The White Sox nailed Paul Konerko's final weekend as a player last year, and they got his retirement ceremony right on Saturday, too.
In front of a sold-out U.S. Cellular Field, Konerko made a dramatic entrance from center field to "Harvester of Sorrow" -- the at-bat song he never changed, and for good reason -- resulting in this incredible photo:
And unlike last time, when it got bogged down with speeches and gift-giving, this one was rather straightforward. Hawk Harrelson emceed, Jim Thome gave A NICE SPEECH IN CAPITAL LETTERS, including this moment I wish I could've seen:
Jim Thome mentions Konerko hit in face twice, including by Jeff Samardzija. Konerko turns looks for Samardzija, seated nearby, who tips cap.— Dan Hayes (@CSNHayes) May 23, 2015
And then they yielded the floor to the man of the hour.
Konerko said it was a challenge to not be too redundant, considering he had to speak at length at his retirement ceremony in September, which naturally would cover a lot of the same ground. But he did a nice job shifting the attention to new people who helped -- Greg Walker, Mike Gellinger and Jim Thome, among others. He also gave a salute to the Minnesota dugout for Joe Vavra, the Twins' bench coach who managed Konerko at his first professional stop at Yakima, Wash., in 1994.
And when it came to thanking fans -- whom he called "friends" the last time -- Konerko's microphone went dead. After an interruption of 20 seconds or so, Konerko resumed by saying, "... so that's how I figured out the meaning of life" (below at 1:16).
I wouldn't have blamed him for pulling a George Costanza and leaving on that line, but he ended it with a sincere "thank you, thank you, thank you."
Konerko also thanked Jerry Reinsdorf for not delaying the number retirement for years, as is often the case with these things. Of course, Konerko's kind of retirement makes it rather easy to plan out. He didn't continue playing for other teams (like Frank Thomas did), his career didn't end vaguely and open-endedly (like Thome's did), and he didn't leave the Sox with acrimony (like Thomas and Carlton Fisk did). It makes sense to tie up loose ends before putting the final stamp on a career, and Konerko's predetermined exit expedited the process.
It also invites the question of the next retired number, and here's where you notice that nobody has worn No. 13 since Ozzie Guillen retired, or No. 56 since Mark Buehrle left. It could be coincidence, because those two numbers aren't typically in high demand (unless you're a Venezuelan shortstop, in the case of the former).
We probably won't know for sure for several years. Buehrle's still active, so there'll be time to entertain the topic later. One Harold Baines situation is one too many.
Guillen is a strange presence, though. He sat next to Robin Ventura, who both replaced Guillen and has the job Guillen would want back. And when they were announced, Guillen received the louder ovation.
It just looks weird:
(Matt Marton / USAToday Sports Images)
And it also sounded weird, at least when Harrelson finished his introduction of Guillen by saying, "...and he's not done yet!"
Yet it's also pretty funny, at least when comparing the situation to the one going on with Jerry Reinsdorf's other team. The Bulls are accused of undercutting their coaches when they get too successful. Here, the White Sox are keeping a former manager uncomfortably close to the situation, even though he became bigger than the team to such an extent that he quit on them in 2011.
Konerko's number is the first to be retired since the White Sox moved them from left field to above home plate, and it's not quite the same effect. Compare it to the unveiling of Frank Thomas' face on the wall:
That's a bit anticlimactic. You know the number, you know the font, so there really isn't any additional anticipation like there was with the portrait. But that's how it is in most stadiums, so I guess we were spoiled in that regard.
A few other assorted thoughts:
*The White Sox ran through the list of previously retired numbers before unveiling Konerko's. It was cool seeing footage of Ted Lyons, who is even more overlooked than Luke Appling. Neither of them have statues when they easily qualify on merit. I suppose they aren't marketable enough to commission it.
*Konerko has spent his first months of retirement getting back to playing hockey, which is pretty cool. He said that he hasn't ruled out working in baseball, but isn't going to do it for the sake of doing it. When asked about doing TV work, he said that was the lowest on the list.
On one hand, Konerko can give interesting answers. On the other, he'd have to work like hell to condense his points to 10-second spurts, as he usually can use up four or five minutes on an answer with ease. Talking with Harrelson and Steve Stone like he normally does, there was no room for game action.
*For a lot of White Sox fans, Konerko might be the purest physical representation of the franchise. Geographically, he's pretty far away from the South Side. While guys like Thomas and Fisk, and Thome and even Bo Jackson settled around the Chicagoland area after their playing careers and remain fairly accessible now, Konerko isn't giving the impression that we'll be seeing a lot of him.