Already we're halfway through the preliminaries, with some interesting and thought-provoking matches already past us.
One of those was ours for the viewing yesterday, between NCAA legend George Horton and two-time world champion Bruce Bochy. Bochy handily defeated Horton 64-32 (67% to 33%) in the second straight match that saw 2-to-1 outvoting.
Our next match could be a bit closer--maybe. One of these combatants is recently retired and has already gotten a leg up on his coaching/managing career. The other has been looked at as a future manager someday, but has just one interesting quirk--he isn't retired yet! Let's see where this leads.
DARIN ERSTAD (NCAA) vs. PAUL KONERKO (CWS)
Darin Erstad is a man of Angels legend. The most recent player to have been picked first overall by the Angels (1995 draft), whose ceiling was high enough as it was before his historic 2000 season, that likely could've yielded better MVP consideration if the team's pitching had backed their absolutely legendary offense that year--one which also saw Troy Glaus belt a team-record 47 home runs, and others such as Garret Anderson, Mo Vaughn and Bengie Molina put up above-average years offensively. It was in 2000 that Erstad became the only man to hit for 100 RBI from the leadoff spot, raking up 240 hits and a .355 batting average, good enough to earn him 8th place in MVP voting for an 82-80 Angels team under then-fledgling Mike Scioscia. Erstad never came remotely close to his 2000 production again in his career, but was nonetheless a reliable presence in the Angels' order for a few seasons thereafter, before becoming little more than the "veteran leader" role on the team. Although he left the team after the 2006 season, Angels fans have always been warm to Ersty. Aside from his historic 2000 season and leadership abilities, he is also, to date, the only player ever to win a Gold Glove at first base and in the outfield (if my memory serves me correctly). His most golden fielding moment, however, was catching the final out that sealed the Angels' first--and to date, only--World Series championship in 2002. Could he be just the guy to settle the team directly under its NEXT title run? He's struggled since becoming head coach at the University of Nebraska--but is his collegiate record any indicator of major league success?
Paul Konerko, although often thought to be a one-team player, actually had very brief stints for the Reds and Dodgers before coming to the White Sox in 1999. Since his joining them, however, he has been an exceptional presence both with the bat and in the clubhouse. His name only occasionally came up in the discussion of managing post-career--that is, until after the 2011 season, when the White Sox hired fresh meat in the form of Robin Ventura to manage the team, and player development director Buddy Bell stated that Konerko was actually considered by the front office as a player-manager candidate (he would've been the first in 30 years). Since then, many have been eager for Konerko to retire--not because his skills are eroding (which may be true, but only mildly so), but because those many are equally as eager to see him step into the coaching scene. Konerko, after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 (their first world title in 88 years), was a free agent, with a lucrative offer from the Angels (5 years, $60 million), which would've been the second-largest contract given to a free agent by the Angels if accepted. Konerko, however, took less guaranteed years and money to stay with the White Sox--an astute move, not one that many Angels fans can fault him for. We'd get our own slugging first baseman from a World Series winner six years later. Aside from that, if Konerko were to hang it up after 2013 (which he insists he won't, as does fellow teammate Adam Dunn, who is under similar speculation to retire), would he be a good candidate to jump right into managing? And even if he doesn't retire, could it be possible he would leave his team of 15 years for the same player-manager opportunity with the Angels?
This is yet another interesting match to consider--vote and discuss and let's see where this one goes!