Actions louder than words for Konerko
White Sox captain leads by example, and team follows
CHICAGO -- When Paul Konerko initially was approached in the 2006 offseason about becoming Ozzie Guillen's first and only captain to date with the White Sox, well, he didn't really want the distinction.
Konerko truly appreciated the honor. In his mind, though, the White Sox operated best when everyone had an equal voice.
And that particular thought process provides a perfect illustration as to why Konerko stands out as one of the leaders of the game. There never is a time when Konerko puts personal accolades or his own accomplishments above the good of the team.
"Paulie is a very professional player, who always does the right thing," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of the team's slugging first baseman. "Just a solid citizen, who has had a great career."
"He's certainly not a troublemaker or anything like that," said White Sox reliever D.J. Carrasco with a laugh, when asked about Konerko. "He's a quiet guy who leads by example."
Producing the sort of rah-rah, inspirational speeches that has the team sprinting from the clubhouse to the field wouldn't come close to defining Konerko's leadership style. As Walker pointed out, Konerko conducts himself as a top-notch professional, and Carrasco echoed the thoughts of many in that Konerko leads by the way he performs, by the way he prepares and by the way he conducts himself as a Major League player.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a true leader in his own right -- but more of the vocal variety -- compares Konerko to one-time White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura.
"Robin was an unbelievable leader, but he never said anything," Guillen said. "Konerko has his way. He leads by example. He's not a cheerleader."
"You have a guy hitting in the middle of your lineup who is trying his best to get the guy over from second, and it tells young players that our captain and our No. 4 hitter is trying to play the game the right way," said Walker. "It sets the tone for the rest of the guys."
The 33-year-old Konerko has played parts of 13 years in the Major Leagues, coming upon the completion of his 11th on the South Side of Chicago. Konerko continues to produce with the bat, reaching his seventh season of at least 25 home runs in 2009. He ranks second in club history with 10 seasons of at least 20 home runs, trailing only Frank Thomas' 11.
During the 2004 and '05 campaigns, Konerko joined Thomas as the only franchise players to hit 40 home runs in back-to-back years. And Konerko was a driving force in the team's lone World Series championship in the past 91 years from 2005.
All of the statistics are impressive, with a career .278 average, 325 home runs and 1,042 RBIs. But those individual numbers rarely, if ever, are addressed by Konerko in-season. He's too focused on what can be done to help the White Sox win.
In 2005, when the White Sox watched a 15-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central on Aug. 1 drop to 1 1/2 games on Sept. 24, it was Konerko who calmly stated that the White Sox simply needed to reach the playoffs and they would be a different team. The White Sox 11-1 run to the title proved Konerko's points accurate.
|"Physically what you are doing is the best way to lead, especially in sports. That will hold more water than anything you say."|
|-- Paul Konerko|
"I know him and [Jim] Thome both, when Thome was over there, just super, really nice guys that play the game right. And they've played the game right for a long time," said Royals outfielder Josh Anderson. "When you mention those names like Paul Konerko, you think of someone who comes to work every day and has done his job for a lot of years now. He's gained a lot of respect from players across the league."
"There are two types of people in the big leagues," White Sox rookie third baseman Gordon Beckham said. "One type expects everyone to show up and play and take care of business. Paul is one of those guys. Another type is maybe a little like that, but more rah-rah. There are two ways of doing it, and Paul sticks to the first one. That's fine with everyone on this team."
According to Konerko, his father and high school baseball coach were great sources of early leadership training. He also talked to other players over the years, the sort of unsung leaders who Konerko picked their brains in regard to leadership skills.
Thome, a good friend of Konerko's, would not be one of those unknown leaders.
"Jim is a perfect example of someone who leads by physically what they do every day," Konerko said. "He's not a rah-rah guy. He's not going to come in yelling on the bench or in the clubhouse. If a guy needs to be pulled aside and talked to quietly or over dinner, he'll do that.
"I've never seen anyone prepare to play every day better than Jim. He's as consistent, as hard-working, as any player I can imagine. No letup every day. It's a tough season to do that as much as we play, but he doesn't miss. Every day he's the same."
That same characterization would fit Konerko perfectly. Konerko has taken his leadership into the community, with the help of his wife, Jennifer, and Jim and Andrea Thome. They became involved with Children's Home + Aid of Illinois, which reaches nearly 40,000 children and families throughout the state of Illinois each year through a wide range of services like adoption, foster care, education, counseling and child abuse prevention programs.
They spearheaded the "Family Champions for Family Champions" program, which focuses on building awareness and support for foster care. But it's not really something Konerko did because he's a leader. It's more about helping out those who need the help and support.
Ultimately, that sort of altruistic quality is why Guillen chose Konerko as his captain. It's an honor that Konerko holds to this day, even if he simply considers himself one of the many leaders on the team.
"Well, it's a lot of different definitions people have," said Konerko of leadership. "The No. 1 thing for me is you show up to your job every day and no matter what your job is, you are consistent in the way you prepare for your job.
"Vocal stuff and how people talk to others, there's a lot of debate on that kind of stuff -- what is and what isn't a leader. But by example, physically what you are doing is the best way to lead, especially in sports. That will hold more water than anything you say. As time goes on, the best thing is to show up to play hard every day."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.