After winning the World Series in 2005 with a glorious mix of swift small-ball and sky-high slams, the Chicago White Sox have fallen back to a pattern of mediocrity ever since, making the playoffs just once (in 2008, when they lost the Division Series) and settling into the cellar of the AL Central last year with an ugly 63-99 record.
Paul Konerko recently said that he thinks the current team has put the 2013 season behind them thanks in part to an offseason overhaul that reshaped the roster. Konerko is right. The White Sox are in a process of a major transition, and the 2014 season is the perfect platform for that to happen. However, I think Konerko’s impending retirement is also a key factor in the White Sox’ forward movement — not only away from 2013, but also out from under the shadow of 2005.
Konerko is the only member of the 2005 team who remains on the South Siders’ active roster. A franchise mainstay since coming to Chicago before the 1999 season, Konerko announced before spring training began that 2014 would be his last year. In doing so he willingly accepted a role reminiscent of the old-time player-coaches, someone who leads off the field while still playing a part on it. Whether he’s sitting on the bench or manning first base, Konerko’s presence benefits the Sox, and players from Gordon Beckham to Chris Sale have cited him as a profound influence on and off the field. He’s also the perfect mentor/backup for new first baseman Jose Abreu, as someone who knows the lay of the land of the league and can still provide pop as a pinch hitter. However, there comes a time when every player has to hang up his spikes, and after almost 20 years on the diamond, Konerko’s time has come. Last year, Konerko put up his worst offensive numbers in his 15 seasons as an everyday player, hitting just a .244 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI, and those numbers are expected to keep declining this year. His retirement, bittersweet as it may be for fans and players alike, will help the young White Sox develop their own identity as a team and as players, and allow them to further put the past in the past.
I still remember staring at the clock at 11:27 p.m. on Oct. 26, 2005 as the White Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1917. But it’s 2014, and closing the book on 2005 is long overdue.