By Tyler King
A couple weeks ago I decided it was time for a new Blue Jays jersey. My Vernon Wells just wasn’t cutting it anymore and I prefer to keep my Roberto Alomar World Series jersey on the wall - where it’s safe.
(Ever since the great “beer and mustard” incident of 2014 I’ve been terrified of wearing ol’ Robbie in public).
During my quest for new Jays threads I was unsurprisingly drawn towards the standard, safe jersey choices - your Jose Bautista’s, Edwin Encarnacion’s, and Russell Martin’s. I even toyed with the slightly more alternative Aaron Sanchez before finally settling on the now not-so-original “bringer of rain,” Josh Donaldson.
Immediately following my purchase Donaldson began his offensive tear. Heading into Friday night’s game at Fenway Park he is sixth in the American League in average (.317), second in home runs (17), and second in in RBI (44).
It’s safe to say I was feeling pretty good about my decision...
That is until the Jays faced the the Washington Nationals, and a certain crafty veteran left-hander took the hill.
How had I never even considered getting “BUEHRLE” stitched across the back of my jersey?
You want to talk about a safe choice? The guy has always been a winner.
And it was on June 3rd, as Mark Buehrle recorded his second complete game in a row (a shutout), I realized the significance of my negligence went beyond the purchase of a jersey. I had never accepted how good he really was.
I’m ashamed to admit that I have not given Buehrle the credit he is due. But chances are you haven’t either.
The night of my epiphany I watched the lefty completely manhandle the then 1st place Nationals. I also watched him record a hit, drop a perfect sacrifice bunt, and slide hard into second base to break up a double play.
To borrow a complex term from my favourite sports personality, Don Cherry, I had always known Buehrle was a real “beauty”.
So why the oversight?
It’s not like he’s a World Series champion, five time all-star, and five-time gold glove winner... He doesn’t have more starts than any other active pitcher in baseball, hasn’t thrown a no-hitter and the 18th perfect game in MLB history, or had 14 consecutive years of 200-plus innings and four seasons with 16 or more wins, right?
That’s just crazy talk! Those stats must be referring to some legendary Hall of Famer!
(Umm pardon me, but Buehrle has actually done all of those things.)
As embarrassed as I was, I assumed I wasn’t the only one who continuously undervalues Buehrle. So while at the Jays game this past Wednesday, which had a recorded attendance of over 44,000, I decided to conduct a little experiment:
I kept track of how many fans were wearing Buehrle jerseys.
The answer? It honestly pains me to say it... three. I probably saw more Kawasaki jerseys in the stands.
After the game I even spoke with a sales manager at a store in Toronto that specializes in Jays merchandise. She was pretty adamant that when it came to jersey sales Buehrle was not a top seller.
Now there has to be some sort of explanation. There is no way everyone can be as naive and foolish as I am.
Perhaps it’s the lack of flashiness in his game that makes him so easy to overlook. With one of the slowest fastballs in the league he’s not taking the mound trying to strike everybody out. He has to rely on deception and pinpoint location - not exactly the most exciting skills to young fans.
(But at the same time, I also find it a bit endearing).
It’s also possible the rumours that this could be Buehrle’s last season have dissuaded people from investing in his jersey. But I’m not buying that (pun intended) either - he’s been a horse since the day he joined the Jays.
It’s more likely that the lack of Buehrle sightings relates to an ever-growing generational gap. After-all, it wasn’t always this way.
He was a fan favourite in Chicago when pitching for the White Sox from 2000-2011. And his numbers and record haven’t changed much since he moved to Toronto. To put it plainly, he’s been the poster boy of consistency.
It’s scary to think about, but maybe Mark Buehrle is the last of a dying breed.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if the younger generations are more inclined to identify with a Marcus Stroman than a Buehrle (and to be fair that afternoon game on Wednesday was packed with school kids).
But, no offence to Stroman, it all seems a bit... sad.
In a world where a player’s all-star appearances and status in fandom have as much to do with their presence on social media as their performance on the field, it’s clear that honest guys like Buehrle no longer fit in.
His deep hatred for anything involving cameras or attention has never been a secret. For starters, he doesn’t have a twitter account (one of the only Jays without one).
But it was not long ago where veteran workhorses, defensive specialists, and stoic good guys like John McDonald were right up there with the superstars as fan favourites.
Nowadays if you ask the casual Jays fan who their favourite player is? I bet you you’ll hear a lot of “Jose Bautista’s.” And rightfully so. He has been the face of the Blue Jays franchise for years (and also has 689,000 twitter followers).
You unfortunately won’t hear many fans say, “Mark Buehrle.” In fact, don’t be surprised if you hear more mentions of KAWASAKI.
Now I enjoy a good Munenori Kawasaki interview as much as the next fan, but let’s be serious here, he hasn’t captured the fan base because of his on-field prowess (he has a career average of .235). Yes he’s had a few clutch hits and is fairly reliable defensively, but Buehrle has been a stud for ONE AND A HALF DECADES.
Fans love Kawasaki because of his strange antics and bubbly personality, but mostly for those viral interviews on MLB Tonight and Sportsnet - as bizarre and hilarious as they may be.
(“I am from Japan... I AM JAPANESEEEEEEE” - the fact that you know exactly what I’m talking about solidifies the point).
But all that public “look at me” stuff... that’s just not what Buehrle is about.
We caught a glimpse of this first-hand after his base hit against the Nationals when he refused to give the bench a “stir-it-up” (the pot-stirring hand gesture Jays players make to one another whenever they reach base). You could even see Danny Valencia in the dugout, egging him on.
“When [Buehrle] got that knock there he kind of big league’d me a little bit,” Valencia later told Sportsnet’s Barry Davis. “I was a little hurt.”
Nope, that isn’t “Papa Buehrle” (as he is known to the rookies).
“Out of everyone in baseball, [Buehrle] doesn’t get enough credit,” said 24-year-old pitcher Marcus Stroman. “Not near the credit he deserves.”
Stroman even took it one step further: “I love that man.”
He doesn’t have a 20-win season or a Cy Young award, but Buehrle’s accomplishments would make even the top big-leaguer envious.
His five all-star appearances are the same amount as Bautista (the most of any current Blue Jay), three more than Encarnacion, and four more than R.A. Dickey, who does have a Cy Young award and is actually four years older than Buehrle.
Buehrle’s career ERA of 3.82 is 22 points lower than Dickey’s. His career WHIP of 1.28 is the same as Jon Lester’s (one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball, albeit much younger) and three points better than recent Hall of Fame left-hander, Tom Glavine.
Buehrle has the longest perfect inning streak of any starting pitcher in the history of the MLB (15) and is only the seventh pitcher to ever throw 14 consecutive seasons of 200 or more innings.
Oh, by the way, all seven of those previous pitchers are in the Hall of Fame.
That’s some resume. Yet, as he flies under the media’s radar, Buehrle continues to be undervalued by fans.
Well my eyes are now opened.
As the Jays look to extend their eight game winning streak, what more can we really ask of a 36 year old vet who has never once been on the disabled list in his career?
Well there is that whole “post-season” thing... But for now let’s just chalk it up as a sign of the times.
Meanwhile, does anybody have a jersey hookup?
‘Cause this time I definitely know who’s going on the back.
Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108 and on instagram: @tylerjosephking