The King of the Curtain Call

Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie! Paul-ie!

Nothing electrifies U.S. Cellular Field quite like a “Paulie” curtain call. Ever since the curtain call came into existence with the South Side Hitmen in 1977, it has been a staple of White Sox fan lore. Back in ’77 when guys like Richie Zisk (30 HR), Oscar Gamble (31 HR), and Eric Soderholm (25 HR) were clubbing more homeruns than any White Sox team prior, the fans went teenage girl giddy because a) it was the first good Sox team in a decade, b) who doesn't love a homerun? and c) it was the 70’s. After each homerun (and the supplemental scoreboard explosions), the fans would not stop cheering until the batsman came back out of the dugout and tipped their cap. It’s like the crowd was getting warmed up for a Rolling Stones concert after the game, except there was no Rolling Stones concert after the game. Comiskey Field was Animal House in 1977. If I could go back in time to watch any Sox team, it would be either the 1977 South Side Hitmen (for the drunken hysteria) or the 1919 Black Sox (So I could feel like a character in one of those clairvoyance movies where they have to stop the disaster before it happens only to find out that it was unavoidable. You know the ones.).

Now back to the present, after watching the crowd react to Adam Dunn’s performance on the 4th of July, I’m not sure we are so distant from 1977 after all. In his first at bat, Dunn received a standing ovation for a looping single down the right field line that probably should have been caught but instead resulted in just his second hit against a lefty all year. Dunn promptly tipped his cap to the mock ovation; a perfect 10 on the comedy scale. Then in the eighth, the baseball smacked into Dunn's bat resulting in a towering two-run dinger to take the lead and he received his first genuine South Side curtain call. 1977 would be proud of our efforts.

What I loved so much about the curtain call was when Dunn was back in the dugout deciding whether or not he truly deserved the honor (Dunn has been as hard on himself as anyone through his troubles), Paul Konerko, the King of the Curtain Call himself, was there to make the decision for him. Paulie would have taken practice swings all night until Dunn finally tipped his cap to the home fans. I can’t help but think that Paulie would be the ultimate wingman.

You don’t just become The King of the Curtain Call by mistake. In a clutch situation, out of all the players I’ve seen in a White Sox uniform (dating back to 1990), I want one of three hitters coming to the plate: Paul Konerko, Joe Crede, or Frank Thomas. Paulie has a résumé chock-full of big hits: his two walk-offs in ‘01 that cemented him as a South Side favorite (“Okay, so maybe he is better than Mike Cameron.”), his 15th inning walk-off against Kansas City in ’08 (one of his few bright spots that season in what became the year of Q!), his game-sealing bomb over the green monster this year, his go ahead homer in the 8th against the Cubs in 2010 (more on this), and, of course, his grand slam in the World Series (a DOUBLE curtain call, what does it mean?), just to name a few.

A great Konerko home run has three parts, much like a magic trick.

From Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige:

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"."

The Pledge is the pressure situation. It’s the classic “right place, right time, right man” scenario. It’s down one run, bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded.

The Turn is the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the high finish, the pause, the bat-flip. It’s the outfielder looking up, the mad scrum for the ball, the trot around the bases. It’s the high fives, the fireworks, the pandemonium.

The Prestige is the curtain call. It’s the chanting, the begging of the crowd, the acknowledgement from the player. It’s the tip of the cap, the roar of the crowd (part II), the mutual appreciation.

I’ve had the fortune of witnessing a Konerko curtain call in my life. It was incredible. And it just so happened to be against the Cubs.

Last season, in a 2-2 game in the bottom of the eighth, Paul Konerko came to bat with the bases empty and one out. Flamethrowing Andrew Cashner was pitching and he had Paulie down in the count, 1-2. Every person in the ballpark had the same thought: “There’s no way Cashner tries to burn another fastball by him. I mean, he must know who he is up against, right?” The next pitch was a 100 mph fastball over the heart of the plate. Konerko hit it a mile. The sell-out crowd erupted. It got so loud that that the fireworks were barely audible. Then the “Paulie” chants started. At this point, I was struggling to get blood to my head. I couldn’t believe I was actually in attendance for one of “those games.” One of those few games each year where something absolutely amazing happens. The kind where you’re watching at home and thinking how you would give up anything barring the health of your firstborn son to be transported there right now. Konerko climbed his way up the dugout steps, and with one raise of the helmet, he sent U.S. Cellular Field into a different state of existence. We all witnessed the magic. Real magic.

Paul Konerko, our first baseman, our captain, our meticulous and modest folk hero, the most popular White Sox player in my lifetime, the guy who took a pitch to the face and homered in his next at bat, the guy who should not be thrown a fastball under any set of circumstances, the guy who brought the trophy back to Chicago, the guy who broke the 88 year drought, the guy who just gets it, hit a go-ahead homerun against the Cubs and I was there.

Fans want in a player, more than anything else, someone who appreciates that he gets to play baseball for a living. But really, we want more than just that. We want a guy who gives back to the community, mentors the rookies, and is honest with the media. We want a guy who delivers in the clutch, works his ass off, puts the team first, and does everything in his power to win. For the past 13 years, Paul Konerko has been that guy. He has not been the most feared Sox hitter of my lifetime. In fact, he barely even cracks the top 5 (Thomas, Ordonez, Belle, Lee, Konerko). But he has been the most endeared. And that’s why the curtain call means so much to the White Sox faithful. It is our way of saying thank you. It is the ultimate sign of respect.

When they raise the curtain on Konerko’s picture out in left-center, I can only hope it unveils him at his finest-- with his helmet held high. Oh, The Prestige.

Vote Paulie for All-Star,

Pete Fitzgerald

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