Mark Buehrle didn’t have the kind of attributes found in most of the dominant pitchers of the post-steroid era. He was a 38th-round draft pick with a fastball that, on a good day, would scrap the upper 80’s.
On Saturday, Buehrle will become the third pitcher to have his number retired in White Sox history, joining Ted Lyons (No. 16) and Billy Pierce (No. 19). For Don Cooper, who was Buehrle’s pitching coach from 2002-2011, it’s not hard to see why the St. Charles, Mo. native’s name will forever be a part of White Sox history.
“Reliable, consistent, dependable, winner, good guy, unflappable, these are words that come to mind when I think about him,” Cooper said.
Cooper was flooded with plenty of memories of Buehrle during the dozen minutes he spent chatting with the media on Friday. He said he learned a lot from working with Buehrle, watching him fill up the strike zone and induce early, weak contact while working at a brisk pace. One of Cooper's memories that stood out was this one:
“I can remember in the bullpen, he’d be warming up, he’d throw about 10 pitches,” Cooper said. “He’d look at me, I’d look at him. He wasn’t throwing very good. He turned to me and said, ‘Come on, let’s go, this isn’t going to get me any better.’”
But that was Buehrle — “In many ways, you could just wind him up and you’re throwing him out there every five days,” Cooper said. He battled through days where he didn’t have his best stuff — not that his stuff was electric to begin with — and turned in 14 consecutive years with 200 or more innings.
Buehrle, of course, threw a no-hitter in 2007 and a perfect game in 2009, and along with save in Game 3 of the World Series represent some of the crowning achievements of his career. Cooper was happy to have been a part of it from his perch on the White Sox bench.
“I think he was blessed,” Cooper said. “He was given a lot of gifts. The sinking fastball, the changeup, the cutter. His curveball, by scouts’ assessments, would probably be rated an average curveball. But as time went and as his stuff went down, we started to use that more. When he was at his best, we would throw about 8-10 of those. But as he started losing his stuff we had to mix more of those in. And listen, the career he had, his number being retired, the kids, his family — blessed. He’s been a blessed guy.”