By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The time to honor White Sox icon Mark Buehrle is Saturday. His jersey will go alongside 10 other White Sox players who have had their number retired. Anyone who knew Buehrle or had any contact with him will tell you he was a joy to watch on the mound and a person to admire.
The human side of the let-hander was always about a professional with this young boy’s enthusiasm for baseball and the people in the game. It was Buehrle who reached out to every teammate and raised $10,000 for trainer Alan Thomas and his family when their house burnt down in 2010. Buehrle was always the one to seek out a sick kid or catch the first pitch at all home games. He felt it was his duty and his pleasure to make someone’s day a little more special.
“The greatest compliment to me is hearing nice things from people,” he said. “I always wanted to be liked by everybody. I always tried to have fun, stay loose and joke around with guys. At the end of the day, I am just a normal dude. I was very fortunate to play professional baseball and stay healthy for a long time. It is a great compliment hearing that guys say I was their favorite.”
On May 21, 2003, I was walking through the White Sox clubhouse after batting practice. Buehrle was the starting pitcher that day in the midst of the longest losing streak of his career. As I began to walk by him, Buehrle yelled out to me: “Hey, Levine, do you think I will ever win another game again?”
I told him about all the pitchers who had had bad luck during unlucky points of their career. He told me he was, for the first time ever, doubting his own talent. Our talk didn’t end it.
The losing streak went on another 26 days. The man who would win 161 games for the White Sox went 0-9 from April 10 until June 16 that season. While most young pitchers would be lost or sent back to the minor leagues, Buehrle, with a 2-10 record, picked himself up off the baseball basement floor. Buehrle ended up winning 12 of his next 16 decisions to finish at 14-14.
“I was actually coming in as the new pitching coach at that point,” Don Cooper recalled. “We moved him from one side of the rubber to the other, which helped his sinker and change-up. That was it.”
That is what I will remember about the essence of Mark Buehrle. Not the perfect game or the no-hitter that I was privileged to watch, just the good guy and an awesome teammate that he was.
Buehrle maintained he doesn’t miss the game on the field but that he would like to stay involved with baseball after his son Braden, 10, and daughter Brooklyn, 8, are out of high school.
The World Series still stands out to Buehrle as the high point of his career. That’s not surprising, knowing he always put his teammates before himself.
“That is why you put the uniform on and go out there,” he said. “So, after Game 4 and clinching, standing there in Houston, realizing we were the last ones standing and bringing a championship back to Chicago.”
Thank you, Mark Buehrle for being a credit to the game and a person Chicagoans could be proud of — on and off the field for 12 seasons. You made my job easy by pitching two-hour games and always being a good guy.
Enjoy your day special day.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.