The Chicago White Sox came into this season with very high expectations. The season certainly has not gone the way they have planned so far. Their starting pitching has been good, but not great. The White Sox bullpen has been downright awful. Offensively, Chicago ranks 10th in the American League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Only one White Sox regular is hitting above .270. That man is 35-year old first baseman Paul Konerko. He is the one reason the White Sox, sitting 8 games back of the Cleveland Indians in 4th place at 20-25, have a chance to make a comeback and live up to their Spring Training expectations of winning the AL Central.
All Paul Konerko has done since becoming a White Sox at the age of 23 in 1999 has hit. The former first-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers has averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs in his 12 full seasons in the Windy City. Konerko is currently hitting .307/.378/.521 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in 44 games this season. He has accounted for 30.6% of the White Sox runs this year. With the passing of the steroid-era, it is extremely rare to see a hitter continue to thrive into his mid-thirties. However, it did not always look like the first-baseman would age so well into his career.
After posting a .313/.381/.551 line with 35 homers and 113 RBIs in 2006, Konerko’s performance slipped in 2007. Konerko batted just .259/.351/.490, but still hit 30 home runs and drove in 90 runs. His hitting continued to decline the following year. In an injury-plagued campaign, Konerko batted .240/.344/.438 with 22 home runs and 62 RBIs of just 122 games. At 32 years old with rapidly declining numbers, many thought Konerko’s days as an impact middle-of-the-order slugger were over.
Determined to prove his past two seasons were flukes, Konerko delivered a comeback 2009 season, batting .277/.353/.489 while hitting 28 home runs and knocking in 88 runs. However, his 2010 season was one that indicated that Konerko was nowhere near finished as a hitter. In arguably the greatest season of his career, Konerko smashed 39 home runs and drove in 111 runs while batting .312/.393/.584. He would finish fifth in AL MVP voting at the end of the season.
In a year that has seen so many superstars finally starting to decline in their mid-to-late thirties, Paul Konerko is one that has resisted the power of time so far. The under-appreciated slugger never seems to come up on anyone’s list of the best first basemen in baseball, but has always been one of its most consistent hitters. In fact, Konerko has been named to only four All-Star teams in his career despite his gaudy numbers. Even in a year with every other White Sox regular badly slumping, offering very little protection and RBI opportunities, Konerko is enjoying yet another good season. He may not be known as one of the best first basemen in baseball, but Konerko has quietly had a career that would suggest otherwise.