This has been a bit of a hot topic the last few days on White Sox Twitter, so I'm going to do my best to break it down from 30,000 feet.
I'll start by saying that I LOVE Paulie. Love him unconditionally. There will be inherent bias in this blog because of that, but I'll try to keep level-headed at the same time. This grand slam in 2 of the 2005 World Series is still one of the very best moments of my life:
I get the chills every goddamn time I see that video. Funny thing is, it's against the Astros. There's an urban legend that Paulie knew Chad Qualls was tipping his pitches and said so to the dugout. First pitch, boom, grand slam. Fast forward about 15 years later and the Astros are stealing signs the new aged way instead of the old fashioned way.
But that's not the only reason Sox fans love Konerko, because obviously. He was a really good fucking hitter. Here are a few of his achievements:
- 6 time all star
- 439 career dingers
- .279/.354/.486/.841 career slash line
- 118 career wRC+
- 24 fWAR/27.7 bWAR
- 30 HR, 97 RBI 162 game average
Solid numbers across the board, aside from his WAR which was greatly affected by his defense. I'll say this: Konerko was NOT a bad 1B. Not in the least. He had no range, but he was as sure handed as there was defensively. In the words of Billy Beane, he was a "picking machine". He saved runs on runs just by picking bad throws from Alexei, Uribe, whoever. But because he was such a sub par athlete, WAR never liked his defense. Voters are going to look at the number without knowing context IMO. The average fWAR for a 1B in the HoF is 68.8. Konerko's isn't half of that.
It is what it is, but if he were just an average defender his WAR numbers would be a lot prettier. That's going to be the biggest thing holding him back.
But what made Paulie great was that he was the epitome of a 'professional hitter'. Worked all fields, low K rates, good walk rates, and could pound fastballs as good as anyone in the league while he was in it. That's it. That's why he's honored even being on the ballot at all. Dude could just hit and hit well.
I watch MLB Net like 12 hours a day and they are breaking down the ballot right now. They assess people not only the total body of their careers, but by their peak years as well. Konerko had a few REALLY good peak years. Years that would get him MVP consideration in any era. He never won one, but his 2004-2006 stretch were really fucking good:
2004-2006 162 game average: ~39 home runs, 110 RBIs, .912 OPS. Those are MVP type numbers for three straight years.
But it's just... still not quite good enough IMO, at least not when we're talking about being inducted into The Hall. To his defense he did have a few other awesome years, and though his peak seasons do look HOF worthy, there just weren't enough of them IMO. His career was really good, it wasn't great. Like 'fuck you' great.
That said, let's rewind it to the first half of his 2012 season:
This was the stretch I remember thinking to myself, "holy shit he's actually going to hit 500 home runs and get inducted". He was ON FIRE that stretch and doing so in like his age 100 season at this point. But that season was sadly a tale of two halves for him, as he through up a dud in the second half. He'd only play one more full season after that and fell about 60 dingers shy of the 500 club.
When I look back on the early to mid 2000s 20 years from now, I'll think of Miguel Cabrera, A Rod, Ichiro, etc. as the players that dominated the era. I'll never totally think of Paulie that way. Love him to death, but he was just a rung below the best of the best. He was the perfect 1B for the White Sox, is on his way to the Hall of Really Good, and that's fine. He got us a World Series and that's literally all that matters.
And no, don't talk about Harold Baines. Just because one person got in who shouldn't doesn't mean they should start letting everyone with a borderline shot in. That waters down The Hall and isn't what its purpose is.