Konerko re-signs with White Sox
All-Star first baseman inks five-year deal to remain in Chicago
CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko admitted Wednesday to making a mistake shortly after the end of the White Sox championship run in 2005. It was a minor mistake, of course, and stemmed more from the first baseman's lack of true knowledge in regard to his upcoming free agency.
"I tell you, the one thing I underestimated when I left, the day of the parade, I said this would be an easy thing and it eventually would all work out as it should," said Konerko via a conference call from Scottsdale, Ariz., on Wednesday. Konerko held the call after agreeing to terms on a five-year, $60 million contract with the White Sox, including a limited no-trade clause in the deal.
"It was far from that," Konerko added. "It wore me down over the last few weeks more than anything that has probably happened on the field. I've never been so torn over things.
"This was a roller coaster back and forth, and it honestly caught me off guard and it was tough. Ultimately, I got what I wanted. The original goal I had in mind, it worked out."
And the original goals the White Sox had in mind, which began to formulate even back in August, also came to fruition. The sheer and utter perfection found by the White Sox during the franchise's first World Series title run since 1917 now has been extended well into the offseason.
General manager Ken Williams and his staff entered this particular period focused on re-signing Konerko and adding a left-handed power presence to the middle of the White Sox order. The second goal was accomplished first, with the acquisition of Jim Thome from Philadelphia.
But the offseason's most important moment played out for the White Sox on Wednesday. According to Konerko, the addition of Thome was an important step toward his ultimate return -- despite the loss of a close friend and consummate teammate such as Aaron Rowand.
"When the trade was made and I was out here playing golf, people were asking me if I was mad," said Konerko, who informed Thome on Wednesday of his decision when the two finally made contact via the phone. "To me, it was the greatest recruiting move the White Sox could make to bring me back.
"I don't have many heroes in this game, but Jim Thome is definitely one of them. I have looked up to him since being in the big leagues. If you are a first baseman who came into the game in the last 10 years or so, Jim Thome is who you want to be like.
"When I saw that [trade], Kenny proved to me that we won last year, but he was playing this thing like we haven't won a thing," Konerko added.
Konerko pointed out how the White Sox previous season featured more than a few victories in which maybe the South Siders caught their share of breaks. It would be a tough scenario to repeat in 2006 without an improved offense, the one area in which the world champions struggled from time to time.
Rowand and Konerko spoke after Rowand was notified of the trade last Wednesday, and Konerko told the new Philadelphia center fielder that he might be following him out the door. It was that close of a decision for Konerko, with the White Sox stepping up over the last 48 hours.
The All-Star first baseman received serious offers from both the Orioles and Angels. A handful of teams expressed their interest in a player whose 81 home runs over the past two seasons rank fourth in the American League behind David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. But teams such as the Dodgers and the Red Sox didn't receive the reciprocal feelings from Konerko, who wasn't interested in waiting while the respective general managers' situations played out.
Both the Orioles and the Angels presented their own specific list of positive traits. Konerko enjoyed the city and Camden Yards in Baltimore, not to mention his analysis that the Orioles could be a sleeper in 2006, as the White Sox were in 2005.
The Angels have a first-class organization, featuring leaders such as manager Mike Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher, who helped Konerko become the player he is now when first arriving in the Dodgers' system some 12 years ago. Konerko also could live at home during Spring Training, with the Angels' camp located in Tempe, Ariz., and be close to his wife and newborn son during much of the regular season.
Baltimore reportedly offered a more lucrative sum, at $65 million over five years. But anyone who knows the way Konerko operates understands that money was far from the most crucial issue in the negotiations. Konerko carefully surveyed the market, found his fair value and steadfastly stuck by what he wanted and felt he had earned -- a number that included five years in the offer, which the White Sox came up to late in the process.
"Some players in this situation will tell their agent to go out and get me the most money, but that wasn't the situation for me," Konerko said. "Anybody who knows me or has gotten to know me over the years, that shouldn't surprise them at all. But if you will leave money on the table and leave some stuff out there, you should get the years. That seemed fair to me."
Williams, who is still battling pain from kidney stones, spoke of how the market dictates the money and the years for a free agent of Konerko's magnitude. He was ecstatic to have Konerko back in the fold, a final decision that he was first notified of by assistant general manager Rick Hahn earlier Wednesday morning.
"I don't know if it came together fast," Williams said. "It didn't seem like that to me. It tested us. We wanted to be mindful and respectful of what Paul meant to our organization and his efforts last year. But we had to protect ourselves against not having him. We went down some avenues we preferred not to go down.
"Obviously, we are happy to have him. It came together quickly over the last few days, but not without a little pain associated with it."
Konerko's last act of the 2005 season was handing White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf the baseball used to record the World Series' final out at the team's championship rally in Chicago. That move wasn't intended to earn any extra goodwill in the negotiations, a move Konerko said he would have made immediately after the four-game sweep if he could have found Reinsdorf alone in the celebratory chaos.
In the end, Konerko got what he wanted. And what he ultimately wanted was to stay with the White Sox.
"At the end of the day, I'm a baseball player and I had to decide where I will feel the best to play and play well on a winning team," said Konerko, who hit .283 with 40 home runs and 100 RBIs in 2005, while earning the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player. "It's nice that the White Sox worked out as the best fit for me, having played for them for a while, won a World Series with them -- and people want you to come back.
"It's as simple as where your heart is," Konerko added. "That's what brought me back."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.