White Sox general manager Kenny Williams is a man that has been known to take risks. During the winter meetings and at the trade deadlines, you can count on Williams to be one of the most active, and sometimes unpredictable players at the table.
In 2009, he claimed an overpriced and under-performing outfield from Toronto off waivers in hopes of recapturing what had seemingly been lost and that same season, he made a trade for a pitcher who had previously used his no-trade clause to block the move to the White Sox. Last season he spent big money on a slugger who had said he did not want to be a designated hitter, but was destined for the job. In all three cases, Williams almost had to eat his hat, but he held his hand and waited to see his plan come to fruition. And in 2012, his patience paid off as both Alex Rios Adam Dunn became resurgent at the plate and Jake Peavy has rewarded him with a stellar season on the mound.
So when Williams began the 2011-2012 winter looking for a new manager to replace the departed Ozzie Guillen, he played with a seemingly unorthodox idea; making Paul Konerko a player/manager. Ultimately, Williams made a gutsy, yet different decision when he named Robin Ventura as the next manager of the White Sox, choosing a former player whose only managerial accomplishment was when he managed to get himself in the greatest headlock of all time.
Once again, Williams has been rewarded for his risk-taking and the White Sox have made Ventura a solid candidate for American League Manager of the Year.
Yet at the end of the day, it is the man that Williams briefly considered but chose not to interview that has been the secret to his success in Chicago; Paul Konerko.
Acquired two seasons before Williams became the general manager, Konerko has been the rock of the organization for 14 seasons. Konerko has never been an Most Valuable Player, his highest finish being 5th place in 2010. He has never won a Gold Glove. He has been so overshadowed at first base in the American League that he has only six All-Star appearances. Yet there he is at year’s end, consistently providing 25-30 home runs and a bevy of RBI’s.
Konerko ranks fourth on the team’s career hits list behind Luke Appling, Nellie Fox, and Frank Thomas. He is second to only Thomas in career home runs and RBI’s, both marks he is likely to pass before he retires. He also trails only Appling and Fox in games played in a White Sox uniform.
But Konerko’s contributions go far beyond what he does at the plate. Take for instance what Konerko had to say when Ozzie Guillen named him captain of the team in 2011.
“As far as this team needing that, we won a World Series last year without a guy wearing a ‘C.’ So it’s obviously not the answer to winning a World Series. I just don’t know if it’s a baseball thing — on any team. I mean, I’m flattered by it. I think it’s the best compliment I’ve ever been paid.”
Paul Konerko knows a true leader leads by example, both on the field and in the clubhouse. A leader picks up a down teammate and gets the team and the media to rally around them. Konerko has twice had the chance to use free agency leave Chicago but has stayed with the White Sox both times, but he understands that the team comes first, above all else including personal gain. He understood his place was in Chicago and he stayed where his heart was and his voice was needed.
So while Williams opted against approaching Konerko for the managerial job, make no mistake about it. Paul Konerko will one day manage the White Sox. He pays his dues night in and night out, and the White Sox are a better team for it.
Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf will not forget that; ever.