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When farewell tours get 'weird'

Ceremony for Derek Jeter strikes Robin Ventura as strange, but Paul Konerko's poses its own oddities

Jonathan Daniel

Bat flips are usually a sign of exuberence. Sometimes premature, sometimes irrational, but self-indulgence is at the heart of it.

And then there's Paul Konerko, who did something of a Yasieeyore Puig after his ninth-inning flyout.


Things aren't going so well for Konerko. While Derek Jeter enjoyed a four-hit night in his U.S. Cellular Field send-off Sunday afternoon, the White Sox's retiring captain went 0-for-3 and hit into two double plays (although one wasn't hit fault). He's hit into six double plays this year, which matches his number of extra-base hits for the season.

When Konerko struggled to open the season, the talk centered around adjusting to a new role. Playing every day in Jose Abreu's stead, everyday action isn't helping matters:

Bench 18 39 9 3 0 0 5 2 7 .257 .308 .343 .651 .310
Regular 14 46 5 1 0 2 6 1 8 .116 .152 .279 .431 .088
Total 32 85 14 4 0 2 11 3 15 .179 .224 .308 .531 .190

Meanwhile, Marcus Semien has seen his playing time go in the opposite direction. Since Conor GIllaspie returned from the disabled list, Semien has received just 16 plate appearances over two weeks.

Robin Ventura shrugged off Semien's inactivity - partially because every day Semien spends on the White Sox bench is a day he doesn't have to consider Chipotle "fine dining," and partially because he says the swinging and missing might've led to overheating:

"For him, I think there’s some of it that he came up and he was playing every day and it becomes tougher when you’re doing that. You’re seeing who you get on a daily basis and you’re realizing this is the best of the best [pitching] that you get every day, so I’m sure a breather wasn’t all that bad for him."

There's probably some truth to that. At the same time, seeing the return of Konerko's bad body language makes it look like he's going through the same thing. There are just fewer strikeouts and he has a couple thousand more hits to his name, so the "overmatched" label isn't as apparent, even though a scuffling Semien is outhitting him rather handily.

Ventura used "weird" repeatedly to describe the celebration of Jeter's baseball mortality ...

"It's weird. You even look at the start of the game and everything that happened before the game. It's a little weird. I mean, you see that happen, but he's not dying; he's just retiring. It's weird. I'm sure it's uncomfortable for him going through all of it, but he's a great player." [...]

"It's totally warranted, but it's a little weird," Ventura said, repeating his word of the day yet again. "You hear about it, but seeing it today it is a little weird because he's just going to start living. It's just weird, weird looking at it."

Which is true. Yet his own roster hosts a collision between the living and the afterlife, and it's become the new normal.

When people speculate about Semien's playing time, his avenues are limited to second base or third base. Or, maybe as Chuck Garfien posited, he might have to start on-the-job training in the outfield and butt in on Alejandro De Aza's playing time.

All the while, there's a lineup spot that 1) is occupied by a short-timer, 2) is underwater, and 3) wouldn't require a rookie to learn an entirely new position while learning how to hit. Semien could DH, or Semien could play third while Gillaspie DH's (or plays first). Konerko is hitting as poorly as De Aza, after all, so swapping him out should work for everybody.

But  replacing Konerko doesn't seem to be an option, because he exists on a plane separate from the rest of the team. Everything he does or doesn't do is loaded with meaning. When his batting average started with a "1," that's when he carried you.  The outs he makes are the notes he's not playing.

And as somebody who enjoys dissecting the White Sox and belaboring themes, this topic is even weird for me. Some see it as taking his name in vain, some see it as speaking ill of the deceased, and others see it as beating a dead horse. In any case, there's not much that's human about it anymore.