It’s the 20th anniversary of the trade that changed the course of the Chicago White Sox for the 21st Century.
On November 11, 1988, Paul Konerko officially became a member of the White Sox.
He was acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Mike Cameron. Had the Sox kept Cameron, who knows what would have happened. The team probably wouldn’t have won the World Series in 2005.
At the time of the trade, Cameron was 25 years old and had completed his fourth season in the MLB. The first two seasons were short; he played in only 39 games. But in the last two, he had 889 plate appearances and hit a slash of .234/.321/.383 with 22 home runs and 98 RBI.
He only played one season with the Reds before he was sent to the Seattle Mariners with several other players in one of the most memorable trades in MLB history: the one that brought Ken Griffey, Jr to Cincinnati.
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Cameron ended his career in 2012 as a member of the Nationals. During his 17 seasons in baseball, he played also played for the Mets, Padres, Brewers, Red Sox, and Marlins. He was an All-Star in 2001 with the Mariners. He also won three Gold Glove Awards for his work in center field.
Unlike Cameron, Konerko – affectionately known as Paulie – joined the ChiSox and never looked back. The beloved first baseman was drafted by 13th the Dodgers when he was still a teenager in 1994. His made his debut in 1997 and was far from the slugger he would become. In eight plate appearances, he finished with a slash of .143/.250/.143. He wasn’t much better the next year and the Dodgers sent him off to Cincinnati at the All-Star Break.
He was simply meant to be in Chicago. In 1999, he proved it with a slash of .294/.352/.511. Konerko was an All-Star six times: ’02, ’05, ’06, ’10, ’11, and ’12. It’s tough to pick his best season, as he had so many that were loaded with doubles, home runs, and over 100 RBI. He retired from the game in 2014.
If we look at OPS+ and OPS as determining factors for his best season, then it was 2010 when he was 34 years old. That season he hit .313/.381/.551 with an OPS of .977. HIs OPS+ was 160. He hit 30 doubles, 39 home runs, and had 111 RBI. He also had one triple that season – he had eight in his career. He ended the season with a fifth place finish in the MVP vote. Josh Hamilton won that year and was followed by Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Jose Bautista.
In the 2005 post-season, the ChiSox were unstoppable, thanks to Konerko. The team only lost one game throughout the October series. Konerko was rewarded for his efforts to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy home by winning the ALCS MVP. During that series against the Angels, he hit .286/.318/.619 with two home runs and seven RBI. Fans will fondly remember game three of the ALCS when he went 3-4 with a home run in the first and three RBI. He owned Jon Lackey in that game.
According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Konerko will be eligible for enshrinement in 2020. His contemporaries on the ballot include Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Cliff Lee, and former teammate Adam Dunn. He is the most recent White Sox player to have his number (14) retired by the team. And, deservedly so.