Buehrle wealthy where it really matters
Despite new riches, southpaw still same old fun-loving guy
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mark Buehrle has money.
Not money as in, "Today is payday. Let's go eat dinner at Chili's."
It's more like Buehrle's family and his family's family will live comfortably for many years to come after the left-hander agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal in July to stay with the White Sox. The signing stood as the culmination of a long and often arduous round of contract negotiations, not to mention talks that went public far more often than either side ever desired.
The deal becomes a reward, of sorts, for eight years of meritorious service from the easy-going southpaw, who has produced a 107-75 record with a 3.80 ERA since joining the White Sox in 2000. Along the way, Buehrle was selected for three All-Star Games, picked up two playoff wins and one World Series save and tossed the 16th no-hitter in franchise history against Texas on April 18, 2007.
Certainly a pretty solid body of work for a 38th-round Draft pick in 1998. So, with this windfall, it only stands to reason that Buehrle immediately would enjoy the trappings of wealth: Cars, houses, exotic vacations, diamonds, fancy clothing -- you know, the usual luxuries associated with the upper class.
Or how about a private jet, taking Buehrle and his family from Missouri to Tucson, Ariz., for this year's Spring Training.
"I was going to get a private jet coming down here," said Buehrle, speaking shortly after he reported with other White Sox pitchers and catchers this past Saturday. "But I found out how much money it was. I said that I don't care how much money I make, I'm not paying that much.
"My wife said the same thing. So, we got regular flights and bought first-class seats."
And here begins the tale of how Mark Buehrle is different from a number of other baseball superstars. Just because he moved into another tax bracket doesn't mean Buehrle now will adopt a prima donna attitude. He's a humble young man, turning 29 on March 23, who relishes spending time at home with his wife, son and dogs when he's not pitching. He's an athlete who enjoys what he's doing, carrying an exuberance for the game, as evidenced by his since-banned tarp dives during a few selected rain delays.
Along with avoiding the ego trip, Buehrle won't wilt under the pressure inherently produced by receiving ace-hurler type money. It's hard to elevate your level of play when it already idles at 100 percent from start to start.
"Before I signed, I said how it wouldn't matter if I had a 10-year-deal or got paid game by game," Buehrle said. "I don't care how much money I was making, or if I had to pay them to play. I don't like getting hit around. I'll go out and give my best every time. Signed or unsigned, it wouldn't affect the way I pitch."
"I'm not worried about that sort of thing from Buehrle, because he's always been the same," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper added. "He never changes. He competes the same way all the time."
Expectations naturally rise when a deal of this nature is inked, with fans and baseball pundits alike expecting Buehrle to return closer to his 19-win form in 2002 rather than his 22 combined victories over the past two seasons. But Cooper added an extra point concerning individual win targets, one he has been expressing since coming on as the leader of the White Sox pitchers.
Buehrle needs to give the team a chance for victories, and if his individual total rises in the process, then all the better. That particular goal won't be hard to achieve for a hurler who works deep into games, joining Livan Hernandez as the only pitcher with 10 wins, 30 starts and 200 innings pitched in each of the last seven seasons. Buehrle also is the lone pitcher in White Sox history to make at least 30 starts in seven straight seasons.
Of course, for a pitcher who doesn't throw in the mid-90s and constantly works around the strike zone, the hits are going to come. So will the rough showings, from time to time. Buehrle seems more than ready, though, for the heightened scrutiny.
"When guys make money like I'm making or a pitcher like [Johan] Santana is making, you can't have a bad game," Buehrle said. "But I will have good and bad games, and it doesn't matter how much money I'm making or how many years I'm signed. There are nights where you have good stuff and get hit around, and other days, you don't think you are going to get out of the first and you have a good game."
As an elder statesman of the White Sox staff, Buehrle doesn't shy away from helping young pitchers. He's not comfortable holding himself up as a role model, becoming more a leader by example, but he is more than happy to answer questions.
John Danks, beginning his second year in the rotation with a similar style to the more accomplished southpaw, looks at Buehrle as a mentor. Danks and Buehrle are throwing partners this spring and in the same bullpen group, with Danks joking how Buehrle said not to leave his side during camp.
"I have to ask him if I can eat lunch," said Danks with a laugh. "Mark has been great and I really appreciate what he has done for me. A guy like that, you don't want him to go.
"You wouldn't know if you saw him on the street that he had a billion dollars," Danks added.
Well, Buehrle will at last have $56 million when his contract ends after the 2011 season, minus the luxuries he has purchased. Those present amenities include a "dream house" he is building for his wife, Jamie, and son, Braden, in St. Charles, Mo., where they "will live forever," according to Buehrle. He also owns a 2007 Ford F650 Dominator, a nearly 10-foot tall monster truck, which has a bed equipped with hydraulics that comes to the ground like a dump truck and has drawn the interest of many motorists on the highways.
"I've probably seen 100 pictures taken," Buehrle said. "I'll be driving down the road and look over and see red flashes, or camera phones."
It's a somewhat extravagant vehicle for a low-key Midwesterner who has a rich life, with or without the new contract. The four-year deal did provide Buehrle and his family one important intangible: stability in a place where they didn't want to leave, which, in the end, was far more important than the figure behind the dollar sign.
"There's no question the money helps," Buehrle said. "But the biggest thing is the years with the no-trade stuff. Knowing we will be here ... I just don't like change. I don't like new scenery.
"Switching teams, it's just not me. I get nervous before every game, whether it's the biggest game of the World Series or against the worst team. I get nervous until I get to the field and get around the guys. So, I just want to stay with the group of guys I know, where I'm happy."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.