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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Buehrle's St. Louis Blues?

By Mark Liptak

The recent comments attributed to Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle have sent shock waves throughout the White Sox fan nation and to a certain extent inside the Sox organization as well.

For those who may not have seen it, the comments were first reported by Sox beat writer Paul Sullivan in the Chicago Tribune. His story is dated January 30th. Here are the quotes that has once again, opened up the Pandoraís box of questions, uncertainties, and doubts among Sox fans...

"(Kenny) Williams also said Tuesday he has no plans to trade his 22-year-old ace, Mark Buehrle, despite Buehrle's apparent desire to play for the Cardinals.

Attending a sports banquet in St. Louis last week, Buehrle reportedly turned to Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty and said: "Anything you can do to get me here, I'd love to play for the Cards."

Buehrle, who grew up a Cardinals fan in St. Charles, Mo., ranked first among AL left-handers last year with a 3.29 earned-run average.

"I'm disappointed," Williams said of Buehrle's remark. "We are getting to a point now where our guys, through all the adversity we went through last year, have started to bond in a much better way. ÖÖ He's an important part of our future."

How long that future lasts however, is open to question at this point.

Buehrle may have a different spin on his remarks when he meets Sox fans in the future, but one source has confirmed to me that Buehrle meant what he said.

I have a friend who works in television in Springfield, Illinois. He is from the St. Louis area and has contacts both in the Cardinals organization and among the St. Louis media. After seeing Buehrleís remarks, I phoned him and asked if he could get some more background on what took place. This source told me, that his contacts told him, Buehrle made these comments with a "straight face". He wasnít laughing or joking at the time... that he was indeed, serious.

Despite what fans may think, athletes arenít dumb, most have at least a kernel of intelligence. Itís perfectly reasonable to think that Buehrle would want to play closer to home, where he grew up, among friends and family. If it also turns out the Buehrle becomes an "elite" pitcher, then money in essence, wonít matter. Buehrle will command top dollar from a number of major league teams. What then determines where heís going to pitch is going to involve more then just money, and location.

Pro athletes all have one thing in common, thatís an intense drive to win. Iím not talking about 83 games in a season or a divisional title once every ten years or so. Iím talking about getting the opportunity to play for a championship on a global stage. Right now at least, the Cardinals have an excellent chance to do this.

Buehrle isnít dumb. In the year and a half that heís been with the Sox, heís seen the half empty New Comiskey Park on a regular basis, heís heard the frustration the fans have towards an organization that hasnít won a World Series since 1917, nor even been to one since 1959. Heís read the comments from the local media, which some (many?) Sox fans feel is biased against the club. Heís also heard his own General Manager, seemingly on a endless basis at every opportunity, talk about the "financial problems and restraints" the Sox have to endure.

No, Buehrle isnít dumb. Why under the current conditions, wouldnít he want to go to a club that can win a World Series, that has a beautiful ballpark with a new one on the way and that draws 30 - 40,000 fans on a nightly basis. More importantly, a club that has an ownership trying to win, that acquires top talent either through trades (Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Fernando Vina), free agent signings (Jason Isringhausen) and the amateur draft (J.D. Drew).

Perhaps the bigger question is what took Buehrle so long to decide on his feelings?

Now once again, the onus is on General Manager Kenny Williams and the front office. What happens two seasons from now when Buehrle is eligible for arbitration? What happens four years from now when he can become a free agent? Do the Sox even try to offer him a multi year deal? Are we looking at another Jack McDowell situation, a situation that saw the Sox play hardball with the best pitcher to come out of the farm system in twenty years and that eventually caused the organization to trade him, when he was still very productive, for "peanuts"? Does the current front office gamble that in two or three years new ownership might be in place and Buehrle will change his mind? (Jerry Reinsdorf is 66)

And what about the other alternative?

Hall Of Fame General Manager Branch Rickey had a saying, "itís always better to trade a player one year to soon, then one year to late..."

The Sox may want to give serious thought to trading Buehrle NOW, while they can still get something for him. Trade him before he blows out his arm, as the seemingly endless number of other Sox pitchers have. Trade him before he reverts back to all the other "canít miss" kid pitchers who have done absolutely nothing regardless of whether or not they are still with the team or have been traded.

If Kenny Williams was going to deal Jon Garland, who won six games last year and almost got an all star outfielder, what might he get for a pitcher who won 16 games?????

How much better off could the Sox be if Buehrle were traded to the Cardinals for a package of players that could include Rick Ankiel, Andy Benes, Steve Kline, Bud Smith, Garrett Stephenson or Mike Matheny?

Iím not saying they should trade Buehrle. I am saying they need to consider it, before a few years from now the club is put in the situation that other teams have faced with players in their free agent years.

All in all, more questions, and more issues for a struggling franchise that needs stability, new ownership and a desire, like the players, to win a championship and not pay "Lip Service" (no pun intended!) to that goal.

As Rod Serling so eloquently put it 43 years ago, "your next stop, The Twilight Zone!"

†As always your comments, question etc are always appreciated. Contact me at mliptak1@ida.net


Editor's Note: †Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work. †He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper†organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana)†and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years. †"Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population. †

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