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Ruminations on Mark Buehrle’s number retirement ceremony

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Pace is fittingly economical, Frank Thomas steals the show, and White Sox can’t capitalize afterward

Oakland Athletics v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

If you missed the retirement ceremony for Mark Buehrle’s No. 56, the White Sox archived the entire ceremony on MLB.com, just like they did with Paul Konerko’s.

In fitting fashion, Konerko’s ceremony video runs 47 minutes and 34 seconds, while Buehrle’s clocked in at under a half-hour (29:42) — perhaps because Buehrle’s on-field introduction doesn’t seem to have made the editing cut.

They probably should take another crack at that video to catch Buehrle coming onto the field, but that’s about all that’s necessary. After all, Buehrle’s emphasis on shorter runtimes was one of the day’s recurring themes.

Buehrle said he dreaded public speaking in the run-up to the ceremony, but he came to the podium with few if any notes, and he won the crowd over with the opening line: “I’m not good at this stuff. I should be on the mound, not standing here in front of this mic talking to you guys.”

That, of course, earned a large round of applause. He corralled his family not once but twice, then acknowledged the groups in attendance -- family unit, coaches/players/staff, extended family and friends, and then signed off with the fans. No tears were shed, although Frank Thomas came closest.

Speaking of the Big Hurt, a couple lines got me thinking.

“He was never flustered. I don’t care how great the players were, how big the game was. His goal was to get us out of there in two hours and 15 minutes.” — Frank Thomas

Thomas isn’t an orator in the classic sense, but he does have a spark to his style that is hard to capture. I think it’s the dissonance between seeing a huge guy who stopped caring how emotional he gets. “Impulsive” comes to mind, but without the harmful connotation. There’s an immediacy to the message he needs to get out. You could take what Thomas said and shape it into a great script, but there’s no time for rewrites.

For instance, the line above is the kind that you’d write down first, because you know it’s so good that you’d have to figure out a way to build up to it. His speech about Buehrle also had a great arc — from seeing him emerge from minor-league camp in spring training to face him after he left the Sox. It got the best response from Buehrle.

Thomas: “And yes, I did face him when I was in Toronto, and it was most uncomfortable at-bat I’ve ever had.”
Buehrle, off-mic: “You took me deep, though, you ...
Thomas: “Well, I did go deep one time, but you dominated me the other three at-bats.”

He also came up with the best kicker: “I just want to say, love you guys, you’re the best fans in baseball. Mark Buehrle deserves this. Congratulations. Stop being modest. You’re one of the greatest pitchers that ever toed this rubber in Comiskey Park, ever.”

Thomas foreshadowed rambling by saying, “I don’t need paper. I don’t need paper. I could talk for two or three hours about this guy.” Instead, he came up with a tight 100 seconds that featured a logical flow and two highlight lines, and he didn’t overstay his welcome after the second one. Thomas’ effusiveness jumbled a couple other sentiments, and a writer would have the urge to take his transcript and refine it, but doing so would shed both some of the frankness and the capital-F Frankness.

“Mark, in case you weren’t aware of it, we don’t draw 40,000 people every day.” — Jerry Reinsdorf

Jerry Reinsdorf was in his finest what-are-you-gonna-do-fire-me form from the start:

Given his underrated knack for trolling people, I started to wonder if the White Sox scheduled Buehrle’s day in the wake of the NBA draft on purpose, given the way Bulls fans blame him for favoring his other team.

Reinsdorf leaned into the heel role before presenting gifts -- the aforementioned ATV and an even bigger truck among them — prodding White Sox fans with the line above, and painting his own caricature by noting that Buehrle’s rapid pace cost him concession money. He also showed how secure he is in buying Buehrle an enormous truck, because Buehrle probably has at least one truck that’s even bigger than the Toyota Tundra he received.

At any rate, the “40,000” part stuck with me, not because I took it personally, but because it reminded me that the Sox were going to have to put on a show afterward for a big crowd, which is something they haven’t done well in previous years.

Sure enough, after the 10-2 shellacking at the hands of the Oakland A’s, the White Sox are now 9-17 in games that drew at least 30,000 fans to U.S. Cellular / Guaranteed Rate Field over the last three years. They’ve been outscored by 33-7 over the last four, all losses.

Reinsdorf received a greater share of applause than Kenny Williams, who literally shrugged off the loudest concentration of jeers and became a human “Deal With It” GIF in the process.

Two guests later, Ozzie Guillen received the largest ovation for reasons I don’t quite understand. OK, I understand it, but I don’t understand the priorities that drive it.

Buehrle’s tenure on the South Side was long and successful enough to create quite a tangled web of front-row attendees. This shot captures most of the inter-office drama the White Sox have courted this century.

From left to right, off the top of my head:

  1. Feuded with #3 and #4 as a White Sox player, #5 after leaving the White Sox, and had a complicated financial history with #6.
  2. Accused of stabbing #3 in the back, being a mole for #5.
  3. Accused #2 of betrayal, backed #4 in public spat with #1, tried to get #5 fired in a power play before/while quitting on team owned by #6.
  4. Feuded with #1, was fired by #5 (although back when the White Sox could change managers like a normal team).
  5. Trashed #1, survived an attempted coup from #3, fired #4.
  6. Jerry Reinsdorf, who really should’ve been No. 1 in this exercise.

If only Chris Sale were around for longer than the year and a half at the end of Buehrle’s White Sox career. That would have completed the set.