A woman stepped to the crowd microphone with a newspaper in hand, and a slight bit of scolding for Williams followed by a minor critique for Buehrle. In particular, she reiterated a point made by Buehrle on Friday of how he's not looking for Barry Zito sort of money, after Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million offseason deal with the Giants. This same woman added somewhat tersely that it was good Buehrle wasn't looking for that particular deal, not after his 4.99 ERA during the 2006 season.
Williams immediately went to Buehrle's defense. It was a conciliatory move made by Williams that wasn't the first in this quick healing process, following Friday's indirect exchange with Buehrle believing his days were numbered in Chicago.
In fact, Williams sat down with Buehrle and his parents Saturday morning at the Palmer House Hilton and apologized for the misunderstanding brought about by Friday's comments to the media, which led to an embarrassing situation for Buehrle. Williams added that he felt sad after reading a newspaper column Saturday painting this baseball couple's impending break-up in a less than amicable light, with the GM describing a strong bond, dating back to Buehrle's days pitching for Double-A Birmingham in 2000 while Williams served as vice president of player development.
"I walked into [chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf and [then-GM] Ron Schueler's office, saying I would put my scouting reputation on the line by telling them to bring him up now, because he will contribute," said Williams of Buehrle, when addressing the overflow crowd at Saturday's meeting, referencing a moment during the 2000 season leading to Buehrle's callup and 4-1 record for the AL Central champions. "Mark Buehrle is a first-class person and a great teammate in the clubhouse, on the plane, on the bus or wherever.
"Mark and I can sit down and talk about the exploding market -- and, going forward, the possibilities out there for him -- in no adversarial or confrontational conversation at all," added Williams, during a 12-minute discussion with White Sox reporters after the question-and-answer session with the fans. "Then, when you see it in print or when you hear about it debated on radio, it's turned into something it isn't."
Saturday morning's conversation, lasting 30 minutes by Williams' estimation, was precipitated by Buehrle's remarks to the media Friday that it didn't really matter what sort of discount he took because Williams had gone on record saying he wouldn't be back with the White Sox. After being asked to comment on Buehrle's thoughts three or four different times in a 30-minute time span, a direct and somewhat terse Williams made it clear that he was talking more about the overall state of the exploding market and how Buehrle's ability might price him out of range for the White Sox, who rarely offer more than three-year deals to pitchers.
That point was made by Williams once again Saturday, both in private and in public. According to Williams, Buehrle was actually bothered more by Williams' quote at the Winter Meetings in Orlando about not overpaying for mediocre pitching. Once again, that statement had nothing to do with Buehrle, whose 97-66 record and 3.83 ERA are career numbers comparable to Zito's 102-63 mark and 3.53 ERA, but instead focused on the market's recent turns in general.
|"Mark Buehrle is a first-class person and a great teammate in the clubhouse, on the plane, on the bus or wherever."|
|-- White Sox GM Ken Williams|
Basically, the White Sox wouldn't have World Series rings or a championship trophy without Buehrle's immense contributions. It's another point made clear by Williams to the throng of fans, and a point he understands might make Buehrle too expensive to keep after this final year of his contract.
Regardless of the direction these negotiations eventually go, Williams has vowed to go against his natural character the rest of the way. Williams' first instinct is to answer a direct question with a direct and honest response, instead of giving false hope where none might exist.
But where contract extensions involving valuable and respected commodities such as Buehrle, Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede or Tadahito Iguchi are concerned, a no comment might be the most prudent avenue to travel. The White Sox general manger does not want to paint his leaders in a bad light, even if they could be on their way out after 2007, another point he made to Buehrle and his family Saturday.
"If you ever find a comment from me that has said anything other than positive things about Mark Buehrle, please show it to me," said Williams, who talked about Saturday's informal meeting on his own accord to set the record straight. "It'll be the first. So when I pick up the paper and turn on the radio and I hear all this stuff, this isn't me and this isn't him.
"When I saw his parents first -- I didn't see him first -- I said, 'Let me tell you something first about your son and what a quality person he is. Now, let me tell you about me and what my position is.'
"I explained to them that I have no interest in making who I consider a quality, quality person, I don't have any interest in tarnishing what he has done for the organization or turning him into something to protect the organization. Sometimes, the venom that goes back and forth [on contract negotiations] gets out. I don't think that's right, because [the fans' perception] of the players can be distorted.
"Maybe something will happen," added Williams of future negotiations with Buehrle, pointing out he didn't believe at one point long-term deals could be reached with Jon Garland, Jose Contreras or Paul Konerko, and they all were accomplished. "I was just asked a question what I felt at that time, and what I feel at this time. If this has shown me anything, it's shown me I've got to change the way I conduct business."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.