This year many players will be listed on the hall of fame ballot, many of whom are very controversial. Among them will be Paul Konerko, and he should be among the ten players listed on a writer’s hall of fame ballot for next year. This article will examine why.
Paul Konerko spent 18 seasons in the major leagues. He spent 16 of those years with the White Sox, who acquired him from the Reds in 1999. For 15 of those he was a starter, and of those 15 he only had 3 bad seasons (2003,2008,2013). For 12 out of those 15, he was a good player, and sometimes a great one.
The case for Paul Konerko to be in the hall of fame is pretty simple. It basically comes down to two numbers: 439 home runs and 1,412 RBI. Most of the players who have compiled those two numbers are Hall-of-Famers.
Additionally, he made six all-star teams, twice finished in the top 10 in MVP voting, and was the best player on a world series team. Each of these things should help make his case to be in the hall of fame.
Konerko also had a career slash line of .279/.354/.486 which is good for a career OPS+ of 118. Over the course of nine seasons from 2004-2012, he had an OPS+ of 129, which means he was an elite hitter for a big chunk of his career. During his peak, he was an elite hitter, or at least very close to it.
The best reason why he should be in maybe that he was the best player on a historic team. If the 2005 White Sox weren’t who they are, I don’t think Paul would have any chance at all. However, his status as the best player on the team (along with Mark Buehrle as the team’s best pitcher) should warrant some Hall of Fame votes.
The 2003 Marlins had Ivan Rodriguez. The 2004 Red Sox already had Pedro Martinez (who was a shoo-in) while they may also get Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. The 2006 Cardinals will have Albert Pujols (and perhaps Scott Rolen).
In between, we have the 2005 White Sox, who are tied for the best postseason record of all-time (11-1) and broke a historic curse while sweeping the world series. Their opponents in the series already have two Hall of Famers. So when will the White Sox get theirs?
Now the White Sox have one player from that year already in the hall of fame (Frank Thomas), but with all due respect to Frank, he wasn’t much of a factor for the White Sox that year. The best player that season was Paul Konerko.
If you think about it, the best player on almost any championship team usually ends up in the hall of fame and most championship teams have at least one or two Hall of Famers. On the 2005 White Sox, those players should be Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle.
Frank Thomas is in the hall of fame already because he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time, not because of anything that has to do with ’05. That Sox team needs representation, and Konerko would present that.
Now Konerko’s detractors would probably point to two things. 1) He didn’t hit 500 home runs, and 2) his career WAR isn’t very good. Him not getting to 500 home runs is a bit of a problem, and it is disappointing because he really was just a couple of good seasons away.
That being said, 439 home runs is still an impressive number. There are only 43 players that have hit more home runs than Konerko in MLB history. In general, I think that just hitting 400 is enough to merit hall of fame consideration, and hitting 600 should make a player an automatic shoo-in.
Konerko’s 439 home runs would rank 26th out of the 232 players in the hall of fame, making him a clear asset in the power department. Though he couldn’t reach 500 home runs, Konerko was a prodigious power hitter, and his home run total reflects that.
Konerko’s 1,412 RBI rank 75th all time. Among players on the 2020 Hall of fame ballot, Konerko is ranked both seventh in RBI and Home Runs. However, almost all of the players ahead of him are strongly linked to PEDs. If you take out the steroid guys, Konerko ranks second in both homers and ribbies, behind Adam Dunn and Jeff Kent respectively.
The Hall of Fame ballot allows for voters to vote for ten players, and Konerko deserves to be among those ten given his high rankings in both of those statistical categories, unless voters tend to only vote for pitchers. Now you might say you can’t ignore the steroid guys, but the hall of fame historically has, as not a single proven steroids user has made the hall of fame yet.
The biggest argument many will make against Konerko is that his WAR isn’t very good. There are a lot of problems with WAR (how they calculate defense is among them), but the reason Konerko has a poor WAR is because of his poor base running and defense.
I honestly don’t care that Konerko was bad at base-running and defense, that’s not what he was paid to do and it wasn’t part of his role with the team. Defense doesn’t really matter much at first base anyways, where players are mostly expected to just hit.
Baseball reference lists Konerko’s career WAR at 27.7 (28.9 with the White Sox), and FanGraphs puts it even lower at 24.0. WAR is a useful tool for evaluating a team’s assets, but it’s wrong to reduce a player’s entire value to a single statistic.
The calculate a player’s total value stat has been around for a long time, and it’s still a long way away from being perfected. First, there was Bill James win shares, followed by batter-fielder wins, before Baseball Prospects developed WARP, which has since been shortened to a less-nerdy sounding WAR, although it has left us asking what it is good for?
The Problem with Konerko’s WAR are numerous, including that he is punished too harshly for being a first-baseman twice (both for offensive and defensive WAR), he is punished for being bad at base running (who cares) and his statistics are measured in comparison to a lot of juicing sluggers.
If we’re going to adjust offensive stats based on park effects because some players have an unfair advantage, why not do the same thing for steroids? Stats aren’t able to measure it. What we do know is if you take out the steroid guys, Konerko jumps to second in both home runs and RBI of all the players listed on the ballot. I would argue that should be enough to warrant him a spot.
The problems with WAR are numerous and can’t all be listed here, but it’s worth noting that many of its biggest defenders wouldn’t be able to explain how its formula works. To be fair if we were to look purely at Konerko’s offensive WAR from 1999-2012 we get 36.6 which seems closer to his actual value, but probably still short of the hall of fame.
What the actual benchmark for WAR is for Hall of Famers is unkown, perhaps 60? A lot of players who have a lot less than that have gotten in. How about 45 WAR? Players with higher WAR have fallen short but some with still fewer have gotten in.
It’s almost as if you have to look at other stats besides WAR to make a determination. In the case of Konerko, his WAR does matter and should be taken into account, but he should be judged on his entire body of offensive production, and not just be reduced to a single stat.
Currently, there are 232 players in the hall of fame. Eventually, that will expand to 250-300 players, and I think the case could be made that Paul is among the 250 greatest MLB players of all time.
People will argue that Konerko being in means more guys should also make it, which actually undercuts their argument, because more first baseman should make it, including Fred McGriff and Todd Helton. Konerko getting in would help more deserving players get in.
Furthermore, wherever Konerko ranks on the all-time list of baseball players, I would put him higher than Harold Baines, who made the hall of fame just recently. Konerko’s .841 OPS is superior to Baines’ .820, Konerko also hit 55 more home runs (though he has less RBI) while actually playing the field for the majority of his career.
Regardless of what WAR says, being a poor first-basemen is more valuable than not being able to take the field at all. Both players made an equal (six) number of All-Star teams, while Konerko did better at MVP voting and won a championship as a player (Baines was one of his coaches).
The point of bringing this up isn’t to disrespect Harold Baines, who I quite like, but rather that if Gen-X White Sox fans were able to advocate for their baseball hero to get in the Hall of Fame, I feel like I should be able to do the same, especially given that Konerko was (probably) better.
Baines is already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and the hall has made it clear he meets their standards. Hopefully one day Konerko will join him there as well. At the very least he deserves some votes; he had one heck of a career.