Don’t hate me.
Mark Buehrle is one of the most popular White Sox of all time. And he was probably one of my favorite Sox — I’m allowed to say that, right? — as a beat writer who covered his last season on the South Side in 2011 before the Sox for some curious reason let him walk in free agency and finish his career in Toronto.
And Buehrle had a very good 16-year career. He pitched for the Sox from 2000 to 2011, and while he never had a dominant stretch, never won 20 games or led the American League in ERA or strikeouts, he had 15 full seasons of being very good and dependable, making at least 30 starts and pitching 200 innings or more in his first 14 seasons. Buehrle finished his career with 214 wins, a 3.81 ERA and 1,870 strikeouts, was a five-time All-Star, won four Gold Gloves, pitched a perfect game and no-hitter, started and finished Sox World Series victories in 2005 and had his No. 56 retired by the team.
But for me, and 357 of the voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, he isn’t a Hall of Famer, at least this week, anyway.
A sizable contingent of Chicago media with ballots, including fellow Sun-Timesmen Chris De Luca, Rick Morrissey and Joe Cowley who covered more years of Buehrle’s career than I did (Morrissey wrote a good column explaining why he voted for Buehrle) cast votes for the lefty, who got by — and then some — with less-than-elite stuff. Buehrle changed speeds, broke bats with 85 mph cutters, worked quickly, fielded his position superbly, got outs and won games. No wonder he got support.
And did we mention that character-wise, for what it’s worth, there are no known marks against this Mark? But I just couldn’t get past the 3.81 career ERA or that he received Cy Young votes only one time, when he finished fifth in AL voting in 2005.
And I wasn’t feeling compelled to deem him a Hall of Famer just because I liked him and because he’s a really good guy. Just like I wasn’t compelled to vote against even better players who are unlikable people.
I was glad Buehrle got 44 votes, or 11%, from the 400 other members of the BBWAA who cast ballots for the Hall of Fame. In his first appearance on the ballot, Buehrle comfortably surpassed the 5% needed to stay on — first-timers Aramis Ramirez (four votes), LaTroy Hawkins (two), Barry Zito (none), A.J. Burnett (none), Michael Cuddyer (none), Dan Haren (none), Nick Swisher (none) and Shane Victorino (none) were not so fortunate — and while a far distance from the 75% needed for induction, look no further than Scott Rolen to know players can build a case over time.
Rolen, who got 10.2% on his first ballot, had 52.9% of the vote in his fourth year. Rolen’s 17.6% jump was the biggest of anyone this year.
Perhaps as Buehrle’s streaks of 30 starts and 200 innings in a season become more impressive during a time when workhorse durability is becoming a lost art, his achievements will gain support. I will keep an open mind.
I’m pretty sure, knowing Buehrle from the season I was around him almost every day covering the Sox, that he doesn’t care that I will, and that’s part of his down-to-earth likability. At this writing, four days after the vote, it’s even money Buehrle knows nothing of it, or that one took place, for that matter.
The Wi-Fi around those deer stands often leaves a lot to be desired.
Given a ballot because of 10 consecutive years with a BBWAA card, know that this ballot was taken seriously. It’s not easy, nor enjoyable, with decisions to make on PED users and humans with domestic violence and hate-mongering in their pasts and present. Voters are allowed to check up to 10 names, and viewing the Hall as a treasured baseball museum, not some higher ground located on the other side of the pearly gates, I checked nine: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and Billy Wagner.
Last year, Paul Konerko, who hit 439 home runs, posted an .841 OPS and helped Buehrle lead the Sox to a World Series, received only 10 votes his first year on the ballot. At 2.5%, Konerko was one-and-done off the ballot, a harsh result for a player of his stature.
Buehrle didn’t deserve the same treatment, and it’s a good thing that he’ll be on the ballot next year, when Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Jimmy Rollins will be among the first-timers.