CHICAGO | Two all-time White Sox icons were happily back in the fold Tuesday.
Unfortunately for the slumping team, only one can play.
Captain Paul Konerko was back batting fifth as designated hitter after missing six games due to lower back pain, having taken six shots to ease the agony caused by a degenerating disc.
Two lockers away, former teammate Jim Thome was dressed in a gray pinstripe suit without a tie. The affable slugger, who belted the 500th of his 612 career homers with the Sox, was gabbing with Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy about his brand-new role as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn.
The return of Thome, who lives year-round in southwest suburban Burr Ride, certainly buoyed Konerko. But after struggling with injuries the past two seasons, the 15-year Sox veteran was even happier to swing pain-free.
Renowned for his game preparation, Konerko realizes at age 37 he has to adjust his routine due to age and injuries.
“I think you’ve got to be smart,” he said. “The urge is always to do too much, to overdo it…When you’re younger, your body can withstand making bad decisions on that. As you get older, if you’re not swinging the bat well … you wind up not getting the feel you want and the next day you’re dragging.
“So you definitely have to pay attention to more stuff like that. A couple of times I’ve been good at that over the last couple of years, and a couple of times I probably wish I could go back and not do what I did.”
Konerko will not address any retirement or trade talk. Thome did – at 42 he’s still not officially retired. But in his four seasons with the Sox (2006-09), he became a favorite of team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Thome will consult with Hahn and assistant GM Buddy Bell, work with the Sox big league staff and players and evaluate players in the farm system.
“It happened very quick,” Thome said of his new job, which won’t involve heavy travel demands while he’s raising his young children. “I think everyone knows how I feel about Jerry. Obviously, the White Sox have treated me great over the years.
“The No. 1 thing in this whole thing is I get to kind of be at home. Being at home and getting that opportunity to be around my kids. I coach my son (age 5) in T-ball. My daughter is going to be 11. It’s going very quick.”
Perhaps Thome will spot something to jump-start ol’ friend Konerko’s power bat. He’s been watching all of the Sox’s at-bats.
“Baseball always needs guys like Jim,” Konerko said. “The White Sox – a big score for them. There’s a couple of other teams out there I’m sure that Jim’s played with that wish they could have him on board.
“Just come away from talking with him (you’re) feeling better about everything…Just a great hire. Everybody loves Jim. One of the greats of the game.”