EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – JULY 29, 2009
By Rich Trzupek
It may or may not be “America’s Pastime” any longer, but baseball is still your humble correspondent’s pastime of choice. Baseball is modern-day mythology, with larger than life characters performing impossible deeds in huge coliseums.
That said, I have never been a fan of the “rock star” mentality that goes along with any sort of celebrity, including that which accompanies guys who play games for a living. While one may admire their deeds on the field, it is almost impossible to know their character off the field. Too often, you are better off not knowing.
Accordingly, I have never been one to chase after autographs, or to display pictures of my favorite ballplayers. The advice that I gave to my daughter a long time ago still applies: enjoy the performance, but don’t assume that says anything about the person.
I made a single exception to that rule, a couple of years ago, and the autographed picture of a certain local ballplayer was hung with care within the halls of Casa Trzupek. Last Thursday, that certain ballplayer, one Mark Buehrle, sat down twenty-seven consecutive batters in a row, a feat that had only been accomplished seventeen times before in the modern era of professional baseball.
It was something special and not just because the guy who accomplished it throws a fastball with so little juice on it that every fan who ever played the game – including this one – looks out at the field when Buehrle is pitching and thinks: “geez, give me a bat, I could hit this guy.”
A lot of professionals have had the same thought, no doubt, but they invariably retreat to their dugout, time and time again, shaking their head after dribbling another in a long line of grounders to the middle infield. Buehrle reaffirms what has long been gospel in the sport of baseball, that pitching is more about cunning and control than it is about brute force.
Perfection, for such a pitcher, is remarkable enough. Indeed, the list of guys who have pitched perfect games features names like Koufax, Rogers and Randy Johnson, flamethrowers who blew the ball by the opposition rather than getting in their heads.
But there’s more to Buehrle’s bit of perfection than simply the physical feat, for Mark Buehrle is, I am certain, exactly what he seems to be: an unassuming, fun loving young man with his feet planted firmly on the ground. Nice guys, it has been famously said, finish last. Buehrle is proof that even this rule has an exception.
The left-hander from Missouri is the real deal, and there is plenty of evidence to prove it, from watching him turn the infield tarp into his own personal slip-and-slide to simply observing how he interacts with his team mates and the fans. He’s having fun and doesn’t allow himself to believe that because he makes a great deal of money having fun, he is somehow better than anyone else.
Perhaps the baseball gods needed a Mark Buehrle to pitch a perfect game simply to offset the perfect game that David Wells threw back in 1998. Wells, who would later admit that he was half-drunk and badly hung-over when he put up his own goose eggs, could be quite the boor to both players and fans, though he was a hell of a pitcher in his day.
Buehrle has talked about retiring after the 2011 season, when his current contract runs out. He speaks of spending more time with his wife and kids, and of heading back to his farm in Missouri. Some people seem to think that this is nothing more than talk. Perhaps that is so, but I rather doubt it.
It would be just like Buehrle to hang it up at the age of thirty two, leaving potentially a hundred million dollars that he might have made on the table. How many millions does a guy need, really? Not many, if you have your feet on the ground.
And you might think that I would be among the fans who would decry this planned early retirement, but I am not. In fact, I would applaud it. Not because I wouldn’t miss watching fifty six toe the rubber, nod his head in acceptance of whatever pitch was called, and then calmly flip up the best assortment of junk in the American League. I’d miss that a lot, but I’d also smile from the memories. Moreover, it would do my heart good to know that there are still people out there of such character that they can’t be swayed by fame or fortune. That’s an example that we all could use.
So Mark, if you chose to hang ‘em up in two and a half years, you’ll be going with the gratitude and admiration of Sox fans everywhere, not just for a day when you were perfect on the mound, for a career that has been as close to perfect – on and off the field – as any fan could hope to witness.
But I still could have hit that rinky-dink fastball of yours.