Whip out the checkbook, O's, and cash in on Konerko

O's need to open wallet for slugger

October 24, 2005|By RICK MAESE

CHICAGO — Chicago-- --Were you watching last night, Peter Angelos? Was your television tuned in to Game 2 of the World Series?

If you saw what the rest of us did, your next step is clear: Paul Konerko should be priority No. 1 this offseason. He needs to be wearing an Orioles uniform next year. That big bat needs to be swinging from Baltimore's four-hole in the lineup. Several owners are clamoring for some offensive punch, but no one needs this as much as you.

The suitors will start lining up the second the World Series ends, and no doubt they'll be flashing big bucks - a couple of commas and several zeros. Whatever they're paying, Peter, you have got to pay more.

I spent much of last night wondering if the game would be called off because of the heavy rainfall. In the bottom of the seventh, with the bases loaded and two outs, Konerko walked slowly from the on-deck circle to the plate. It was clear that that's why this game continued. He was supposed to be at the plate. He's the exact type of player who needs to swing a bat with the bases jammed.

The White Sox were trailing 4-2, but there was no reason to hold your breath. The Astros switched pitchers. Reliever Chad Qualls fired a fastball toward the plate, a pitch with a purpose. It was meant for the fat part of Konerko's bat.

"He threw it exactly where I was looking," the slugger said.

We heard wood smack the ball and then watched it disappear into a rainy Chicago sky. Across the ballpark, cold hands shot out of pockets and drenched ball caps were knocked to the ground. The grand slam gave the Sox a 6-4 lead.

Though the Astros tied it in the top of the ninth, Chicago's Scott Podsednik hit a game-winning homer in the bottom half of the inning. The 7-6 win gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead in the series. Podsednik didn't hit a single home run in the regular season, and now he has two in the postseason.

But enough about Podsednik, Peter, because Konerko is the guy you need to be focusing on. You already know this, but that grand slam had dollar signs trailing it over the left-field fence. Every time Konerko connects, his market price shoots up. He's becoming more expensive by the inning.

Konerko, 29, earned $8.75 million this year, the final season of a three-year, $23 million contract. He stands to make much more by next spring.

When you consider the Orioles' needs and what's out there this offseason, there's no bigger talent available to you than Konerko. The White Sox are a team that's known for playing "small ball." Konerko stands out as a giant.

He hit 40 home runs and had 100 RBIs in the regular season, becoming only the second White Sox player to hit 40 in consecutive seasons. And he's added five homers and 15 RBIs in the postseason, helping earn him MVP honors in the American League Championship Series.

No hit of his career was as big as that blast last night.

He called it the "second-best feeling" he's had in the past week. Last Tuesday, his wife, Jennifer, gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy named Nicholas.

You know what that means, Peter? See if he's registered at Babies "R" Us. Send him a crib, some diapers, a nanny. Ship the Konerkos an infant Orioles jersey with "Nicky" stitched across the back.

Konerko is not only a clubhouse favorite, but he's the exact kind of player the Orioles need to parade around Baltimore to help unite a disenchanted fan base.

Remember, you won't be alone, Peter. You've got to imagine that the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox are all drooling at the prospects of signing a heavy-hitting first baseman. And the White Sox have already announced that their top priority this offseason is keeping Konerko on their roster.

With a shallow free-agent market, it's difficult to say what kind of price tag Konerko might carry. Last year, the Mariners signed first baseman Richie Sexson to a four-year, $50 million contract. Konerko will command at least that much and probably more.

Konerko has indicated that he's interested in returning to Chicago, but he's leaving the door wide-open for you, Peter. He has said for the past several months that he's waiting until after the season to start plotting his future.

Plot it for him, Peter. Wow him with money out of the gate. We've seen you target players before and pull out that checkbook.

This is your key acquisition. It's an offseason of change for the Orioles, and signing Konerko would be the biggest upgrade you can make.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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