Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quite a Pair-o'-Sox: Wishing Ozzie Well, Hoping Buehrle Will Stay

I'm a Cubs fan. I'm also a White Sox fan. I know that sounds like heresy and blasphemy to those with allegiance to either side, and antithetical to one of the unwritten bylaws of Chicagoism--like putting ketchup on a hot dog or parking in a space someone else shoveled--but I don't care.

Should the day come when pigs fly, hell freezes and the Cubs and Sox meet in the World Series, again, I will be rooting for the North Siders. Until then, I wish both teams nothing but success and revel when either achieves it.

I have a number of close friends who are avid Sox fans, including one with prime season tickets, so I typically get to more games at the Cell than at Wrigley. And though I didn't attend any games during the White Sox World Championship playoff run in 2005, I was elated when they won and attended the victory parade (at which I was nearly crushed to death). Mind you, the high wasn't quite as high as the low when the Cubs blew Game 6 (which I did attend) and 7 of the NLCS in 2003, but it was damn cool to see a Chicago baseball team win it all for the first time in more than two of my lifetimes.

Therefore, I appreciate the job Ozzie Guillen did as manager, in 2005, in sum over the past 8 seasons and--despite occasional eye roll-inducing actions, decisions and statements--in serving to remind that whatever the inflated economics, baseball is still a game and fun should always be part of it.

He wasn't perfect, he wasn't always successful, he often wasn't politically correct--including perhaps in how he orchestrated his departure--but more than not Ozzie Guillen was good for baseball, good for the White Sox and good for Chicago.

I'll let others pontificate about how much he was to blame for this year's disappointing season and some others, but with generally favorable impressions, I wish him well as he goes off to manage the Florida Marlins in their new stadium.

Speaking of the Marlins, at this moment, Catching Hell, a new documentary about the "Bartman incident" is on ESPN. I imagine it is well-made and I am recording it on the DVR, but I'm not watching it and not sure I really want to. Even beyond not being anxious to relive the moment, I'm not sure I want to learn anything more about Mr. Bartman's ugly and unjust victimization.

But more imminently, as I write this, I've decided to catch what may be the last game Mark Buehrle ever pitches in a White Sox uniform.

In the last season of a 4-year contract that paid him $56 million--matching his uniform number (times a million)--Buehrle may not be back next year, after 11+ seasons in a White Sox uniform. And through the 5th inning, he's pitching another gem, which could give him his 161st win (against 119 losses) in a game where he went over 200 innings pitched in a season for the 11th time. He's also started 9 opening days, pitched a no hitter and a perfect game (I was lucky to be at the former), made 4 All-Star teams, won two Gold Glove awards (for fielding excellence), was a pivotal member of the 2005 champions and has pretty much been the White Sox cornerstone since his first full season, 2001, when he went 16-8.

Following a relatively mediocre season last year--you can see Buerhle's career stats here--he has been strong again this year.

So although attendance hasn't been so hot on the South Side this year, hopefully Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Kenny Williams will find the money to re-sign the team's best pitcher over the last decade--Buehrle's still just 32--and hang onto one of the better left-handers in the game.

For if Buehrle takes his talents elsewhere, the White Sox'--and Chicago's loss--won't just be of innings pitched and games won. No, if Buerhle goes, I will just as much rue the loss of one of baseball's finest paragons of class and humility.

In an era where we all too often hear of athletes'--and other public figures'--misdeeds, arrogance and much else, I've never heard or read anything negative about Buehrle. I certainly don't pretend to know him, but everything I've observed--from his sliding on the tarp during rain delays to his joyfully catching most ceremonial first pitches at U.S. Cellular Field to his gracious demeanor at an autograph show years ago to just how much his teammates (and Guillen) seem to love him--suggests that Mark Buerhle isn't just a great pitcher.

He's a great guy.

As I write this, Buerhle just walked off the field to a standing ovation. Let's hope it's not his last in a White Sox uniform.

But if it is, even Cubs fans who hate the Sox should wish him well.

Here's to a true Mark of excellence.

(The White Sox just won, giving him the victory. And in the postgame interview, Buehrle said he wants to stay. Let's hope he does.)

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