09/01/09 9:16 PM ET
White Sox left feeling voids in clubhouse
Thome, Contreras departures not yet absorbed by many
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
And this waiting period has nothing to do with the vast on-field contributions made by both players.
"Honestly, I don't think it has hit a lot of us yet," said White Sox first baseman and team captain Paul Konerko, one of Thome's many close friends on the team. "We just found out last night after the game. Until you get going or get home and notice [Thome's] locker is empty or you get on the plane tomorrow and he's not there, then it starts to sink in a little more.
"I'm still looking for him to come walking through the door, one of those deals. That's how it goes, when a guy gets traded that's a big guy on the team."
Following Monday's 4-1 loss to the Twins, Thome was notified that a deal was in place to send him to the Dodgers for Minor League infielder Justin Fuller. Thome had a full no-trade clause in place, so he had to approve the deal before it could happen.
Thome could be seen talking to a few of his teammates in the clubhouse Monday, but Konerko said there wasn't really any advice, per se, provided to the future Hall of Famer. Thome's concern was that the Dodgers knew he physically wasn't able to play first base at this point of his career, but his reduced playing time in Los Angeles was balanced out by a viable chance for Thome to play for his first World Series crown.
In the end, Thome chose to move on, ending almost four years of high on-field productivity. Thome hit a combined 134 home runs for the White Sox and never had an on-base percentage lower than .362. As has been talked about numerous times, Thome's on-field excellence was far surpassed by his clubhouse class and leadership and his strong community presence.
"He was one of the best people I ever played with," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "I'll miss having him around, I'll miss his face every day, I'll miss seeing him work his tail off every day to play a game."
"Just great people and players, real positive influences in the clubhouse," said White Sox second baseman Chris Getz of Thome and Contreras. "I looked up to both of those guys."
Manager Ozzie Guillen made a point of crediting Thome for his strong influence on the burgeoning talent in the White Sox clubhouse.
"There are a lot of nice people there, but Jim Thome represents the White Sox organization very well and makes a lot of people proud to wear this uniform and did a lot of great things here, on and off the field," Guillen said. "That's what's important. And every time he put his uniform on for us, he played the game right. He taught kids how to play the game right, and everyone said that every time about him.
"Those guys, the new kids, the rookie guys growing up and watching this guy, and prepare themselves every day to compete, they should learn a lot. No matter how many days he stay or spend here or years he spend here, this man was outstanding."
The public view of the trades was that Monday night represented general manager Kenny Williams giving up on the season on the heels of his team's dismal 2-9 run. But in reality, the White Sox have players to fill Thome's designated hitter spot, if not his immense power and keen ability to judge the strike zone and drive up opposing pitch counts, while Contreras would be used sparingly over the final month.
Contreras didn't get the attention afforded to Thome following the deal to beat Monday's deadline for teams to set playoff rosters, primarily because Contreras exited with a 5-13 record and 5.42 ERA. But Contreras had the same approachable, easygoing demeanor as Thome, and his work in 2005's championship season, as well as his intense work to come back early from a ruptured left Achilles suffered last August, will not be forgotten.
"Any time you win a World Series with a guy and I just remember all the good things with him," said Konerko of Contreras, who was traded to the Rockies. "He always took the ball and I'll remember the fact that he came back way ahead of schedule this year. Maybe that wasn't the best thing that he should have done. I don't know that he got off to the best start he could get off to, but that was all in the name of him trying to be there for his team."
"Tremendous human being. Great guy," said Guillen of Contreras. "The reason he was there that long or starting every five days was because how great of a guy he was and the respect and love we gave him. And I think Jose earned that."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.