In fact, Williams' proposal of two plans for the team to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf -- one going young and one being quite a bit more costly -- has come up during each of the two Town Hall Meetings at this weekend's SoxFest '11. While White Sox fans seem downright euphoric over the direction taken by their team, Reinsdorf explained on Saturday how close the call came to moving in the younger direction.
"We reached this year," said Reinsdorf of the franchise-record payroll sitting near $123 million. "Last year was a difficult year. We weren't as good as we thought we could be. Our attendance was down. Financially, it came out OK.
"Thinking about this year, we had to make a decision for the long term: Were we better off to try to get better or were we better off to use this as a rebuilding year? That's the thing that took us a long time to make up our minds.
"Finally, I just decided like two days before the Adam Dunn signing, 'Let's go for it,'" Reinsdorf said. "Let's hope if we spend the money, the attendance will pick up. And once we committed to Adam Dunn, then we had to be all in. Then it had to be [Paul Konerko] and we had to bring A.J. [Pierzynski] back."
Reinsdorf sat with Konerko and Pierzynski in the Honore Ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton during Saturday's 45-minute private seminar for those SoxFest guests who had upgraded to the Big Hurt Package. The conversation was light and entertaining, as moderated by Ken "Hawk" Harrleson, with topics ranging from favorite players growing up (Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson for Reinsdorf, Don Mattingly for Konerko and Dale Murphy for Pierzynski) to Pierzynski encouraging people to buy Harrleson's book, to Konerko reminding Pierzynski who was the first catcher taken in the 1994 First-Year Player Draft.
Konerko was selected 13th overall by the Dodgers, one pick ahead of Jason Varitek, and well ahead of Pierzynski's third-round selection by the Twins. Pierzynski answered Konerko's barb by moving off of his chair and doing a rough impersonation of how Konerko, the now accomplished first baseman, once looked as a catcher.
"I couldn't squat," said Konerko with a laugh. "That was the problem."
Plenty of focus fell upon how Konerko and Pierzynski returned to the White Sox, and their stories sounded very much alike. Unlike the negotiations when Konerko last was a free agent after the 2005 World Series championship, during which there was ongoing dialogue from November moving forward, Konerko really didn't hear anything from the White Sox until the first Monday of the Winter Meetings.
This three-year, $37.5 million deal came together in three days. Reinsdorf played down his role in Konerko's return, although Harrelson talked about knowing Konerko was on his way back to Chicago when Reinsdorf told him over lunch that same Monday how he would do everything in his power to keep Konerko.
"This whole thing was overblown," said Reinsdorf of his involvement. "I really was not involved in the process.
"Negotiations were between [White Sox assistant general manager] Rick Hahn and Paul's agent [Craig Landis]. The only role that I played was, the only issue was length of contract. And so I told Craig, 'You work everything else out and if it comes down to length of contract, I'll make them give you the extra year.' But that was it."
Pierzynski already has discussed how he was one call away from becoming part of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In honoring a promise he made to Reinsdorf at season's end, Pierzynski called the White Sox to give them one more chance before he went west.
Hahn called Pierzynski's agent and "they wished me well," according to Pierzynski. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was on a flight and wasn't available to approve some language in the contract that general manager Ned Colletti already had agreed upon, and during that waiting time, Pierzynski was told by his agent how Hahn had made a proposal for the White Sox.
At that point, Pierzynski had taken his two children to the driving range to goof around, but with his phone dying, he had to return home to make sure he could get calls. McCourt did agree to the language in the contract, but Pierzynski had never said yes to the Dodgers. He called Reinsdorf to see if the White Sox offer was real, and when Reinsdorf said yes, Pierzynski was back in Chicago for two more years.
"It really came together in 10 minutes," Pierzynski said. "No negotiating process. It went from wishing me well to back with the team."