Soft-spoken Konerko sets tone for Sox
First baseman earns praise for setting example, big hits
CHICAGO -- "Superstar" is not a word that is easily associated with the White Sox.
Sure, the team had the American League's best record in 2005 and defeated the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in a three-game sweep of the ALDS, but it's been a collection of mostly unknown players that have led the White Sox to one of the best seasons in the history of the franchise.
Manager Ozzie Guillen has reveled in his team's relative anonymity this season, but there is no doubt in his mind that first baseman Paul Konerko is one of the biggest driving forces behind the Sox.
"Konerko is a superstar," Guillen said. "He plays the game properly, he plays the game hard and he doesn't put himself in front of anybody. That is truly a superstar."
Guillen's definition may be different than most, but Konerko has clearly developed into a player with star quality for the White Sox. With injuries plaguing Frank Thomas in recent years, it has been Konerko that has taken over spotlight status.
Konerko has led the White Sox in home runs and RBIs in each of the past two seasons, becoming just the second player in team history -- after Thomas -- to hit 40 homers in back-to-back seasons.
The big-bopper role has continued in only the second postseason appearance for Konerko. Depsite batting .250 (3-for-12) in the three games against Boston, Konerko delivered two home runs, including a key two-run shot in Game 3, along with four RBIs.
Becoming the offensive leader of the Sox has made Konerko the go-to guy in the clubhouse. Center fielder Aaron Rowand even calls the slugging first baseman the face of the organization.
It's a title that Konerko appreciates, but is a little hesitant to accept.
"That's a compliment," Konerko said. "I take that as a compliment, but I've seen faces of organizations make outs and not come through, so it's certainly not something that's going to help me."
Konerko's role as the face of the White Sox, though, may be coming to a halt. After a seven-year stint with the team, the 29-year-old is set to become a free agent at season's end. Konerko hasn't commented on possible contract negotiations with the White Sox, but his strong numbers at the plate have made him an attractive prospect for many other organizations.
"He's going to get a lot of money this winter when he's a free agent, and he should -- he deserves it," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He deserves some MVP consideration with the numbers he's put up on the best team in the league, but nobody talks about him."
The national buzz that has escaped Konerko may in part be due to his quiet nature. He may be a common quote on the television news, but Konerko would rather just blend in the clubhouse than be the focus of attention.
"Paul Konerko is probably one of the quietest leaders I've ever seen," infielder Geoff Blum said. "He goes out, day-in and day-out, and puts up numbers. But his leadership is mostly by example on the field."
Prior to Guillen's tenure as manager, there were reports that Konerko that was one of the so-called problem players in a clubhouse divided by differing personalities.
That couldn't have been further from the truth.
"I was kind of worried about him when I got the job, but now I know who the real Paul Konerko is," Guillen said. "Having him around to help me with the ballclub as my leader on the field, I cannot say enough good things about him. He has been so great for us."
But Konerko isn't without a few pitfalls as well. Now known for his even-keel nature, Konerko struggled with a temper earlier in his career when his performance wasn't up to his own high standards. Spouting off after bad at-bats wasn't something that Guillen was going to tolerate.
"He's a kid that put so much pressure on himself because he wants to be good," Guillen said. "It's not wrong to second-guess yourself when you want to be good. But second-guessing by feeling sorry for yourself, it's not good for you or for the team."
Konerko has worked hard to keep himself in check on the field. The change is evident to many of Konerko's teammates, but the first baseman doesn't feel he's quite finished with it yet.
"It's definitely something that I've wanted to work on, but I don't think I'm all the way there yet," Konerko said. "You have to be even-keeled if you want to play in this game a long time, otherwise you'll kill yourself. It's something I knew a couple of years ago -- I have to get better at this, but it's tough."
Though Guillen readily admits that he hopes to do everything to get Konerko back on the Sox next season, he knows that if Konerko continues to deliver big hits in the postseason, it will only drive up the cost required to keep him.
But that is something Guillen is hoping for.
"I hope Konerko will be the MVP of the next eight games," Guillen said. "If he's going to do good for us, then good for him. If his price goes up, I can't control that. I just hope he has a great playoffs."
Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.