|Former Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, with his wife and children|
Buehrle warned us that his speech would be short and sweet, and it was. He opened by telling the nearly 40,000 fans who had gathered, "I should be on the mound, not standing here in front of this mic talking to you guys." That drew a loud round of applause from the crowd -- Buehrle looked as if he was in better shape than he was in the final days of his career in Toronto, and it's not far-fetched to believe he would fare better on the mound right now than James Shields does these days.
Buehrle didn't mention many people by name in his speech, probably because he didn't want to leave anybody out. He acknowledged each of the groups in attendance -- his family, including his wife, children and parents; coaches, staff and former teammates; extended family and friends; and finally, the fans of Chicago.
Other speakers included pitching coach Don Cooper, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Other former teammates in attendance included Joe Crede, Jon Garland, Scott Podsednik, Cliff Politte, Jim Thome, John Danks and Ross Gload. Ex-managers Jerry Manuel and Ozzie Guillen also were on hand.
Thomas' speech was a highlight, and he concluded with perhaps the best line of the afternoon when he turned to Buehrle and said, "Congratulations. Stop being modest. You’re one of the greatest pitchers that ever toed this rubber in Comiskey Park, ever.”
Indeed, the Big Hurt is correct.
Who is the pitcher with the most wins in the history of the ballpark? It's Buehrle with 90. Who is the only pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters in the history of the ballpark? It's Buehrle. Who is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in that ballpark? It's Buehrle. Add in the 2005 World Series championship, the three Gold Glove awards and the four All-Star appearances, and the victory in the 2005 All-Star Game, and that's why No. 56 is up on the stadium wall.
the day of Buehrle's perfect game, July 23, 2009, when he was one out away with Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett at the plate.
As we remember, Buehrle finished the job by retiring Bartlett on a routine grounder to short. I still find it eerie that the Sox had five runs on six hits on No. 56's perfect day. That coincidence never gets old for me.
It was also cool that the Sox found the kid who had the ball from Buehrle's famous between-the-legs-flip play from Opening Day 2010. Buehrle was presented with that ball as part of the ceremony. The play is still the greatest defensive play I've ever seen a pitcher make. If you haven't seen it, or don't remember it, click the link. It's incredible.
And, of course, no Sox ceremony would be complete without Reinsdorf taking a subtle dig at the fans. During his speech, he pointed out to Buehrle that there normally are not 40,000 people in the ballpark, as there were on Saturday.
Yeah, no kidding, Jerry, your current team stinks.
We were reminded of that quickly when the ceremony ended and the game started. Two batters in, Shields and the Sox trailed 2-0, and fans were chanting for Buehrle to come on the mound and pitch.
Predictably, the 2017 Sox squandered the festive atmosphere, losing 10-2 to fellow last-place team Oakland. In case you were wondering, the Sox are 9-17 in the past 26 games in which they have drawn more than 30,000 fans.
The game took three hours, 22 minutes to play. It was an anti-Buehrle kind of game on Buehrle's day, which is unfortunate, but it served as a good reminder that we need to cherish the good times of the past while we suffer through the present-day problems with the organization.
One of the great things about Saturday: Seeing Buehrle and all those former players took me back to a different and better time and place, when Sox baseball was fun, and you could count on the team being serious about winning.
Hopefully, those days will return with a next generation of players -- sometime before we die.