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Retiring Paulie and Pierre

Let's be clear that the White Sox have more pressing concerns than wondering where to put Paul Konerko's likeness and his retired No. 14 once his playing days have ended.

Nevertheless, a guy's mind wanders a bit while sitting through a lackluster performance at The Cell early in this puzzling season.

You look across the faces on the left centerfield fence, and it's apparent that the two newest honorees - Carlton Fisk and Frank Thomas - share a space, while Fox, Baines, Appling, Minoso, Aparicio, Lyons and Pierce have larger tracts. But, hey, they got there first.

Space will be designated for Paulie when the time comes, but who knows where it will be?

Years ago this business of retiring numbers was practiced only by the Yankees. And that was for good reason. They had most of the great players.

In addition, they also had the space in the old Stadium for lots of plaques. Lou Gehrig, who was dying of the disease that today bears his name, was first in 1939 on the day he retired. Today 16 Yankees have been honored.

The Sox' greatest player in the first half of the 20th Century was Joe Jackson. His career average over 13 seasons was .356, third highest in history. But the thorny problem of throwing the World Series really screwed things up. But fret not. Players didn't even wear numbers in those days.

The Sox' first retired number was Appling's No. 4 in 1975, a mere 25 years after he finished his career. Apparently it only took a quarter-century for management to figure out that Luke was a pretty good ball player. Two batting titles and a career .310 average make a nice impression.

Old Aches and Pains, Luke's nickname, was a longtime teammate of Ted Lyons, the other really old-timer out there in left center. One could argue that it took 30 years for the franchise to recover after the core of the team was expelled from the game following the 1920 season. Lyons played for 21 seasons and Appling 20, all with the Sox. In that time, the team never finished higher than third.

On the other hand, Konerko has a World Series ring and two additional post-season appearances. And he's doing his part this season to rally the team from disaster. The Sox aren't there yet, but last week's West Coast swing was reason to keep watching.

The Sox limped out of town after two losses to the lowly Twins. Anyone predicting a 6-3 road trip would have been taken as seriously as Charles Barkley commenting on ballet. So how did they do it?

The Angels were no misnomer as a wild pitch on an intentional walk to Konerko (haven't seen that before!) went a long way toward Wednesday's 6-4 win. A's hurler Brandon McCarthy's errant pickoff attempt in the second inning gave the Sox their final run in a 4-3 victory on Friday.

Don't underestimate the role of good fortune when it comes to winning ball games. The Sox had some gifts coming their way. Lord knows, they've given enough away so far this season.

But how about Sergio Santos. He is becoming a premier closer. So far this season in 19 innings, no one has scored on him. His confidence is growing, and the guys setting him up - Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Chris Sale - are improving right along with him. Serge left the tying run on third base in Sunday's 4-3 win over Oakland. No way they would have won that game the first two weeks of the season.

With the return of Jake Peavy, Ozzie is trying out a six-man rotation. Jake's six-inning debut on Wednesday was promising. His control was spot-on; he effectively changed speeds; and he was aggressive. He pleaded with Ozzie to go out for the seventh after 88 pitches.

The other starters - with a couple of exceptions like John Danks' rough outing in the 6-2 loss to the Angels on Tuesday - have pitched late into games, keeping the Sox competitive.

You get jazzed thinking about the prospect of a potent offense like most observers expected earlier this spring. Yet Konerko remains the one truly dependable hitter.

Others like Dunn, Quentin, and Ramirez have produced some big hits, but this team leaves far too many runners on base and fails to move guys along when they sorely need to.

Alex Rios isn't hitting much, but he's bounced back before. Meanwhile, Gordon Beckham is playing a solid second base although he and Brent Morel often look lost at the plate.

That leaves Juan Pierre, a guy who is key to the offense. The effectiveness of the middle of the order is compromised when Pierre doesn't get on base, and so far he's been under .250 with only 14 walks in 40 games.

A .297 lifetime hitter who led the league in steals last year, Pierre has been picked off and thrown out more than he's stolen this season. That's a glaring problem, as Sun-Times beat writer Daryl Van Schouwen pointed out last Friday.

Defensively, Pierre has been a liability, and I'm being kind. He couldn't make a catch on Wednesday against the wall, leading to an Angels run against Peavy. We watched him blow two games in April when he dropped fly balls. He's committed five errors. He can't throw. Sort of makes Alfonso Soriano look like Joe Rudi.

Pierre has had a fine career, and no one can say he doesn't hustle. But how's this for a solution? Put Quentin in left field, and bring up Dayan Viciedo and let him play right. He's killing the ball at Triple-A Charlotte, and he hit over .300 last year in 100 at-bats with the Sox.

The team surely will lose nothing defensively with this alignment, although they wouldn't have a legitimate leadoff man. But the way Pierre is going, they don't have one now.


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