The White Sox have begun every year gunning for the AL Central crown for so long, that to do otherwise seems like a crisis of conscience. An unthinkable concession. Their chances for contention are slim this season, but if they're actually admitting it, good God, they may lose 100.
Or at least that's the concern that might pop up upon seeing the headline "Konerko: Sox can be successful without making the playoffs".
Instead what follows was a traditional Konerko mix of dry rationalism, and muted enthusiasm. As the headline itself demonstrates, taking a snippet of Paulie's spiel serves only provide a pointedness that isn't there.
"I don’t know why there always has to be a declaration on ‘This is what we’re doing as a team, we’re trying to win this year.’ It doesn’t really matter. You listen to the staff, you take their words on what they want to see you do and you run with it, and then you add it all together and see at the end and hopefully it’s good."
"There’s a lot of ‘ifs,’ " Konerko said. "But again I don’t think you have to sit there and say, 'We’re trying to win, we’re trying to rebuild.' Who knows. Cleveland last year, not that they won the division, but all in all I think it was a very successful year. Cleveland just came in looking to see what they had. But I think this year, this team is different than a lot of teams we’ve had recently.
"I hope I don’t throw anybody off with this, but this can be a very successful year without making the playoffs.”
The sentiment is pretty simple; as players, the members of the White Sox can only follow instructions and perform to the best of their abilities and hope for the best. At the same time, they're not dumb as rocks, and can recognize the direction that the organization is going in, which isn't so much dependent on "winning now" as making a positive strides, rebuilding the talent pool, etc.
Still, it's the captain of the team being somewhat ambivalent about the larger goal of the 2012 season, which is an interesting speed bump for a new manager to deal with.
“Yeah, I know what he meant. He’s talking about the expectations from the outside — of us being young and not even being in contention. If we play well and play good team baseball it can be, but we’re obviously looking for more than just that. I guess the way he’s looking at it, I get what he’s saying.”
Do you want everyone in the clubhouse looking at it that same way?
“No, he’s looking at it matter-of-factly. But he wants more than that too. Sometimes there’s nothing more you can do about it. He wants to win too, but I get what he’s saying.”
Robin tries to re-direct Konerko's comments as more addressing the outside expectations, while making sure to reiterate the easy-to-lose notion that the team goal is to win the division.
The way Ventura directly responds "No", when asked if he'd appreciate others speaking in this manner would seem to indicate disapproval--and I can't imagine he's thrilled--but he's also acknowledging that there's a difference between Paul Konerko--the longest-tenured player on the team--assessing the larger direction of the franchise in blunt terms, and say, Dayan Viciedo doing it.
But it doesn't even seem like the concept is taboo across the franchise. Even VP of Marketing Brooks Boyer--a man professionally motivated to provide an optimistic view of the on field product--was willing to acknowledge the point in his conference call with White Sox bloggers Tuesday:
"If you look at, if the Tigers win 110 games, and we don't make it to the playoffs; the development of some of the young players, and the maturity that comes with a new coaching staff working with some of the younger players to bring them along may put us in the position to be better as we move forward in our quest to get back on top. That's my sense of what [Konerko] is trying to say."
So there's a general consensus here that the White Sox have a goal to win the division, but realize that there's a real possibility that they could be outclassed, even if everything does break their way. With that acknowledged, there are still positive steps for the organization to take, especially in the wake of last season, besides just collecting the blessed playoff revenues.
And who could disagree with that assessment? This is something pretty much every White Sox blog of regard readily acknowledges, and Konerko's earlier, less controversial statement regarding last year's team "giving away games" due to distractions, is a prime example of one way this could happen.
There's always a call for teams and players to be more honest, (though the veracity of those claims could always be questioned) so there's certainly a refreshing quality to some realism encroaching into the White Sox party line, even if one could argue that they're still in outer space trying to pull off this rebuild-without-rebuilding.
The question is whether some acceptance of limitation, of less-than-optimal results, is deleterious to the team on some level. Is accepting something less than playoff glory is not promoting "a culture of winning"? These are concepts that make a lot of us outside observers groan, but are nonetheless repeatedly brought up by players and coaches as important to have properly set.
But whatever that is, the White Sox haven't had it in a while, and ramping up the expectations and pressure certainly didn't coax the best habits out of this group in 2011. A mature, rational approach to the season deserves a spin as much as anything else does.