SCOTTSDALE -- The Arizona Fall League has long been recognized as Major League Baseball's "graduate" school, and on Saturday Paul Konerko picked up his honorary doctorate. Konerko was inducted as the 27th member of the AFL Hall of Fame in ceremonies prior to the Mesa-Salt River game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, and his No. 34 as third baseman of the 1996 Sun City Solar Sox was retired by the 20-year-old league. Ryan Howard, a member of the 2004 Phoenix Desert Dogs, is inductee No. 28 -- technically. The AFL doesn't formally induct honorees without their presence, and the Philadelphia first baseman is recovering from an operation on the Achilles tendon he had torn on the final play of the National League Division Series. Howard will be honored next year.
So the 2011 spotlight shone solely on Konerko, a Scottsdale resident who became the first local product enshrined in the permanent Hall of Fame displayed in Scottsdale Stadium's concourse. "I'm probably also the first member of the Hall of Fame who came to the games as a kid," said Konerko, whose family moved here from Rhode Island when he was 11. Considering about 3,400 prospects have played through the AFL -- more than 1,200 of them on their way to the big leagues -- inclusion among 28 Hall of Famers is certainly a prestigious honor. One definitely not bestowed upon Konerko for his play in the AFL. "I wasn't too good when I played here," Konerko said, and the record books bear him out, as the Solar Sox's third baseman batted .212 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 44 games. At the time, Konerko was a top prospect in the Dodgers' system, and he also paused in Cincinnati prior to arriving in Chicago, where he made his mark on the South Side. The five-time All-Star recently finished his seventh season with 30-plus homers and his ninth with at least 90 RBIs. Konerko called his induction into one of the few Hall of Fames one may enter while still active "a most pleasant stepping stone." "The AFL has grown up, with more stadiums now, but the core of why it started is the same," Konerko said. "Every organization sends a handful of guys, they're all put together and given a chance to see their best competition. "They grow and become polished together. Ninety percent of these guys will be playing against each other for the next 10 years," added the first baseman and captain -- but not manager -- of the Chicago White Sox. Konerko admitted being taken by surprise by White Sox general manager Ken Williams' admission -- after having already chosen Robin Ventura to replace Ozzie Guillen -- that he had considered Konerko as a player-manager. "That was never even mentioned," Konerko said. "I saw it in the paper, then got a million phone calls, but it was never something that was brought up to me before the manager was announced. "To tell you the truth, I've never thought about managing, not really. It was definitely flattering, but I really have no desire to do that. But I guess it was a compliment." Did being mentioned in that context put Konerko on the map as a future candidate to manage? "In my opinion, I do not see myself ever wanting to do that," he said. "But if you go back to 10 years ago, Robin Ventura probably would've said he doesn't want to manage, either, so you never say never. But as of right now, I don't see myself managing in baseball at any level when I'm done." That will come as a disappointment to Roland Hemond, a former White Sox executive and a principal founder of the AFL. During Saturday's induction ceremony, Hemond looked forward to "taking great pleasure in seeing this man's career continue." And when the time was right, Hemond said, Konerko "would make a great manager in the Arizona Fall League."