Ruminations on Paul Konerko, Player-Manager

It's time to start looking for signs of Crazy Eyes.

Back in June, I wrote a post saying that I finally understood why the White Sox glorified Paul Konerko to such a great extent. The White Sox have since tested me, and I've been game for the ride. Hawk Harrelson said he was worth 15 wins (or hWAR) by himself? Sure, fine. Ozzie Guillen told the media that he considered Konerko a father figure? I guess you can convince me that's healthy.

On Tuesday, Kenny Williams found a way to lose me again. After the press conference for new manager Robin Ventura, Williams confirmed that he gave some consideration to promoting Konerko to a player-manager position.

We were doing so well.

 

Maybe Williams' relationship with Ozzie Guillen was far more oppressive than I thought. Some people take a breather in the wake of such a breakup, and others go to Vegas and don't bother asking what's in the drinks.

We're a mere fortnight into the Post-Ozzie Era, and he's compounding risky, out-of-the-box thinking with sentiment that is pure nutso. We've seen this combination before. Add up what Williams has said and done so far...

  • Dismissing a popular and successful manager due to a personality clash, replacing him with somebody who doesn't seem to be a long-term solution.
  • Advocating multiple-purpose coaches (an "amoebic coaching staff" as Brett Ballantini put it), including Harold Baines as a second-hitting coach of sorts.
  • Considered a position change for the team MVP and most stable presence on the roster.

... it's possible the 2012 White Sox are on their way to becoming the Ken Harrelson General Manager Reenactment Society.

A couple of losing-proposition trades are next on that checklist, and given that Williams is talking about retooling, not rebuilding -- under budget constraints to boot! -- I would assume crash position for an upsetting deal or two this winter.

After that, all he has to do is move the fences, and it'll be 1986 all over again. Unless we're already knee-deep in it. The Super Bowl Shuffle Bears did just visit the White House, you know.

Star-divide

The strangest thing about this situation is that we have little clue what kind of manager Ventura will be ... but we would have a good idea of how Konerko would run the team, at least in a few respects.

The clubhouse is pretty much made in his image already. He wouldn't be particularly rah-rah. He's loath to hold meetings. He's forthright with the media, although he'd probably kill them on tight deadlines. He might be more invested than Guillen in having his pitchers protect hitters. It's hard to deduce the rest of his strategy -- or how he would've dealt with the guy hitting behind him, for instance -- but we don't know that about Ventura, either.

Pitching changes would be tricky, and not just because Konerko would have to think about batter/pitcher splits while paying attention to his position. The rulebook doesn't issue any specific conditions for a player/manager talking to a pitcher, which probably means that he's treated like a manager.

Sure enough, I found this Q&A with Andy McGaffigan, who pitched for Pete Rose's Reds in 1985:

And then when he came over to Cincinnati to be the player/manager, he brought a whole different dynamic – that’s a hard position to be in – it’s difficult.

For example, he was playing first base at that time and if he came over to the mound to talk about anything like a first baseman ordinarily would have, they treated it as a mound visit. So he couldn’t go over there and do the stuff that any normal first baseman could do for fear of having it counted as a trip to the pitchers mound. So that’s a very difficult position to be in.

So if Konerko were to relay any information about a baserunner's behavior at first, it would be pretty difficult. He could maybe use Gordon Beckham as a conduit every so often, but if an umpire feels like making himself known, your Joe Wests or Angel Hernandezes could call any such discussion an official mound visit, as Rule 8.06 gives them discretion.

Or what about when a player starts arguing with an ump? Usually managers will go and argue for that player, because if somebody's going to get ejected, it may as well be somebody less essential to the game. In this world, though, Konerko is the most important person. Does he intervene, or does he let the player argue at his own risk?

Man, the more I think about it, the more I want to see this happen! On the other hand, this makes the Ventura decision seem way more grounded and logical.

Maybe that was the point of bringing up Konerko in the first place. Or maybe Williams is about to embark on his craziest offseason ever, and it could be Harrelson-as-GM all over again. Sit back, relax and strap it down, just in case.

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