“Yeah, they are supposed to hit your mistakes. That’s what baseball is. Let it go. You are holding too much aggression. Let it go. Focus on the glove, hit the glove, make this game easier for you. Why are you trying to make it harder?” –Mark Buehrle to Marco Estrada
This Saturday, during a special pregame ceremony, the Chicago White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle’s number 56. On designated “Mark Buehrle Day,” he’s scheduled to throw out the first pitch, his son Brandon will perform the Star Spangled Banner, and ballpark visitors will receive a commemorative pin. For those who don’t know, the five time All Star spent twelve of his sixteen major league seasons with the Sox, and was their Opening Day starter from 2002 to 2006 and from 2008 to 2011. With a World Series, a no-hitter, and a rare perfect game on his record, it only makes sense that the team would take the time to celebrate his incredible career.
Yet despite the fact that the Sox are the ones hosting this historic occasion, I imagine there are quite a few Blue Jays fans who are feeling some nostalgic emotions about Buehrle receiving one of baseball’s highest honours. Having spent his final three seasons as an MLB player in Toronto, and playing his last game of baseball with the Jays on October 4th, 2015, we are perhaps compelled to call him one of our own. After all, his contribution that special year helped send the Toronto Blue Jays to their first postseason in more than two decades.
When Buehrle did ultimately leave baseball, he seemed to sort of quietly sneak off into the sunset, simply disappearing without any notable public fanfare or tearful celebration. In some ways it felt like an odd way to end things, especially given that he had evolved into one of baseball’s most beloved and reliable pitchers. Yet given that by many accounts he was a man noted for his humble, quiet, and unassuming nature, that he was a noted lover of animals and known as calm “Papa Buehrle” to teammates, maybe quietly was indeed the most in character way for it all to end.
Famously cut from his high school baseball team in St. Charles, Missouri, Mark Buehrle is perhaps best known for seeing the value in not overthinking things. “The faster you work, the better off you’re going to be,” he once said. “I just don’t see any reason to go out there and waste time. Just get out there and throw the ball.” It was a mantra that served him well in achieving his status as the fastest working pitcher in major league baseball six of the last seven years he pitched. In this vein, he would very rarely shake off his catchers, with Dioner Navarro once joking, “he just doesn’t want to get blamed for anything bad that happens.”
Buehrle’s rapid, efficient style was perhaps most notable on July 6, 2015. Facing his White Sox mentee, Chris Sale, he pitched a game in an astounding 1 hour and 54 minutes—at the time, the fastest in nearly four years of major league baseball. His name was often easy shorthand for a surprisingly swift afternoon at the ballpark, and a living argument against the common complaint that baseball takes far too much time.
“Buehrle was seemingly not concerned with trying to make the perfect pitch,” writes Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs on the incredible speed in which Buehrle worked. “He was concerned with making merely a good one. And perhaps this is where his pace and approach can be instructive.”
But beyond the ballpark, Buehrle’s unique approach spoke to many of us on a deeper level. He became a sort of beacon of hope for the anxious, the overly thoughtful, and the overwrought. There was something so beautiful about what he represented—a signature lack of second-guessing, and a deep trust in himself, his catcher, and the moment. Further, Buehrle seemed to display a lack of concern over the personally frivolous (as Sawchik notes, he was excused from “the club’s data-heavy advance meetings,”) and despite his elite status, he valued basic productivity in a world bloated and buzzing with insignificant details.
In relaying how meaningful it was to call Buehrle a teammate, Marco Estrada shared this gem with Postmedia: “One of the first things I asked him was what he thought about when he was out there (on the mound), and basically he said ‘Nothing.’”
In a game known its complexity and meandering pace, Buehrle was a special sort of simple, speedy anomaly. Though at times it looked like he really just wanted to get home after a (short) day at the office, it was thrilling and inspirational to watch him work. Though this weekend marks an important celebration for the Sox, it’s also a time for Jays fans to reflect on how lucky we were to witness first hand his final games on mound, and how grateful we are that, for a time, we got to call him our own.