The 2014 Chicago White Sox keep surprising fans and opponents, mostly with Jose Abreu’s consistent and strong slugging. But backing up Abreu, Paul Konerko’s slow start is also an interesting surprise for the White Sox and Chicago fans.
Konerko began the season 1-for-17, starting three times and pinch hitting seven times over that period of 10 non-consecutive games. After spending most of April with a slash line that fluctuated in the mid-.100s, he raised his season average to above .200 by going 3-for-4 against the Detroit Tigers on April 23. In that game, Konerko also passed Frank Thomas as the White Sox’ career leader in total bases thanks to his eighth-inning double.
However, unlike other players, the White Sox and their fans shouldn’t be concerned about Konerko’s line and its fluctuations. In fact, if anyone is, that’s where the real problem lies.
Expecting Konerko to put up the kind of numbers he produced back in the mid-2000s is ludicrous. Aside from the fact that he’s in the literal twilight of his career, with retirement looming in the near future, Konerko posted his worst career offensive numbers since becoming an everyday player in 1999. He’s also adjusting to playing off the bench for the first time in his career, which in and of itself comes with a different mindset than that of an everyday player.
While it would be nice for Konerko to end his career on a positive note with strong stats from start to finish, padding his already-impressive career numbers isn’t why Konerko decided to return. The White Sox don’t need him to replicate his 2002 line of .304/.359/.498 or his career-high .313 batting average from 2006. The 41 home runs he hit in 2004 or the 40 he tallied the next season would be nice, but they’re not in agreement with Konerko’s predetermined role for the White Sox in 2014. He’s there to supplement and support, not make headlines. Konerko proved his professionalism and dedication to taking a backseat role to the team when he sat on the bench on Opening Day.
Contributing to a ball club isn’t solely limited to offensive numbers. It’s also about setting an example for younger players, mentoring them and, for a team that lost and then lacked any sense of team identity last year, reminding them that they are the future of a rich historical past.