Paul Konerko is hitting .302 with 24 home runs through 134 games this season. (Layne Murdoch / Getty Images )
Paul Konerko makes the Dodgers and Angels think of what might've been.
In a July 4, 1998, trade made by Dodgers then-interim general manager Tom Lasorda, a rookie Konerko was sent along with reliever Dennys Reyes to the Cincinnati Reds for closer Jeff Shaw.
After finishing the season with the Reds, Konerko was dealt to the Chicago White Sox, and in 2005 was selected most valuable player of the American League Championship Series after helping eliminate the Angels. He was granted free agency after that season and the Angels tried but failed to sign him.
Konerko, who re-signed with the White Sox, has 420 home runs and 1,331 runs batted in.
The 36-year-old first baseman, a six-time All-Star and team captain, strives to lead a team directed by rookie Manager Robin Ventura to the AL Central title.
What will be the key to the White Sox winning the division?
"Just a consistent approach every day. We've never been too high or low through the first 150 games and we just need to continue that for the ones left."
What were your expectations for this team when the season started?
"I don't really know. Since day one, Robin has preached getting ready every day, the rest would take care of itself as long as we did that. We had complete buy-in."
Ventura has stepped in and taken this team to this point after last year's disappointment under Ozzie Guillen. What have been his major contributions in doing that?
"To answer a question like that, people might assume whatever answer you give, the opposite is true. Robin has just been solid and consistent in the way he treats us. I don't know that that's the main thing, but whenever he needs to let us know what he wants, he comes in right in front of us and lets us know. It's worked up to now and I hope it takes us to where we want to be, in the playoffs. He just has a certain style to push us just to play for today, to take today for what it's worth and not worry about tomorrow or yesterday."
You have experience succeeding in late September and into October. Do you approach these games and at-bats differently than you would in May?
"You hope not to approach it differently. If you get out of your routine, from what you've done in the past, that's when it doesn't go well. Playing well this time of year is mostly just a byproduct of not getting outside of yourself."
What has surprised you about where you guys stand now, when Detroit appeared a strong favorite to win the division?
"What's been nice is we've had a lot of good young guys step forward, have good years and do things to win games in a pennant race. To get that experience under them this quickly is a nice thing for the future of our organization. These guys went from watching to becoming established players."
One of those is closer Addison Reed, a Southern Californian with 28 saves.
"He's gotten us through some important innings, closed a lot of games in ways to show he's ahead of his years. The sky's the limit for him."
Your success is a source of angst for Dodgers fans. Why didn't it work out?
"It depends on your perspective. I came up and made the team in April of '98, then had a bad April and went down to triple A, but had a good May there. Then I came back up in June and still wasn't that great and they traded me. I don't make much more of it than that. I might've been the same player I am now, or maybe I would've been worse. There's no way for me to tell."
Did being traded help you, and in what way?
"No way, not at all."
There were some reports last year that you were such an effective captain, it'd be conceivable having you take over as the White Sox player-manager.
"No, that wasn't going to happen."
You have no interest in that? It would've never happened?
"You never say never, but it wasn't going to happen."
You were torrid early on, hitting .399 on May 27, and now you've cooled (.231 in 44 games before Sunday). Have you been affected by pitching adjustments that have made it more difficult, and can you discuss how you deal with those highs and lows?
"I don't talk about myself in those terms."
Would winning at this stage of your career, in this surprising manner, make this your sweetest moment in baseball yet?
"Any team that makes it into the playoffs can get hot and go all the way. This team has the potential to do that. I don't know if doing it this way would make it sweeter, but it would feel like it's the best, because it's now in the present. We deserve it. This has been a good group and I hope we get what we want."