CHICAGO | The Paul Konerko Watch has flipped on and off most of the 2013 season, but it apparently has to wait until some date in mid-autumn for a sudden announcement either way.
The White Sox captain, affectionately called “King” by his teammates, has long kept his own counsel about his future. So, sensing Konerko might say something about a three-year contract that expires at season’s end, a group of writers hung around his locker waiting for the 15-year franchise icon after a game a few weeks back.
But there was no news forthcoming, only puzzlement why the scribes conducted a vigil.
A one-word answer the other day gave a clue to which way Konerko, suffering through the worst run production season of his career, could possibly lean once he takes his final 2013 at-bat two weeks from Sunday. He was asked if he still could conduct his high level of preparation he demands of himself to be able to push his 37-year-old body to play every day.
“Yes,” Konerko replied. That was it.
The reason for the query? A follow-up on Konerko’s own clear-cut definition early in the 2012 season of the circumstances under which he’d continue to play.
"All my standards are just preparation- and approach-related," he said last season. "If there's a time where I feel like I can't dedicate myself to getting those to where I need them to be, that will be it.
“It's a million different things that get you ready to play a big-league game, that you do to prepare. It's commitment and discipline to do those things."
Sounds like the spirit certainly is willing. But is the flesh even weaker – along with the march of time – than in 2012? Remember when Konerko hit .399 at the end of May, only to slow up dramatically to finish with just 75 RBIs, his lowest total in a season of more than 137 games played?
Coming into Thursday’s game with Cleveland, Konerko had just 10 homers and 49 RBIs, with a .318 on-base percentage in 112 games.
“Paul Konerko can still hit,” Gary native Dan Plesac said when he worked the Sox-Yankees game with Hawk Harrelson last week. “Paul Konerko did not forget how to hit. I don’t think you’ll ever see Paul Konerko playing in any other uniform than the White Sox.”
What if preparation no longer translates into production?
Konerko has struggled like never before this season. A comeback to his 30-homer, 100-RBI standards, or even a 20-homer, 70-RBI level that the Sox cannot afford to carry in a re-tooled lineup, is highly questionable at 38 in 2014.
The only conclusion is Konerko – despite his outward confidence via that three-letter answer -- should consider walking away and calling it a career with the contract up and his stellar reputation still intact.
“King” should never be in a position where the Sox won’t offer him another contract, nor he receives a mediocre offer from a team for which he doesn’t want to play.
There are other standards at work here. Konerko must go out proudly under any circumstances.