In the third entry of Embrace the Chaos, we look at another overlooked slugging first baseman who quietly put together a very, very good career. Paul Konerko doesn’t have a chance. And that’s really too bad.
Paul Konerko is one of those guys I looked at at toward the end of his career and thought was a low-key Hall of Famer. Another low-WAR type (27.7 bWAR, 24 fWAR), Konerko was a first baseman primarily in flyover country for a mostly middling ball club (with the notable exception of a two-year window which included a World Series championship.)
Yet, in the shadow of a team on the north side of the city where he spent most of his career, and in a time of extraordinary production from the 3, Konerko quietly amassed numbers that make up a very good career: 2340 hits, 410 2B, 439 HR, 1163 runs scored, 118 OPS+, slashing .279/.354/.486/.841.
He had less strikeouts (1391) than RBI (1412) and nearly 4100 total bases in under 8400 at bats. Essentially, for every two times he had an official at bat, he was worth a base on a batted ball.
Konerko had two separate peaks, a seven-year from 1999-2006 (.287/.357/.505) and a latter-day renaissance from 2010-12 (.304/.384/.530) wherein he cracked top-five in MVP voting (2005, coming in fifth behind Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera and, ummm, MVP Josh Hamilton. Talk about a rogue’s gallery!) and tacked three All-Star appearances on with the three others he earned in his career.
In his ’99-’06 run, his plate production rivaled some of the very best in the game. For players with at least 4800 plate appearances and output within Konerko’s neighborhood, we have the roiders (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, probably Luis Gonzalez) and then ten others: Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Shawn Green, Brian Giles (!), Carlos Lee (!!!), Jeff Kent, Carlos Beltran and Bobby Abreu.
Two Hall of Famers; Chipper only amassed ten more hits in that timeframe, while Vlad had 225 more PAs,
Two more who really have solid Hall of Fame cases; Helton was an all-world hitter at that point, and those who are rooting for a dark horse eventual induction for Delgado should also appreciate Konerko’s body of work,
And three others who have Hall of Fame cases to greater or lesser degrees; Beltran in that same time was a phenom (he and Konerko were actually only a year apart in age) but his output was essentially the same or less than Konerko’s. Jeff Kent belongs in the Hall of Fame as the best offensive second baseman of his generation, perhaps ever; his consistently meager support from the writers is borderline criminal. Bobby Abreu keeps popping up in these peak period analyses, and makes me think that he’s either a HoFer or was a rich man’s Brian Giles. (Personally, I’m inclined to believe the former rather than the latter.)
Bottom line, this was a good player for a long time and he is pretty clearly lost in the static over PEDs. I will never understand the public pearl-clutching by the baseball press over PED use while never, ever translating that indignation into action with positive Hall of Fame voting for guys who were pretty clearly clean. If you’re not going to vote for Barry Bonds, don’t you want to reward a guy like Konerko in kind? Disdain for one action without recognizing and upholding an opposite action is just self-loathing. Principle is more about upholding the good than punishing the bad.
Konerko’s case admittedly isn’t a slam dunk, but it’s favorable when compared to those of his era, both amongst those who cheated to get theirs, and especially against the writers’ darlings of his time. His career deserves better, certainly with what we know now and what he did on a team that only enjoyed the spotlight for two seasons (and for which the baseball public has selective amnesia.)
It’s time to begin looking at these guys as what they should be: Cooperstown-grade. Embrace the chaos; embrace Paul Konerko.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.