Monday, October 5, 2015

An Ode To Mark Buehrle

Yesterday was the last game for Mark Buehrle, and it was not ideal.  He came in for two innings so that he could have his 15th season in a row with 200 innings.  Instead, he got shelled and wasn't able to complete those two innings.  It broke my heart because Mark Buehrle has been one of my favorite players, and I just wanted the best for him.  It is actually very telling that the milestone that Buehrle was shooting for was not strikeouts or wins, but innings pitched.  He was a model of consistency and professionalism, clocking in and doing his job well.  Buehrle won 214 games in his career and pitched a perfect game, but he's not quite Hall of Fame worthy.  He's one of those great players who doesn't get celebrated enough because he won't end up either in the headlines or in Cooperstown.

I was actually there for his first game on the White Sox, all the way back in 2000.  I remember sitting in the stands, Buehrle coming in, and wondering who this kid was.  (Awfully pretentious of me, considering I was only 24 years old at the time.)  He came in as a relief pitcher for James Baldwin, a player mostly forgotten by White Sox fans.  I remember baking in the first row of the upper deck on a hot summer Sunday afternoon with a couple of friends, looking down on the bullpen and seeing this unknown hurler warm up.  It was the late innings of a game the Sox had well in hand, garbage time essentially.  He gave up a couple of hits and run in an inning of work.

How could I know that this man would lead the White Sox to glory?  The next season he already pitched over 200 innings and got 16 wins, proving himself to be the workhorse that he would continue to be for the White Sox.  I noticed at that point the distinctive way Buehrle pitched: all business.  Instead of dawdling on the mound, he just kept the pitches coming like some kind of machine.  I always tuned into the so-called "Buehrle game" in the team's rotation, since it meant that 1. the Sox stood a good chance of winning and 2. it would be quick.  His quick pitching was a throwback, as well as his stuff.  In a time when pitchers have to have a fastball well into the 90s to get a cup of coffee in the majors, Buehrle got guys out with a mix of crafty pitches.  

He never got a lot of strikeouts nor did he ever lead the league in ERA.  However, he was consistently good, year in and year out.  When he pitched a perfect game it was such a great moment from my perspective because Buehrle finally got some recognition for individual brilliance on his part.  (That game also saw a miraculous catch by Dewayne Wise to steal a home run and save the perfecto, one of my all time favorite White Sox moments.)  It was a sad day for me when Buehrle left my White Sox after the 2011 season.  The bloom had already fallen of the rose of the team's 2005 World Series title, but I could still take heart in the fact that one of my favorite players from the championship was still on the team.  Alas, it was no more.  

Fifteen years after I first saw Buehrle take the mound on the hot Chicago day he is a aging veteran about to retire.  Rather than a young swashbuckler enjoying the fruits of being young, single, and gainfully employed in Chicago I am now a middle-aged family man in the New Jersey suburbs with a mortgage to pay.  During most of that time of change in my life one thing I could count on was that Mark Buehrle was going to take the mound for my team and pitch a good game.  Despite how his last game went, I hope he can look back with some great pride at what he's managed to accomplish.

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