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?