Goodbye, #56

Goodbye, #56
Thanks. // Tribune photo by Phil Velasquez

Mark Buehrle leaving doesn't seem like it should have the immediately flooring impact that it does.

For one, his departure was telegraphed beyond the realization that he was the 2nd best starter available in three agency, to when the White Sox decided they would play the same high-stakes game of letting him hit the market that was played with Konerko, and knowing they'd be hard-pressed to pull it off again.

Second, it comes at the end of a dizzying stretch of bad White Sox news.  The off-season began with the manager situation imploding to the point where Ozzie Guillen asked out of his contract, this week began with Minnie Minoso getting denied what could be his last chance to get into the Hall of Fame while alive, and Tuesday saw talented young closer Sergio Santos shipped off to begin what should be a laborious rebuilding process.  The feeling that these are the end times, that we're officially exiting the age of optimism and and ambition for White Sox baseball that the 2005 title introduced--and leaving it for a while--was already creeping in.

And yet, Buehrle signing with Miami cements it all.  Both a tremendous sadness and feeling of loss, and a burning discontent about the direction of the franchise that made his leaving inevitable.

I couldn't decide if Buehrle's departure merited an entire post commemorating his countless great deeds (probably still), or an entire post deriding the decisions that led to this point (less fun), or trying to rationalize why the White Sox probably had to move on when the price reached 4 years, $58 million (unwanted).

Buehrle forces out all those feelings at once, so maybe it'd be wrong to split them apart for the sake compartmentalization.

He was simply the face of the franchise, and embodied nearly everything fans and teams covet for such a role.

For a team that values it as much as anyone in the league, Buehrle was the easiest pitcher to project in the game.  At all the extra, effort-laden elements of his job; fielding, public relations, charitable works, outward personality, he was plus-plus, with nary a dissenting word about his reputation.

His flaws--lack of velocity, not overpowering stuff--only humanized him in a way that was more endearing.  Nothing about a guy from rural Missouri who loves hunting has ever screamed "SOULMATE!" to me, but Buehrle was so securely likable that he invited the kind of affection that we're so thoroughly warned against attributing to professional athletes.  I don't think Buehrle was my favorite White Sox player ever, but now it seems absurd that he wouldn't be, as if I was being contrarian for no reason.

In many ways, Buehrle was apart from the rest of the roster.  For one, Draft & Follow doesn't even exist anymore, and Chris Sale and Addison Reed represent the rare pitchers like Buehrle who were brought to term from the draft to the pros only because they miraculously managed to repeat his own near-instantaneous ascension.  And along with Konerko, he was the only player that pre-dates the Kenny Williams era, where acquiring veterans and viewing only snap-shots of their career is more the norm.

Now that he's gone, there's not much left besides the cold future for the team, and the executives, players and contracts who brought it about.  Perhaps that's why there's so much anger emerging toward Williams and the current White Sox way of business on this day, despite the fact that the seeds have been being planted for his departure for years with a steady wave of onerous salary commitments to less-deserving parties.

As painful as it is to imagine, and horrible to write, $58 million for four twilight years of Buehrle is an overpay.  He's as good of a bet as any of the big-ticket free agents to absolutely earn every cent of his deal, but it's still not a particularly smart allocation of funds, and I can't really besmirch the White Sox for the decision they made on December 7th, 2011.

Part of the outrage of this moment, is of course, that it's hard to understand what the consequences are until they hit.  I know I really didn't fully wrap my head around the fact "Man, 2011 was disastrous" until seeing Buehrle's picture with a Marlins hat pasted onto it, and maybe it will hit even harder when he's yucking it up with Guillen in 70-degree weather in April.

But the White Sox haven't been any great shakes in plenty of the last 11 seasons, and even then have still offered the weekly solace of Mark Buehrle's skilled and always aesthetically pleasing starts.  Perhaps that's one of the great joys of baseball, that even in the midst of the most awful season there's still the promise of select nights that stand apart and are perfect on their own.

