I’ll never forget October, 2005. The Chicago White Sox went 99-63, taking home the AL Central Title. After sweeping the Boston Red Sox, the pitching staff threw an impossible four complete games in a row to defeat the Angels and head to the World Series. One final sweep against the Houston Astros and the White Sox were World Champions.
As the White Sox plowed through their playoff opposition, it seemed like nothing could slow them down. They had been in first place all season long and winning the World Series seemed like a reality that I had never before experienced.
And then it happened.
The players of the 2005 World Champion White Sox remain burned in my memory and on many items of clothing that I still own. Great names like Konerko, Dye, Rowand, and of course, Buehrle, were all part of that memorable 11-1 postseason run. After the season, I was sad to see Rowand go and even more sad when no team picked up Jermaine Dye in 2009, just one year after he almost made the All Star game and 4 years after he was World Series MVP.
Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle are still the clubhouse leaders that they were in 2005. However, while Konerko looks forward to hopefully another productive season in 2012, southpaw ace Buehrle enters free agency for the first time in his career.
Buehrle after his perfect game
As much as I would like to say that picking up Buehrle for another season is a no-brainer, it isn’t that simple. The White Sox already have five starters for next year in Peavy, Floyd, Danks, Humber, and former relief pitcher Chris Sale. This isn’t counting the young Zach Stewart, who is looking like a very promising sixth man.
In addition to having starters aplenty, the White Sox simply can’t afford to resign the pitcher that has thrown two no-hitters (including a perfect game) and currently holds the record for consecutive batters retired at 45. With a record payroll of $127 million in 2011, general manager Kenny Williams will be looking to trim expenses, not hand out multi-year contracts to pitchers in their thirties.
You won’t hear it from him, but the modest Buehrle is one of the most successful active pitchers in the majors. He has gone ten consecutive seasons with ten wins and at least 200 innings pitched. He also became the first pitcher in history to start and save back-to-back games, which he accomplished during the World Series in 2005. He also has the distinction of having pitched a game that finished in only 1 hour and 39 minutes.
Buehrle has openly said that before his career is over, he would like to pitch in the National League, preferably for his favorite team growing up which was the St. Louis Cardinals. However, he isn’t letting this aspiration cloud his judgment. He will still give serious consideration to remain in the town that loves him if the phone rings and it is the White Sox asking him to continue his service in Chicago.
Buehrle closed out the 2011 season in classic fashion. He threw seven solid innings and took home the win while getting backed by two runs from the offense. In the eighth inning, Don Cooper let him go out onto the mound while his teammates stayed in the dugout. This allowed the crowd of 23,000 to show him their appreciation with a standing ovation.
To pitch like Buehrle is the dream for every pitcher who doesn’t throw a scorching fast ball. I used to (and still do) admire the way that he lets batters hit the ball while trusting his teammates behind him to back him up. His style always allowed him to push deep into games and his control meant that it was a rare batter that got a free walk to first base.
If the White Sox had played up to expectations this season, then maybe this would be an article about how White Sox ace Mark Buehrle led his team to another playoff appearance. However, it is an article about one of my favorite players leaving my favorite team which is an article I’ve never wanted to read, let alone write.