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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Konerko back, Garland to arbitration?
by Hal Vickery

Last week we predicted in this column that the Sox would re-sign Paul Konerko. We also predicted that Brian Anderson would be fine in his rookie season, and that the Sox would repeat as World Champions for the first time in their long history.

The first of those predictions has already come true. And it happened one day after one of the sportsblab stations in Chicago said it might happen in the next seventy-two hours. Paul Konerko signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Sox, and the way Konerko tells it, there are no incentives, no heavy backloading, and no diminished skills clause.

In addition he further stated to Dan McNeil on his WMVP radio show that the Sox never made him an initial offer of four years and $48 million as was reported in several media outlets and taken as gospel. He went so far as to call such reports “fiction.”

Sox GM Kenny Wiliams talked about going through “pain” in the negotiations, and Konerko spoke of sleepless nights. One can only imagine the things that end up being said in the course of negotiations involving tens of millions of dollars.

One can only imagine having to choose between taking $60 million dollars from the team you helped lead to the World Championship or a comparable amount from a team that has people in the front office who helped bring you through the minor leagues.

But in the end, Konerko decided to stick with “the team that gave me the chance to play.” In case you’re too young to remember the word, they used to call this kind of behavior “loyalty.” In an era of mercenaries, loyalty has become a scarce commodity.

The first clue that Konerko wanted to stay with the Sox came during the parade and rally in Chicago honoring the World Champions. Two acts conveyed his feelings: his presentation of the final-out ball to Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and his statement that in order to prove the Sox weren’t a fluke, “we” would have to do it again in 2006. Ken Williams was seen on the stage shouting, “I’m going to hold you to that.”

Some Sox owners would have taken Konerko’s actions that day as a sign of weakness. I can picture Charles Comiskey in a similar situation. He’s probably offer Konerko a salary cut and call it his “best offer.” In the past even Jerry Reinsdorf might test that loyalty with some outrageous clause and then recommend that Konerko not sign.

But none of that happened this time. Instead the Sox actually made what Konerko called “a fair offer.” According to Williams, it was an offer that both sides could live with. So now Paul Konerko is signed up for the long haul.

Heck, five years in baseball is more than the long haul. It’s close to being an eternity. If you don’t believe that, just think about how many members of the 2000 Central Division Champions played for the 2005 World Series Champions.

-----------------------------------------------------------

In the only thing passing as bad news this week, Bruce Levine reported on WVMP radio that the Sox and Jon Garland had broken off negotiations regarding a three-year contract extension. Garland will be eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. If negotiations don’t resume, then Garland and the Sox will go into arbitration.

I’ve heard enough players speaking about arbitration in interviews to know that it is something to be avoided. In case you’re not familiar with the process it goes this way:

Both the player and the club give the arbitrator a dollar amount. The arbitrator then hears evidence on both sides. The arbitrator then considers the evidence and decides which of the two figures the player deserves.

That’s the problem, however, and a reason why both players and clubs try to avoid the process. In order to justify their low offer the club has to present evidence of why the player doesn’t deserve that kind of money. It’s kind of like seeing your name dragged through the mud.

Hard feelings are the inevitable result. The players end up feeling insulted while the club knows it has created hard feelings that could come back to haunt them when free-agency time arrives.

People try to say, “It’s just business,” but even so, there are egos involved, and they’re bound to come out bruised.

Jon Garland finally came into his own as a pitcher this year. The Sox nurtured him, and once Ozzie Guillen was on board showed that they trusted him as a pitcher. We’d hate to see the good things that developed in 2005 turn to ashes in 2006 after a nasty arbitration hearing.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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