Over the last couple days you may have heard rumblings in the news that a certain baseball team in Chicago not called the White Sox has expressed interest in signing free agent pitcher Mark Buehrle. Im told the thought of the South Side legend calling the North Side home has produced such side effects as nausea, headaches, and especially -- heartburn.
As I sit here today, I cannot promise you that Mark will return to the White Sox. There are many teams knocking on the door, and reportedly even the team that plays at Wrigley Field. However, there is one thing I can assure you:
Mark Buehrle will not sign with the Cubs.
Rest easy, White Sox fans. It wont happen.
How do I know?
Lets start with what we know about Mark as a person. Growing up in a close-knit family in St. Charles, Missouri, the values that were instilled in him back then are still very much apart of his life. Ever hear the phrase Give me a child until he is seven and Ill give you the man?
He was born into a world that made him a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, and to a large degree, he remains that to this very day. The White Sox are number one in his life, the Cardinals are number two.
What do both teams have in common? A deep and utter dislike for the Cubs. Those feelings dont go away in a day or even three decades.
Mark also knows who he is. His life has become deeply rooted, not only in White Sox lore, but in the hearts and minds of the people who come to watch him play. He knows it, and when he takes the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, he feels it. Although he wasnt raised on the South Side, when he looks into the crowd, he doesnt just see White Sox fans, he sees a bit of himself. Meat and potato baseball fans. Thats one of the reasons hes become such an icon.
So would Buehrle, who has made 85 million in his baseball career -- millions more than he ever dreamed of -- jump ship to the other side of town, turning his backs on the only team hes ever played for, the only major league fans who have ever cheered for him, just so he could chase a few extra bucks?
These are just my words. Want to hear some from Mark?
Buehrle has declined to be interviewed until he signs with the lucky team. But an interview I did with him last February during spring training revealed what he was thinking then, and is very likely thinking now. Mark has lived by the same principles his entire life. I doubt they have changed in the last nine months.
In the conversation, he first explained that if the White Sox didnt re-sign him there would be a small list of teams he would play for.
Obviously St. Louis would be there, Buehrle said. Im not going to throw teams out to you because obviously getting to the end of your career youre going to want to go to a team thats going to win or has a chance to win. Youre not going to go to a team thats obviously rebuilding.
After winning 71 games and finishing 25 games out of first place, this would seemingly take the Cubs out of contention. One could argue that the White Sox situation isnt much better, but thats a subject for another column, one I would disagree with -- depending on the moves Kenny Williams makes this off-season. Its too early to go down that road.
Right now, I cant pinpoint how many teams, Buerhle continued. I know there are teams in my head I will not go to no matter how much money or what the situation is. If the White Sox dont want to sign me back after this year and some team that Im not a fan of, or I dont want to go play for, or if its just too far from home, Im not going to go play just to make money.
So I asked him. What about the Cubs?
Im not saying any names, any cities, any towns, but I have a few teams that are on my mind I would play for, and there are a few teams I wouldnt play for.
I told Mark that if he went to the Cubs Id be concerned about the mental well-being of many White Sox fans.
I could see that, he replied. I dont know if I can get up for that many day games. Im not a morning person. Spring training is about it, and then I need some sleep.
Mark is a smart person and also a smart business man. There would be no benefit in saying directly that he wouldnt play for the Cubs. But read between the lines. Its all there.
Cubs President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are reportedly pursuing Buehrle, which is what any smart baseball executive would and should do. On paper, hes a logical fit for the Cubs. Plus, they both have experience seeing one of their best players leave and play for their biggest rival. In 2006, Johnny Damon departed the Red Sox and signed with the hated Yankees. Wade Boggs did the same thing. Theyre probably thinking, Why not Buehrle?
But thats Boston and New York. This is Chicago. Its different here. Its the same reason Kerry Wood chose not to sign with the White Sox last winter. He wouldnt do it.
For those of us who are from here, its all quite simple.
The Sox are the Sox.
The Cubs are the Cubs.
We are who we are. Its in our blood.
The Sox are in Buehrles blood.
Being traded across town is one thing. Its happened before. Even to Ron Santo. But choosing to jump ship and actually sign with the enemy, thats completely another.
Some athletes chase money, some chase fame, some both.
Buehrle? He stands for much more than that.
Will he sign with the Cubs?
No offense to my friends and colleagues who are Cubs fans, but the answer is an easy one.
It can be summed up in a single word.