Konerko lets his bat do the talking
Red-hot White Sox captain practices quiet leadership
NEW YORK -- It would be easy for Paul Konerko to take a few minutes and break down his All-Star start to the 2010 season.
Konerko tops the Major Leagues with 11 home runs, setting a White Sox franchise record for long balls in April with a three-run shot off of Andy Pettitte in the first inning of Friday's 6-4 loss at Yankee Stadium. The veteran also stands as the White Sox leader among the following categories: batting average (.297), RBIs (21), walks (15), slugging percentage (.784) and on-base percentage (.413).
Amidst the sea of turbulent White Sox waters on offense, Konerko stands as that primary beacon of hope. But the White Sox captain is not about individual accomplishments.
In fact, his three or four sentences on not trying to hit home runs when addressing his hot start after launching two dingers in a 7-5 victory over Texas on Thursday stands as the most Konerko probably will say in regard to his own statistics. And why does Konerko take this quiet in-season approach?
Is that thought process based on some sort of past superstition? Actually, not even close. As more than simply a casual observer of the game over his successful 14 years, Konerko believes there's no place for that me-first attitude among a team-first sport.
"Statistics aren't something that, if they ever matter, it's after the season is over and it's when you have a final answer on what somebody did," Konerko said. "To sit there and talk about what someone is doing in April, May or June and whether he's doing bad, good or in the middle, it's really pointless. It's just irrelevant.
"There are a lot of talk radio, newspapers and Internet [outlets], so many people that are experts that are talking about the game. I think for us, it's easy to get caught up in it, and I just don't. I'm dealing with stuff making me productive with tonight's game."
This type of even-handed approach stood as one of the reasons behind manager Ozzie Guillen selecting Konerko as his team captain following the 2005 World Series title run and prior to the '06 season. Konerko is the counterpoint to Guillen's sort of frenetic leadership, with Konerko not even wanting the captain's honor when it was first bestowed upon him.
Great pride exists for Konerko in being Guillen's selection. But much like his view on statistics, Konerko believes leadership comes from hard work and not a lot of rah-rah talk.
"For me, it's pretty simple," Konerko said. "The No. 1 thing that has to be there is you show up to work every day. You get ready to play, you go out there and fight. You lead by example, in that respect.
"That's got to be there. Now, as you go, I think you might become more vocal or tend to talk to people or do stuff that's what I think most people would think of traditionally as a leader. To lead by example, for me, is far and away the best thing you can do in our sport, because you play every day.
"There's not rah-rah speeches and there's not situations that exist in some other sports," Konerko said. "The No. 1 thing that holds weight with most people is you show up every day and you play, whether it's nine or 10 innings -- whatever the game is, give what you have for that amount of time."
All of this success comes during what could be Konerko's walk year from the White Sox, as he's in the final leg of a five-year, $60 million contract. But that contract is a topic for another time, like late October or early November, and the same goes for his impressive numbers with the bat.
"If a guy is doing well, I appreciate people want to know how you feel, what are you doing up there," Konerko said. "You appreciate the question. But plain and simple, if it's not helping me do well tonight, it's got no place in my day. That should be the way with the team, too.
"You want to do well enough to hold down a job and make a living. This is everybody's goal, what we do for a living. It's not like a lot of us put brain surgeon jobs on hold to come play baseball. You have to personally do well. But I'm not quite sure numbers ever really matter, and they certainly don't matter in April or May. So you keep grinding, put your head down and play hard."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.