Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Bald Truth

I love the term "perfect game." I don't know who coined it and I don't really care. I just love it.

Because it takes perfection to do what Mark Buehrle (and only 17 big-league pitchers before him) did Thursday. Perfection by the lead actor, and perfection by his supporting cast.

The Rays rarely hit the baseball hard against the White Sox ace all day. There were a couple of foul line drives and a couple shots hit right at perfectly-placed infielders. Buehrle only faced five 3-ball counts all day. The game took just 2 hours, 3 minutes to complete.

Pretty damn perfect.

When it looked like the perfection might end, DeWayne Wise made a perfect play in center field, scaling the wall to rob Gabe Kapler of a ninth-inning home run.

Ozzie Guillen had just made a perfect managerial move, getting Wise into the game, moving Scott Podsednik from center to left and putting lumbering Carlos Quentin on the bench. Podsednik doesn't make that catch. Period.

Josh Fields, who has been perfectly awful pretty much all year, picked the perfect time to hit a grand slam. His second-inning shot ensured that Buehrle never really had to worry about the outcome, just the perfect game.

And Ramon Castro, who as A.J. Pierzynski's backup rarely plays, caught perfectly, too. Buehrle never shook him off all day - which is especially amazing given that the two had never before been batterymates.

There are so few perfect performances in sports - or in any walk of life. It was an honor to have been in the ballpark to witness this one.

Good Guys Finish First

Mark Buehrle is Everyman, so when he does something special - and he's done a lot of special things in his fine career - you have to appreciate it even more.

He's not a hulking dude with a 100 mph heater, not an intimidating character with a wild mustache, not a nervous Nelly, not a me-first yahoo. He's just a regular guy - a 38th-round draft pick, for cripe's sake - who happens to be capable of getting big-league batters to make outs.

He's a clubhouse cutup, a fun-loving fool, a self-depricating guy who often is described as "the perfect teammate."

His body? He looks more like a sportswriter than a multimillion-dollar athlete. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It's refreshing that Everyman can pitch two no-hitters, including a perfect game, and be part of a rotation that delivered Chicago's only baseball championship in the last 92 years.

One of my favorite things about Buehrle: He's jinx-proof.

In both Thursday's game and in his 2007 no-hitter, he laughed at the entire idiotic notion of jinxes.

You know how teammates aren't supposed to go anywhere near a guy pitching a no-no? Well, on Thursday, Buehrle was going up to his teammates and asking them, "So, you think I'm gonna do it?" He and Pierzynski talked about what was happening between just about every inning.

If the perfect game was going to happen, it was going to happen.

And it happened.

How perfect.

The Balder Truth

Aside from his family and perhaps his teammates, Buehrle's biggest fan Thursday was a guy who hadn't stepped foot in U.S. Cellular Field since 2002: Jim Parque.

Why? The former mediocre Sox lefty had written a first-hand piece for Thursday's Sun-Times in which he admitted to taking HGH in an effort to overcome what proved to be a career-ending injury. (Click here for the account I wrote for AP.)

Several media types, including my good buddy, Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey, were at the ballpark expressly to write about Parque.

Personally, I find it hard to blame Parque for trying to save his career. It's not as if he was jabbing himself with needles full of anabolic steroids hoping to get bigger, stronger and faster. I have a bigger problem with him lying after he was named in the Mitchell Report, blaming others for his own actions.

Anyway, Parque was going to be the big headline in Friday's newspapers and the big story on Chicago's TV and radio broadcasts. Instead, he's barely a footnote.

If I'm Buehrle, I'm sending Parque a note saying: "Hey, dude ... YOU'RE WELCOME!"

The Quote

"Those last three batters, I'm like: 'It's not gonna make or break your careers - just swing!' " - Jamie Buehrle, Mark's wife.


This was the first perfect game I ever covered but my second no-hitter. The first no-no was a real stunner: Minnesota's Scott Erickson, who the previous season had given up more hits than any pitcher in baseball, tossed one on April 27, 1994, at the hitter's paradise that is the Metrodome. (Back then, before my column-writing days, I was the AP sports guy in Minneapolis.)

Actually, I only kind of covered Buehrle's. I'll tell you what I mean by that and, in the process, share with you how the world's largest news gathering organization deals with such things.

As you might imagine, no-hitters are big deals to AP because they are so rare. Perfect games, obviously, are HUGE deals. 

When a pitcher has held a team hitless after five innings, the writer at the ballpark - be it an AP staffer, such as Chicago's Rick Gano and Andrew Seligman - or a freelance "stringer" (such as yours baldly), must call the AP baseball honchos in New York and let them know what's going on. The same drill is repeated after the sixth and seventh innings.

If a pitcher still has a no-no going after seven and if a stringer is covering the game, AP tracks down one of its sportswriters and summons him or her to the game. It doesn't matter if the writer has the day off or is working on something else; AP wants him or her there.

Why? Because a no-hitter story - and especially a perfect-game story - will be used by just about every newspaper and Web site that subscribes to the AP wire. Understandably, the folks at AP want one of their sportswriter's names - a "byline" - on the story. (As a stringer, I don't get a byline.)

And so it went Thursday. When I called to let them know Buehrle was still perfect after seven, the New Yorkers called Seligman, who got in his car and started driving from Chicago's far North Side to the South Side. 

Meanwhile, I kept working on the story, getting facts lined up in preparation for the big event. If the no-hitter got broken up while Andy was en route to the park, we would have dealt with it.

After the eighth inning, I sent everything on my computer screen to Ron Blum, AP's outstanding baseball writer/editor in New York. As Ron edited it, I stayed on the phone with him, feeding him whatever additional info he needed as he put together the story.

Seligman arrived at The Cell just after Wise made his catch. Andy got caught up with everything as Blum and I stayed on the telephone through the final two outs.

Perfect game! AP had the story on the wire within moments.

While Seligman told Blum about some of the on-field celebration and eventually worked his way to the press conference featuring Buehrle and Guillen, I went to the White Sox clubhouse to talk to the players. Our able assistant stringer, Seth Gruen, went to chat with the Rays.

Upon our return to the press box, Seth and I e-mailed the quotes we had gathered to Andy, who was busily putting together an updated version of the story. Andy's piece was edited by Blum and others in the New York office and came back looking nice.

I was asked to do a "sidebar" on Wise's catch - click here - which I happily did. 

Was I bummed that I got "nudged" aside for Andy, whose name was on the main story? Not at all.

When AP was my full-time employer, I reported to the ballpark for several in-progress no-hitters. I was the nudgee, not the nudger. It's kind of like Wise going into the game, Podsednik getting told to take left field and Quentin getting sent to the bench. We all have our roles in life; I like to think Pods and Quentin were just fine with theirs Thursday.

In the end, Buehrle got his perfect game, Andy got to the ballpark just in time, AP got its stories (which means millions of readers got them, too) ... and, well, I guess I got the right to say I covered a perfect game, after all.


  1. tmad here. Not since 10/26/2005 have I immersed myself so completely in a White Sox victory. After the Comcast replay, recap, Tribune Tonight, ESPN's Baseball Tonight, your story was the icing on the cake, or, more appropriately, the cherry at the bottom of the manhatten. Thanks to you and the other pros for presenting the facts, observations, and personal insights into Mark Buehrle's remarkable feat.

  2. to quote harry caray - its going its going its....caught on the infield track...way to go baldy

  3. Interesting blog post and great story - which I read earlier today by the way. Was Wise talking to you when he was quoted? Great quote