “There's no escaping it kind of at the end here when there is some unknown about what's going to happen. But I definitely had that in mind because I didn't want to be out there tipping my hat every time I moved a muscle and all that kind of stuff. I totally love it and the fact they're behind me, but I feel a little awkward not knowing. I can promise you this, if I do this a year from now, look out. At that point I might do the lap around the field because then I’ll know and it'll be for real. I'm a human being like everybody else, and you have those thoughts about you want to be genuine.”