Heading into the 2022 season, the Chicago White Sox have a couple of question marks in their lineup. Most teams do, so it is really no surprise that the South Siders are still looking to address some major needs. However, there are several spots that are already nailed down in the Chisox lineup. One of those is at first base, where veteran and team leader Jose Abreu will lead the team onto the field for his ninth season. While this is the last season of his current contract, most Sox fans hope and expect that he will be back with a new deal in the years ahead.
No matter how much longer his career in Chicago ultimately is, Abreu is unquestionably one of the better hitters in Major League Baseball. He has been quiet but steady and a leading run producer over his entire career. He led the American League in runs batted in both in 2019 and 2020 and finished second in 2021 with 117. Consistency is Abreu’s middle name, as Sox fans can attest. However, he is not unique in his ability to hit the ball and drive in runs for the White Sox. In fact, there is no question that the Chicago White Sox have had a tremendous run at first base for the last three decades.
Thirty Years of Excellence
Abreu is just the latest in the line of White Sox first basemen who have been consistent run producers. The Sox have a thirty-year run of excellence at first base that may very well be unmatched in all of MLB. It all began when future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas broke into the American League in 1990. In his debut season, Thomas had a slash line of .330/.454./529 and an OPS+ of 177. Not bad for a rookie, and a sign of things to come for the former Auburn tight end. In an eight-year span, including his rookie season (which was only 60 games), Thomas amassed some historic numbers. In his first seven full seasons, Thomas had at least 100 runs scored, 100 RBI, 100 walks, 20 home runs. and hit at least .300 every season. These are numbers that have not been matched to this day.
In addition to the numbers above, Thomas’ lowest OPS+ in his first eight seasons was 174. He led the AL in OPS+ in three of those seasons. He also led the AL in walks, OBP, and OPS four times each. He also won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in 1993 and 1994. Over a seven-year span, he never finished lower than eighth in the MVP voting. Frank Thomas even won a batting title in 1997, hitting .347. In 2000, he hit .328 with 43 home runs and 143 RBIs but was cheated out of a third MVP by disgraced steroid user Jason Giambi. Over his 16 seasons on the South Side, Thomas hit .307 with 448 home runs and 1,465 RBIs. He finished with an OPS+ of 161. His legacy as the greatest hitter in White Sox history is sealed for a long time.
From Thomas to Konerko
Paul Konerko joined the White Sox as part of a trade in 1998 and made his White Sox debut in 1999. playing 92 games at first base. In his first season with the Sox, Konerko slashed .294/.352/.511 with an OPS+ of 116. He collected 24 home runs and 81 RBIs. He also cemented himself as the first baseman going forward, as he would man the position through the 2012 season. Konerko also became a team leader, and somewhat of an unspoken captain. Between 2000 and 2011, Konerko drove in at least 90 runs nine times and hit at least 20 home runs 11 times. In 2010, he had a slash line of .312/.393/.584, with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs. His OPS+ in 2021 was 160.
Konerko also hit 40 home runs in 2004 and 41 in 2005. Over his career, he hit at least 30 home runs seven times and drove in at least 100 runs six times. While his overall numbers were not as flashy as those of Thomas, Konerko was a solid and consistent hitter in his years on the South Side. He finished his Sox career with a batting average of .279, with 432 home runs and 1,383 RBIs. His single biggest moment came in Game Two of the 2005 World Series when he hit a clutch grand slam against the Astros to spark a Sox rally. Finally, he saved the game ball from the last out of the World Series and presented it to team owner Jerry Reinsdorf. This was fitting, as Konerko was such a huge part of what the Sox did that year.
From Konerko to Abreu
That brings us back to Abreu, the current first baseman for the White Sox, and the third Musketeer if you will. Abreu signed with the Sox in December of 2013, and immediately became the full-time first baseman on the South Side. In his rookie season of 2014, Abreu slashed .317/.383/.581, with 36 home runs and 107 RBIs. He won the Rookie-of-the-Year award, albeit at the advanced age of 27. He also had a career-best OPS+ of 173. He led the AL in slugging with a slugging percentage of .581. A pretty impressive year for a rookie.
Over the course of his eight seasons, Abreu has been a model of consistency for the South Siders. He has driven in 100 runs six times, while also driving in 60 runs in the 60-game 2020 season. He has averaged 33 home runs and 115 RBIs over a 162-game season. While injuries cut his 2018 season short, Abreu also plays virtually every day, demonstrating durability. He won the AL MVP award in 2020 and has also won three Silver Slugger awards. He has made himself into a decent first baseman, after a rocky start there. So far in his career, Abreu has an average of .290, with 228 home runs and 788 RBIs. He has certainly kept the South Side first base legacy alive.
Keeping the Legacy Alive
It is going to be difficult for the next White Sox first baseman to duplicate what Thomas, Konerko, and Abreu have done. Not to mention that Abreu may very well be back in 2023 and perhaps beyond. He will turn 35 years old next week, also he is not a kid anymore. Then again, he has worked very hard to stay in shape and does play a position that does not require as much physical exertion as others. So, it may be a while before White Sox fans see the next first baseman in the chain. Abreu has stated his desire to finish his career in Chicago, so we will see. However, no matter when Abreu decides to hang up the cleats, the next Sox first baseman will have some pretty big shoes to fill.
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