CHICAGO | As a former Georgia all-state high-school free safety, you’d figure leadership would come naturally to Gordon Beckham.
The job has so many responsibilities, requiring so much mental discipline: pass coverage, blitzes, last line of defense against the run and coordinating coverage with other defensive backs and linebackers. That mindset seems to have translated into Beckham the adept second baseman, defense being a skill that doesn’t require the exquisite coordination for a .300 hitter.
Beckham didn’t necessarily think his football background or baseball defensive prowess at second base translated into leadership. But sometimes it takes a second pair of eyes to affirm that. On Thursday they belonged to White Sox manager Robin Ventura.
“He played a little football, and I think there’s something to that,” Ventura said of Beckham. “Guys who do that kind of have a team-oriented feel, and he has that. He takes responsibility for a lot of things that he does and what happens on his team. I think that’s good stuff.”
What would be even better stuff is Beckham, vocally gifted, working into a leadership role that soon will be sorely needed. The Paul Konerko Era is coming to an end, possibly sooner rather than later, and there will be a gaping hole as the guiding clubhouse light of the Sox.
Konerko is supposed to conduct a media chat this afternoon, but you can bet it won’t be a formal retirement announcement. Surely if Konerko — called “King” by his teammates in honor of his stature and leadership — had firmly made up his mind about departing, he’d have told the Sox already. That would have enabled a fitting sendoff to be crafted this weekend.
“I’ve learned a lot from Paul over the years,” Beckham said. “He’s rubbed off on me a lot of different ways. Just the way he works, the way he prepares. He takes this very seriously, which it should be taken seriously. There’s still people in the game who don’t take it seriously.
“The way he goes about it is very straightforward, very honest and open in what he does. He works hard, and he competes. That’s all you can ask for anybody. His work ethic shows through his play. People should want to emulate that.”
In many ways, Beckham already has. His defensive resume is without question. He worked hard on some swing alterations, starting last year. He made progress that still counts despite a slide that dropped his average from .313 to .268 over his last 31 games. Going forward, he should comfortably hit better than .270 with increased power.
And now Beckham is more mature, a Sox staple, finishing his fifth season. He can safely step up to counsel those who need advice or go awry in attitude.
“I wouldn’t hide from it,” Beckham said of talking to teammates. “There’s been times where that’s happened already. You have to spend some time up here to understand how everything goes. I would not feel weird about doing that if I felt strongly if there needed to be a talk.”
“As long as you show up and do the work and just play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, you’ll become…I guess a leader. People earn that all the time. Nobody’s just given that.”