A few years ago, it seemed plainly clear that White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was entering the closing stages of a solid career, but one that only briefly touched stardom. Finishing with 400 home runs and playing for 15 years isn't the stuff of legend and it doesn't result in becoming the namesake of many awards, but it's a better career than the vast majority of players have in them. Even for a former first-rounder and top prospect, it certainly would be grossly unfair to deem it a disappointment.
After a fairly normal career and what appeared to be a fairly typical decline cycle, Paul Konerko instead spent his mid-30s trashing the aging curve. It's hard enough to shake a label that you earn in your mid-20s, so changing it a whole decade later is a tough challenge. Jose Bautista managed it a few years ago, but he was still in his 20s. Barry Bonds had a marvelous run in his late 30s -- putting the issue of chemicals aside for another time -- but he was already a superstar and an easy Hall of Famer, so it didn't fundamentally change what we thought of him as a player.
Konerko's late-career renaissance hasn't stopped at simply bringing back his prime years of his late 20s, but actually pushed him to a level he never achieved as a younger player. Since entering 2010 with a career .277/.352/.491 mark, Konerko has hit .315/.398/.560, an improvement easily clearing 100 points of OPS. Even more impressive, he's played this much better in a league in which offense has dropped in recent years, almost as if he's singlehandedly trying to preserve baseball's high-octane 1993-2009 years.
So just how unusual is Konerko's improvement? And does it make him Hall of Fame-worthy?