Now we'll have to look for a new, reliable source for those bits of time, and standing on the doorstep of rebuild sounds like the worst time possible to try to grasp at a new figure to embrace.

If I even wanted to.

There's a part of this process of his leaving that I have enjoyed, and it's hearing the excited words from executives and fans of other teams on the prospect of landing Buehrle, and all that he brings.  Being tied to a baseball franchise that more or less has so-so attendance and a less-than-automatic place in the national spotlight, there's a consistent fear that my appreciation of players is just a bizarre incarnation of regionalism.

With Buehrle, my fears were allayed.  His durability was championed, his consistency was coveted, his professionalism was raved about, and his services were wildly overpaid for.

He really was great, everybody knows it, and I feel pretty stupid for even bothering to wonder.

---------

I met Frank Thomas a few weeks back at one of his promotions for his super-alcoholic beer at one of our local liquor warehouses.  I couldn't decide how to strike the balance between articulating clearly how I happy I felt that he was back in the city, glad-handing all over the place, making nice with the White Sox, and generally allowing us all to feel as good about every memory we had about him in the uniform as we wanted to...and blabbering like an idiot and creeping him out.  So I scrapped it, and just tried to be as polite and gracious as possible when he agreed to sign my hat when he wasn't really supposed to.

Having blown that chance, and seeing as I'm probably not going to get the chance with Buehrle anytime soon, it's worth some practice here.

Thanks, Mark.  It was truly a privilege to witness your career and remarkable accomplishments first-hand.  The two no-hitters, the World Series championship, and 11 years of reliable, and dutiful service of the team would probably been enough for fond memories even if you were one of the bigger jerks in the tri-state area.  Instead, your warm and tireless attitude with the press and fans, and commitment to the team (till the end), encouraged every warm fan feeling of attachment and love that we're normally better off resisting.

That's a lot sentimental fan blubbering, but if we don't ever get a chance to care, what's the point?

 

Follow White Sox Observer on Twitter @ JRFegan and on Facebook

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Nice epitaph, and I don't want to deny anyone some Buehrle love, but I thought James was ready to embrace the bad on the White Sox horizon, even though it terrified him. Exciting like getting ready to drink a bottle of gin, or something like that, in one comment a couple of weeks ago as I recall. And I was very much looking forward to reading it. But after three days of wintermeeting, James has gone from his first well gin rickey straight to the two day hangover.

    I'm dying here. More funny and sabermetrics, please!!!!!

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Well, when it was first announced, I seemed to be the only one on Twitter joking around and saying "White Sox agree to terms with Compensatory Draft Pick!"

    I was waiting till the smoke cleared on whatever rebuilding trades are left for the "Now we drunkenly stagger into hell..." post. Of course, if nothing else goes down, there could be a "Um, Kenny, trading the cost-controlled closer and letting a guy go in free agency does not equate to rebuilding, you twit" piece

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    Now that's more like it! I need to join twitter, but it represents to me simultaneously all that is wonderful and dreadful about the digital media age. I'm ambivalent. But hey, that's my problem.

    I hope you don't have to write the "Kenny you twit" piece. I'm really starting to worry that the Sox are going to enter the season with a lame-duck team made up of players whose trade value Kenny hopes will increase when other teams get desparate in July. 'Cuz it's only then you can land the big fish, like Zach Stewart!

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    I feel like I need to ration my distaste for Zach Stewart, lest it bubble over in excess. He's probably a sweet kid who tries very hard. Hell, he probably works on that changeup he doesn't have every day of the week.

    Yeah, anymore straddling the fence would be intolerable. Blow it up already, especially if you're going to announce a rebuild and let the best rotation piece walk. Trust me, if the snark is what you value most about this blog, the next 3-4 years should be killer.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    I like the snark, but I value it all, and sweet's got nothin' to do with it.

