8:40 PM PDT, June 9, 2012
Paul Konerko has put up some impressive numbers since coming to the White Sox in 1999. But the Tribune's seven Hall of Fame voters agree the slugger is not worthy of Cooperstown —for now.
In the post-steroid era, not many hitters have stood out as impressively as Paul Konerko.
There is some hesitation to declare Konerko a definite Hall of Famer, only because he's under contract for 11/2 more seasons and his legacy could become even greater.
The fact that he leads the American League in batting average this year despite only one infield hit is a testament to his prowess as an all-around hitter.
Consistency has been a staple of Konerko's success.
What has been just as impressive is Konerko's ability to carry the offensive freight in contract years, after which he remained loyal to the Sox in turning down more lucrative offers.
During the second half of the Sox's 2005 World Series run, Konerko batted .323 with 20 homers to prevent a Sox collapse. In 2010, Konerko batted .312 with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs.
There will continue to be a debate about fellow first baseman Jeff Bagwell, whose impressive career was diminished at the end because of injuries. But Konerko's Hall of Fame candidacy will get stronger if he continues a semblance of his consistent pace.
In my quest to bolster Paul Konerko's Hall of Fame chops, I did a little research. Now I wish I hadn't.
Konerko actually fares well in the traditional categories, especially if he hits 93 more bombs to reach 500. But in the new-school category of WAR (Wins Above Replacement position player), Konerko rates 45th among active players at 26.0.
He somehow trails Orlando Hudson, Mark Ellis and Grady Sizemore, who had four good seasons. Jim Thome, fourth among actives, has a comparatively Ruthian 67.4 WAR.
Of course, that stat does not measure this: Which teammate would you want to go to WAR with? Konerko is off the charts there.
So if he continues to rake, I'll continue to look for reasons to check his box. He brings every intangible. He's an A-plus guy in the clubhouse.
I covered his dreadful 2003 season (.234 average, 18 homers), and he did not snap at the media once. He has been terrific nearly every year since. I would like to think that's good karma.
I would consider Paul Konerko seriously for the Hall of Fame even though his career stats are excellent but not head-turning (.284 BA, 407 HR, .863 OPS).
Konerko is a good fielder with an offensive consistency (eight seasons with 97 to 117 RBIs in a lineup often devoid of table-setters; eight seasons of 30 or more doubles from a guy with no speed) and a professionalism that make him far more than the sum of his stats.
I said no to a similar player, Jim Thome, when we asked the Hall question about him five years ago, and I cited his huge strikeout totals as a negative. (I since have changed my mind on Thome; 604 home runs erase a lot of K's.)
With Konerko, it may be a case of familiarity breeding respect: Watching him over 14 seasons with the Sox, my appreciation of his contributions has grown steadily. And his last two full seasons have been his best; another couple like 2010–11 (so far, 2012 is one), and Konerko is a Hall of Famer on my ballot.
There's solid evidence Paul Konerko will fall into the abyss of the very, very good, where the likes of non-Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and Andres Galarraga reside.
Konerko has 407 homers with a .284 lifetime batting average in his 16th season. Yet he has a lot of work to do to receive serious HOF consideration.
Bagwell hit 449 home runs and batted .297; McGriff's numbers were 493, .284; Murphy (398 homers) was a two-time National League MVP and a five-time Gold Glove outfielder; Galarraga (399 homers, .288 average) won a batting title in '93 and a home run title in '96. Until any of those gain admittance to the Hall, Konerko likely will have to stand in line.
Two key questions must be answered: Can Konerko reach at least 500 homers and hit for a high average (batting title would help)? And will the solid first baseman, who was MVP of the 2005 ALCS, appear in more postseason games to attract national attention?
Paul Konerko isn't Carlton Fisk, willing to keep his baseball career going as long as possible at all costs. That may be the thing that will keep him from joining Fisk in Cooperstown.
Based on the body of work today, Konerko isn't a Hall of Famer. He has had a great career, and he carried a team to a World Series title — always an HOF sweetener — but he just doesn't have the career totals to join the greats, not when he put up his numbers as a first baseman.
Konerko, 36, is signed only through 2013 and isn't sure he wants to play any longer. He won't have HOF numbers even at the end of '13. You just can't get from here to there in another 260 games.
When Konerko returned to the White Sox lineup Thursday, there were 105 games left in the season. I took his career totals and figured where he would be if he produced at 2011 levels until the end of next year.
That gets him to 458 home runs and 1,463 RBIs — great numbers, not quite HOF numbers.
Two more fairly healthy seasons after 2013 and he probably would be in the Hall. He might get a chance to control his fate, and that's saying a lot.
It's too early to close the door completely on Paul Konerko, but he would have to have a great finishing kick in his career to get into the Hall of Fame.
A 500-homer career would do it, but can he hit another 93 homers, even if he stays healthy?
Konerko, 36, seems to be getting better with age as a solid, underappreciated clutch hitter and natural leader in the clubhouse. He has two top-six finishes in American League MVP voting (fifth and sixth) but hasn't been mentioned typically among the best of the best of his era.
Maybe this is the year Konerko wins that MVP, which would improve his chances tenfold. But if he never gets into the Hall, he still will have a statue erected at the Cell, a day in his honor and perhaps even have his White Sox uniform number retired.
I'm rooting for him to reach 500 homers and make it a no-brainer pick. But it appears he will have to settle for being one of the best and most beloved White Sox in history, as well as one of the finest human beings I have had the privilege of covering.
Not too shabby.
DAVE VAN DYCK
If the Hall of Fame had a wing for team players, Paul Konerko would be a shoo-in. But that's not the way it works, and that leaves Konerko short of actual enshrinement in Cooperstown's most hallowed building.
Those voted into the Hall of Fame are exceptional players, the 1 percenters of the game.
They are the ones who possess MVP or Cy Young trophies or postseason awards, perhaps having led the league in some category multiple times. Konerko finished fifth once and sixth once in the MVP and never has led the league in any category.
Would the White Sox have won the World Series without him? No, but that doesn't anoint him as Hall of Fame-worthy. What he did in 2005 was save the last-out ball for Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. The place for being the ultimate team player is on the outfield wall atU.S. Cellular Field, where they have portraits of players with retired White Sox numbers.
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