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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

No Comment!
by Hal Vickery

It was as inevitable as the blooming of the first crocus or the return of the first robin. Pitchers and catchers have just reported to spring training camp, and already the Sox are embroiled in a controversy over one of their star players.

In the Jerry Manuel years, that player was invariably Frank Thomas, but Thomas is gone now. So the writers have had to come up with a new player to stir the pot with. I can see their minds working now. Who has the greatest chance of stirring up irate comments by fans at the water cooler?

The answer was simple. The guy who goes around in the off-season wearing a Cardinals cap, Mark Buehrle!

So the question gets asked, “Did the Sox make you an offer last year?” Buehrle feels he has to answer truthfully. “Yes.” So the follow-up question is obvious: “Why didn’t you sign?”

And then comes the controversy. Buerhle felt that the offer wasn’t enough, considering his contributions to the club so far. And as it turned out, he was right, based on the astronomical salaries teams like the Cubs have been paying for career .500 pitchers. Buehrle stands to cash in big before the 2008 season.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, the writers feel that it is their duty to go to the person who made the offer, Kenny Williams. And this is where things become really predictable. Williams has never been known for his tact. In fact there aren’t enough fingers and toes to count the number of time Williams has had to go back to the reporters or go on the air on the Sox’ flagship radio station to clarify what he meant in his original statement.

So it was no surprise at all when Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times reported that Williams said that he preferred for the Sox organization to take the heat for the non-signing than for word to get out that Buehrle had refused an offer. Williams, it could be argued, then made an attempt to be conciliatory to Buehrle, but the words attributed to him by Cowley could be interpreted in more than one way.

Williams, according to Cowley said, “I was worried about what the perception the fans would have of him and not understand it. He warned me that he talked about it. All I can say now is that I assure you and all of our fans that now that it has been made public by Mark ... just hope that it doesn't change the opinion of Mark Buehrle.''

This is nothing but fodder for the media who will urge fans to read between the lines. Cowley and the rest know from their annual reporting of Buehrle’s off-season attendance at a Cardinals event wearing a Cardinals cap that the fans suspect that Buehrle’s loyalties are no necessarily with the Sox. Williams was obviously thinking about this, and the widely reported flare-up of emotions that became the lead story for SoxFest.

However, the very fact that Williams brought up fan perceptions and the hope that those perceptions don’t change now could simply stir up more controversy. I can hear Mike North now, even though I haven’t listened to him in years. “You know what Williams is saying, don’tcha? He knows Buehrle wants to go to the Cardinals, and he’s reminding everybody that that’s exactly what Buehrle wants. Well, let him go. Work out a trade and send him there now!” (Well, words to that effect. We all know how much trouble North actually has speaking in complete and understandable sentences.)

I sometimes wish ballplayers and the management would learn just two simple words: “No comment.”

That’s all they really need to say to avoid having to put out these brush fires. Reporter asks Buehrle if he was offered a contract. Buehrle’s reply: “No comment.”

Suddenly there is nothing for Buehrle to report to Kenny Williams that he said. Suddenly there is nothing to the media to ask Williams about Buehrle. Two simple words could have changed this weekend’s news cycle for the Sox. “No comment.”

If anyone from the White Sox would like some lessons on how to handle the media, I’d love to serve as a consultant. My fees are reasonable, and the lessons would hardly put a dent in your spring training time.

Wait, a minute! I’ve already given it to you!

Well, there goes a lucrative business opportunity….

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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