  • As far as the Big Hurt "super alcoholic" beer, the Beeronaut and other sources indicate it is 7%. I go back to when 3.2 was not considered beer, and was considered wimpy, but I guess with the 56 or 64 calorie beers that obviously have only a trace of alcohol (since the main source of calories is alcohol), standards have changed. So, your giving the impression that "clean Frank" was selling the equivalent of 4 Loco or Colt 45 doesn't seem warranted.

    The Buehrle situation leaves me mixed, given that at the time of the last contract he gave the home town discount and indicated that he was going to retire at the end of that contract. The latter didn't happen, and the Sox at least used to have a policy of not giving pitchers more than 3 year contracts. So, I guess times have changed somewhat in that regard too, although the old policy indicates that the Sox were not going to match this offer, and everyone knew that.

  • In reply to jack:

    Heh. Alright. It was kind of a throwaway joke, but no, I didn't mean to besmirch Frank in that way, and I apologize if that was the indication.

    They probably shouldn't have matched what he ended up signing for in a million years, but I would offer that if they were aggressive about re-signing him at all, they wouldn't have had to.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    An excellent point and now I am sad.

    I'm not sure where Kenny would have found the money to re-up with Buehrle in 2010-11. I won't say by passing on Dunn, Rios, or Peavy because those moves seemed ill-advised in hindsight mostly.

    But if KW was intent on finding the cash to re-sign Buerhle, not trading Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson would have been a good start (great, another reason to hate that trade). Giving Mark Teahan a chance to horrify you anywhere you put him on Roger Bossard's green earth before you extended his contract would have helped too.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    If only those moves weren't so disastrous and actually brought some wins, maybe it wouldn't even matter how lacking in cost-effectiveness they were.

  • He's not worth what he got. No matter how good he was here.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    No argument here. Big-ticket free agency deals almost always inflate a player's worth, and man, this off-season was not an exception.

  • Hey all!

    I too am more saddened by Buehrle leaving than I expected to be, even though I never really was that big a fan of him over the years. However, he really does represent what's best about the Sox: He's a scrappy guy who always gave his best and occasionally perfomed way above his natural talents.

    As a person, he is a great guy and was a credit to the organization. I wish him the best, and will probably follow the Marlins even more next year, at least one game out of five. I hope he and Ozzie have some good times down in Florida.

    Was he worth that much money? HELL no. However, it would have been smart for KW to keep him if at all possible, because honestly, who the heck is the new face of the franchise?

    Paulie would be the obvious choice if he weren't obviously grimacing in pain every time he swings a bat.

    So I would have to go with AJ, which works for about one fan total - me. Nobody loves AJ.

    But hey, I've said it before and I'm saying it again right now. There is only one face of the franchise, and that is the one on the front of Kenny's big head. He owns it now. It would not surprise me one bit if he starts making noises next year about managing too when the team continues to flounder.

    One positive is that a lot of kids on the South Side will get to see some games next year because they're going to have lots of tickets to give away.

    Another positive is that this appears to be the last hurrah for plug 'n' play and hope for the best. Even the Cubs picked up a marquee GM, and the Cubs SUCK!

    Now that the cupboard is completely bare, perhaps there are some hungry young 19 year old bucks out there who will play for free just to get a shot, because that's where the Sox are headed.

  • In reply to Charlemagne:

    Paulie wouldn't be grimacing if Andrew Miller had some friggin fastball command!

    Also, I have to wonder when's the last time you made it out to the Cell, my friend. The cheer whenever AJ's name comes up rivals anyone's. If everyone was of the mindset of "Meh, he makes a lot contact and is a decent bat for a catcher, and is good enough with pitchers to look the other way about his throwing arm and blocking skills...he's solid enough, I guess", I wouldn't feel the need to point out all his foibles. Well...even then yeah...blog topics don't grow on trees.

    Yeah, I've already noticed myself ramping up my scrutiny on Williams since Ozzie left. The talk of going into 2012 with what they got now doesn't excite me in the least, even if it would be a half-decent club with a little luck. I would like to see his legit approach to rebuilding the franchise.

Leave a comment