2005 First Baseman: Paul Konerko
In the last 2005 Comparison, I compared the catcher position. In that article, I noted that AJ Pierzynski was one of the most valuable players on the White Sox championship team. While that squad from nine seasons ago had many valuable contributors like Pierzynski, perhaps no single player was more valuable to the team’s offense than Paul Konerko. In the 2005 regular season, Konerko posted a .283 batting average while cranking 40 homers and driving in 100 runs. Konerko was also named to the American League All Star team while finishing 6th in MVP voting.
Although the 2005 Sox will forever be known as a team that was built around pitching and defense, they still relied heavily on Konerko’s offensive production. All season long, the top of the lineup got on base, and Konerko got them home. Certainly, Pauly was not the only run-producer in the Sox lineup. Players like Jermaine Dye and Carl Everett also each drove in over 80 runs. But there was never any debate as to who the Sox would want at the plate in the season’s big moments.
What is the first moment that jolts into the minds of Sox fans when they remember the 2005 season? If it’s not Scott Podsednik‘s walk-off homer in Game 2 of the World Series, it is probably Paul Konerko’s grand slam. Not to take anything away from Podsednik’s game-winner; but to this day, I have never been more excited about a single play in all of my time spent watching Sox games than I was for Konerko’s historic blast. A lot of Sox fans say that Podsednik’s homer was the moment when they started to believe that there was indeed something magical about that season. For me, that moment was Konerko’s grand slam. With the bases loaded, two outs in the 7th inning, and the Sox trailing 4-2, I doubted Pauly’s flare for the dramatic. I admitted to my brother, who was next to me on the couch, that a grand slam there would be too good to be true. “Things like that only happen in the movies,” I told him. The reason I made such a comment isn’t because I didn’t think Konerko wouldn’t come through. I said that because I envisioned an outcome much less epic. Maybe I envisioned something like a two-run single to right field to tie the game. But no, not a grand slam to instantly give the Sox the lead because real life usually doesn’t follow a Hollywood script. Thank you, Paul Konerko, for making real life seem like a movie.
The White Sox will head into Spring Training with three candidates to play first base to start the 2014 season.
That same Konerko guy who I was talking about earlier is one of those candidates. In fact, he is the only player remaining from the 2005 roster. Unfortunately, Father Time has finally started to take his toll on Konerko’s body. After years upon years of significant offensive production, Konerko finally took a step back in 2013 with a .244 average, 12 HR, and 54 RBI. Pauly also missed 32 games due to injury and even considered retirement at the end of the regular season.
Adam Dunn is another option at first base for the Sox in 2014 as he enters his 4th season on the South Side. After an abysmal 1st season with the Sox in 2011, Dunn posted back-to-back respectable seasons in 2012 and 2013, cranking out 41 and 34 home runs, respectively. But how much longer will Manager Robin Ventura and the rest of the Sox organization put up with a batting average in the middle of the lineup that is barely above .200?
Finally, Cuban slugger Jose Abreu is the other likely candidate to see some time at the first sack this season. Much like Konerko and Dunn, Abreu isn’t the most fleet of foot. In another similar comparison, Abreu is also thought to possess a powerful bat, which is the main reason General Manager Rick Hahn brought him to town. At 27, Abreu certainly looks to have a brighter future than his fellow teammates at first base, but how long will it take for him to succeed in this new setting?
Bottom Line: Don’t expect any one component of the Sox 3-headed attack to be as productive as Konerko was in 2005, but don’t be surprised if they succeed as a unit. In a perfect world, they will receive lefty power from Dunn, righty power from Abreu, and a bounce-back season from Konerko. But the fact that it could take two lineup spots and three roster spots to reach this perfect world might not make it so perfect after all.