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White Sox’ retired numbers wall gets a little more crowded

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Mark Buehrle is a worthy admission, though, and he doesn’t have much company for the foreseeable future

Twins v White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For the most part, the White Sox’ decision to retire Mark Buehrle’s number was accepted as right and just. He was a fan favorite, and he was a media favorite, and for reasons that often overlapped.

It invited a few skeptics, and they deserve to be heard. Retiring numbers shouldn’t be taken lightly, because they are theoretically permanent. Moreover, the White Sox have a history letting emotions blind them, such as when they retired Harold Baines’ number a dozen years before Baines himself retired. The first-hand account of that ceremony in 1989 is really something:

The fan response throughout was polite, but nowhere near as loud or long as the roars that greeted Baines` return to Comiskey Park Thursday night. With an imperfect public-address system, no advance publicity and no No. 3 joining other retired numbers on the right-field wall (that will come later), the crowd-27,158, boosted by a car-company promotion and Umbrella Day-seemed confused as to what was really going on.

Baines became the seventh White Sox player to have his number retired. Only the Yankees, with 12 numbers, have retired more. At 30, he`s believed to be the youngest player to have his number retired whose life or career wasn`t shortened by tragedy.

The White Sox have retired a lot of numbers, and Baines is a precedent since Jerry Reinsdorf is still in charge. That history makes it fair to scrutinize the team whenever it treads in this territory.

I considered Buehrle an easy “yes” because his career stands away from a slippery slope. His White Sox numbers aren’t rarefied — they’re pretty similar to Wilbur Wood’s in a lot of regards:

  • Buehrle: 161-119, 3.83 ERA, 2,477 IP, 1,396 K, 120 ERA+, 49 WAR
  • Wood: 163-148, 3.18 ERA, 2,524 IP, 1,332 K, 116 ERA+, 51.8 WAR

They’re both unique pitchers whose feats will be hard to duplicate, but the signature aspects of Buehrle’s profile involved the community more -- a World Series ring, a perfect game, a no-hitter, and the league’s fastest pace. Throw in the extra wins and value with Miami and Toronto that got him over the 200-win mark, and he should receive some Hall of Fame votes as well, if only from similarly appreciative scribes. I don’t think Buehrle is a great bet to get past the first ballot, but I’d vote for him solely due to the possibilities for the text on his plaque. He’s got a story the way other similarly productive ballplayers do not.

When it comes to retired numbers, I think the question to ask is, “How easy does this make the next one?” Buehrle doesn’t lower the bar for entry, nor did Konerko, and Frank Thomas is inner-circle material. If you give Carlton Fisk extra credit for being a Hall of Famer and having a number nobody else would normally wear, then that makes Baines the only really weird one of the last 20-30 years.

(Aside: Fisk and Buehrle are great arguments for picking numbers in a higher register. Jose Abreu’s No. 79 probably won’t be retired, but it’ll still be strange to see somebody else wearing it.)

Moreover, with Buehrle going up on the wall and Chris Sale in Boston, there really isn’t a next retired number to even realistically consider for the foreseeable future.

Well, except one.

It’s reasonable to assume Ozzie Guillen’s No. 13 will join them at some point. Nobody has worn the number since he quit on the 2011 White Sox, and there was an irregular gap between Luis Aparicio (11) and Paul Konerko (14) on the wall above home plate, although we’ll see if Buehrle’s shifts them around any.

I can see the signs, although I still don’t understand the reverence. Perhaps down the road, when the White Sox have finally made consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in their 100something-year history, I might be able to look back at his tenure and better appreciate the selling points. He was a great manager for the first six years or so, and I wouldn’t want anybody else helping make the World Series happen.

As it stands now, though, it’s hard to stomach a ceremony for Guillen when the White Sox still haven’t cleared out the wreckage he left behind, or stopped making the mistakes that contributed to the end of his tenure (they couldn’t read the writing on the wall with Robin Ventura, either). Until the Sox can create a self-sustaining system led by a manager who both wants and deserves to be there, retiring Guillen’s number would be an ill-timed celebration of the self-defeating part of the team’s DNA.