When Konerko speaks it's in much lengthier, thoughtful kind of language than you'll hear from many athletes, but he's also so soft-spoken that his voice is barely audible above the blare of the clubhouse television. That being said, the 36-year-old — who's having an MVP-type season — has been around the game a long time, and clearly has much knowledge to impart on his younger teammates.
That's why Konerko is one of only two players in Major League Baseball to hold the official title of captain on their team, the other being the venerable Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Unlike former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney, neither Jeter nor Konerko wear a "C" on their uniform, but it's clearly an indicaiton of great respect around the big leagues.
"I was flattered that Ozzie [Guillen, former White Sox manager] gave that to me while he was here," says Konerko. "But it's definitely given my teammates a lot of ammo to make fun of me, that's for sure."
In the dead ball era of baseball, captains were much more common and basically filled many of the duties that managers do today. But in the modern era the title is largely symbolic, with no official functions. So what is the day-to-day role for Konerko as captain?
"I discuss the too many men on the ice penalties, that's part of it," deadpans the slugger. "I'm not too sure how big of a deal it is, but it's my feeling that — and obviously we have some older players on the team — getting older it kind of comes along with the territory. I'm not sure there is one role in baseall [for the captain]. If there was, every team would do it."
Since the captain has no defined roles, it's up to the individual to decide what to do with the honor. In Corey Sandler's 2006 book "Watching Baseball: Discovering the Game Within the Game," a 24-year-old California Angels captain by the name of Jerry Remy is quoted in 1977 as saying "there's probably no need for a captain on a major league team. I think there are guys who lead by example. You could name the best player on your team as captain, but he may not be the guy other players will talk to or who will quietly go to other players and give them a prod."
In truth, a captain in today's game probably doesn't fulfill a role much different than any veteran willing to take the time to mentor younger players. Kevin Youkilis did the same thing for Will Middlebrooks before his trade to Chicago, but the Red Sox haven't carried an official captain since Varitek retired before the start of the season.
"I feel like on this team we probably have five or six captains," says Konerko. "I think all good teams sort of have that feeling. I hope it's made me better at times, but I also know there are times I've fallen short of that. There are times where you fall down and you don't really do or so or act the way you want to. I definitely don't see myself with guys like Jeter or Varitek for what they've done for their teams."
Either way, Konerko's duties as captain sure haven't taken away from his ability to prepare his own game, as the first baseman is currently having one of the best seasons of his career at age 36. Hitting .321 with 14 home runs and a .909 OPS, Konerko is a big part of the reason the Sox find themselves atop the American League Central, 3 1/2 games up on the Deroit Tigers.
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