Besides being elected to the Hall of Fame, there is no individual honor higher than having your number retired by an organization. On Saturday afternoon the Chicago White Sox did just that for one of their all-time greats by retiring Paul Konerko’s No. 14. Konerko was one of the most beloved players to ever put on a White Sox uniform. Known to the fans as Paulie, Konerko came to the White Sox before the 1999 season. The once first-round pick had bounced around from the Dodgers to the Reds before finding his permanent home on the south side. He was something a lot of players aren’t these days, and that was loyal. Paulie had a number of times when he could have walked away from the White Sox, but every time he came back. After his phenomenal 2005 season, which was capped with a World Series victory, he could have cashed in in free agency, but Paulie came back and the Sox named him team captain. After a renaissance year in 2010, again Paulie could have left, but yet again he came back to his home on the south side.
Paulie will go down as one of Chicago baseball’s immortals. He was the best player on a team that brought Chicago its first World Series Championship since 1917. Perhaps what cemented his legacy as a White Sox icon was in game two of the 2005 World Series. Paulie came to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning and sent Chad Qualls’ flying offering over the left field wall to send US Cellular Field into a frenzy. Konerko finished his White Sox career with 432 home runs (second all-time), 1,383 RBIs (second all time), 2,292 hits (third all time), 406 doubles (third all time) and 4010 total bases (first all time).
He was the true embodiment of a south sider. He was a hard worker, never took anything for granted and always played with a chip on his shoulder. He was a blue-collar worker. He might not have had the most talent or the most tools, but no one was going to outwork him. Paulie was never a controversial character. He was the role model every franchise wishes they could build around.
It was a true honor to watch Paulie play for the White Sox for 16 fantastic seasons. I was one of the 39,000 lucky ones on hand for his number retirement ceremony on Saturday. In a time where it could have been easy to take in the entire spotlight for himself, Konerko made it a point to talk about his teammates, coaches and most importantly the fans. He even managed to get in a shout out to the Blackhawks. He handled with it class, just like he handled his whole career. So one last time, thank you Paulie for all the memories.
Follow Bobby on Twitter @RENorell_III