358 home runs and 1,127 RBIs over 12 seasons in a White Sox uniform ought to be enough for any player to be beloved by the entire White Sox Nation.
However, for reasons I can't pin down, Paul Konerko is not revered universally by White Sox fans the way someone like Frank Thomas is.
With Konerko's free agency on the horizon there has been a lot of talk about resigning the 34-year-old first baseman not because of his stellar 2010 season, rather because he is the "face of the White Sox."
This got me to thinking about whether or not I'd miss Paulie if he signed elsewhere this winter. Sure I'd miss his reliability at first base and consistency at the plate. But can't 29 HR and 96 RBI (his averages while on the South Side) be replaced? After all, that isn't terribly far from the numbers that Carlos Quentin has produced at the plate. I'm not saying that Quentin is as good as Konerko - but he's also not far off.
Aside from Konerko's offensive ability there is also the fact that he's been the White Sox captain for the past few seasons. How would his departure affect the clubhouse?
First consider what lead him to become captain. When Paulie was asked by Ozzie to take over as team captain (there was no captain at the time) he initially declined. Konerko didn't actually take on the captaincy until after Ozzie forced the title on him. The same way my mom forced me to wear glasses in my eighth grade yearbook photo. Thanks mom.
Now I don't claim to know what kind of impact Paulie has in the clubhouse. But I wonder how effective he is as a captain when he never wanted that role. Sure he'd be valued in the clubhouse for his ability on the field. But as a leader?
Imagine going to work and all of a sudden your boss puts you in a position to pump up your coworkers daily, even though that's not your strong suit. How well would you do?
As consistently solid as Konerko has been that doesn't mean he's irreplaceable. If the Sox were to acquire a young first baseman like Prince Fielder this offseason, that would more than take the place of Konerko.
It wouldn't erase Konerko's World Series grand slam or any of the other fond memories he's formed in the mind's of Sox fans. But it would be one of the preferable alternatives to bringing him back.
So, thanks for the memories Paulie. See you in Anaheim, Atlanta, or wherever else you end up.