Obviously, when I first saw Mark Buehrle in 1999, I had no idea the White Sox would be retiring his No. 56 nearly 20 years later this Saturday. He was a 38th-round pick in Class A, and I was the Sox Minor League pitching instructor. We're not smart enough to know who is going to have the career and who won't. We treat every player the same whether he is a first-round pick or 38th. What I remember is that the kid threw the ball over the plate all the time. He came through our system quickly because he threw strikes.
Mark was a guy who didn't mesmerize you by radar gun readings. There's no "oohs and aahs" when he's throwing an 88-miles per hour fastball. But he was able to dominate other teams because he knew how to pitch.
I remember Jon Garland saying, "He's striking out more guys than me."
I said, "Well, it's because he gets two strikes on hitters a lot. You can't get strike three until you get strike two."
I don't think he shook off a pitch more than 10 times he was here. What it meant was that he had the conviction and confidence in himself. He was like, "Put down whatever you like, I'll make the pitch."
There were many times he wouldn't be throwing the ball well in the bullpen before the game. He'd look at me, and I'd look at him. I remember saying, "We've been here before." He had the confidence to get it done.
He worked so quickly. He never gave the batters time to get settled, to collect themselves. I was surprised batters didn't step out on him more. When a sinkerball pitcher gets into a rhythm, you get those 2-hour, 10-minute games. He got quick outs. If he found the rhythm, he would have a good game. He found it a lot.
Of course, there are two games everyone remembers: his no-hitter against Texas and the perfect game against Tampa Bay. During those games, I was pretty calm, and so was he. There is a cardinal rule that nobody is supposed to talk to a pitcher during a no-hitter, but Mark was constantly looking to have a conversation. After the perfect game, though, I got emotional when I saw him get emotional. It meant so much to him.
Asking a pitching coach who is your favorite pitcher is like asking a parent who is your favorite child. But I have to say it's Mark. He helped me keep my job. He made me a better pitching coach. I learned from him the equipment needed to be a good left-handed pitcher.
When I became the Sox pitching coach, people said, "You can sit back when he pitches."
It turned out his games were when I got the most intense. Son of a gun, I thought, we've got a chance to win the game with him out there. We've got to figure out a way to get it done here.
Think about it, Mark gave us 200 innings year after year after year. Having an asset go out there once every five days was very valuable.
I'm really looking forward to Saturday. I'm wondering who else is coming to be here with him. The cool thing has been getting to see his kids grow up. I've joked with him over the last two years since he retired that he should go out and play catch in the backyard with his son, Braden.
I said, "If it feels good and you continue to progress, maybe we'll bring you back. We could use you."
As told to Ed Sherman.
Don Cooper is the pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox and a former Major Leaguer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.