By Bruce Levine
U.S. CELLULAR FIELD (CBS) — The retirement of Paul Konerko’s number 14 jersey was a bit more than what your usual player gets for his day in the sun stuff. The White Sox never had a classier man to represent the franchise and the fans showed up forty thousand strong in support of their man.
Former teammates and managers showed up to salute Konerko on his special day. The group included World Series championship manager Ozzie Guillen, who originally made Konerko his captain in the 2006 season. Guillen received the second loudest cheers from the sellout crowd when he was introduced.
“Bottom line here is he will always be loved by the fans,” said Konerko about his former manager. “He won a World Series as a manager so they are going to love him. Ozzie was always great to me. He was always great to the players on the inside. He was constantly asking, always asking what you needed. He would take care of you if you had injuries, very compassionate man. Great family guy, not only with his but everyone else’s on the team. I am an Ozzie guy. I will stick for Ozzie through and through. The guy took care of me, we won together. A lot of things went down the wrong way. I stick up for Ozzie. I will always be on his side.”
The ceremony was interrupted by a microphone short. Konerko had kept talking and when he came back on mic he deadpanned, “And that is what I believe is the meaning of life.” The fun-loving but serious Arizona resident always was just a regular guy who happened to have a gift for hitting a baseball and playing a kids’ game.
“It was a little blip and gave me some time to gather myself,” Konerko laughed about his joke. “You know you hate giving speeches. It is not what we do, it is not what we are trained to do. I just tried to talk from the heart, to be original. I think I used my best material months ago. I really just wanted to thank people. I hope that gets some play because you get help from coaches no matter who you are. I leaned on guys more than the average guy. That is especially true in the hitting department (He thanked Greg Walker and Mike Gellinger).”
As Konerko made his way around the ballpark after the ceremony, he was shocked at how many people, including White Sox game day employees, thanked and congratulated him.
“I am up here as a civilian now and you just don’t realize while you are playing how many people you are touching. I had no idea how much it matters. This is a game, no one is out here curing cancer. There are times when you touch people because of what you do out there. It really matters in their life and helps them in a real, human way. To see that it really hits home a lot more. You say, ‘Wow, I just had my head down for twenty years.’ It feels good.”
White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf released a statement after the ceremony saing, “Today’s pregame festivities were a tremendous celebration of Paul Konerko, what he meant to this organization and what he means to White Sox fans. Having your uniform number retired is one of baseball’s very highest honors, and Paul very deservedly belongs with all of the other White Sox greats who have starred over the many decades. His baseball statistics speak for themselves, and his value to the organization and to our community of Chicago exceeds all he accomplished on the baseball diamond. Paul has left a lasting impression on this city and this team, while leaving all of us with memories that will last forever. Thank you, Paulie.”
Konerko deserved everything he got in rave reviews and more. He was a great professional on and off the field for twenty years.