- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Jeff Berry is an agent, so the truth is always negotiable, but he swears on a stack of collective bargaining agreements that he knew Thursday was going to be special.
"I watched from first inning on," he said from his New York office, where he works for Creative Artists Agency. "I knew after the first inning it was going to be an interesting day, because he was so sharp, and he was pounding the first-pitch strikes. Mark was locked in. It was a fun thing to watch."
Berry, who has represented Mark Buehrle since signing him during the pitcher's brief stay in Double-A Birmingham in 2000 and thinks of him as family, said he rarely misses a start, and talks to his client regularly. He had to wait a little bit to congratulate him Thursday, but he didn't mind.
"I was after Obama this time," Berry said. "I took a big backseat to Obama. It was really cool. It couldn't happen to a better, more deserving guy."
Traffic was backed up for miles Thursday afternoon all over Chicago. Between the normal traffic that snarls the highways and President Barack Obama's motorcade from O'Hare Airport, which shut down significant streets, sports-loving commuters had plenty of time to soak in the feat.
A day later, it's still amazing: a makeshift infield, an unfamiliar catcher, a once-in-a-lifetime play by a reserve outfielder. Five runs on six hits for the Sox, matching Buehrle's jersey number 56. The same umpire, Eric Cooper, who officiated Buehrle's first no-hitter against Texas on April 18, 2007. Weird stuff.
Buehrle struck out only six, making it extremely unlikely to get 21 outs on the field. The last guy to throw a perfect game, the 40-year-old Randy Johnson, struck out 13 Braves in a 2-0 win in 2004.
Of the other four pitchers to throw both a no-hitter and a perfect game, only Addie Joss, against the White Sox in 1908, and Cy Young, against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1904, struck out fewer batters -- three each. Sandy Koufax struck out 14 in 1965 and Jim Bunning 10 in 1964.
What does that mean? Well, for one, Buehrle (133-90 with a career 3.78 ERA) would've been at home in the turn of the century, when he probably would've taken a Clydesdale to work. Second, in the modern era, it's pretty rare for a finesse pitcher to accomplish a freak feat like this, twice. He struck out eight in his first no-hitter, picking off the only baserunner, Sammy Sosa, at first after he walked.
The White Sox love nothing more than marketing their products (including any team jacket the leader of the free world happens to don), so they're probably busy burning DVDs, printing up T-shirts and concocting mini-plans for every remaining Buehrle home start.
Two years ago, fresh off a no-hitter, Buehrle's future with the White Sox was no sure bet.
Contract talks with the team hinged on a no-trade clause and the length of the deal, and the two sides were headed toward an impasse. It didn't help that the team was in disarray in 2007, looking like a housecleaning of the 2005 leftovers was coming. Buehrle could have commanded a pretty nice package in return.
At the time, he was only 28, with a history of pitching 200 innings and a World Series ring. Even after a hangover year in 2006 (12-13 with a 4.99 ERA), he was the hottest name on the trade market.
How close was he to leaving? After the fact, general manager Kenny Williams has intimated to reporters that Buehrle nearly was moved. Given that Buehrle was re-signed three weeks before the trade deadline, it's hard to say whether Williams was close to pulling the trigger.
"You don't know," Berry said. "Obviously the trade deadline was right there and there hadn't been a deal worked out. Ultimately, we'll never know.
"It was one of those things where Mark wanted to stay in Chicago, and you work toward that end," the agent added. "I work for him. At the end of the day, he wanted to remain in Chicago, where he and [wife] Jamie are comfortable and where they make their home. It was important to him."
With that in mind, they got the deal done on July 8. Just the day before, Buehrle told reporters he thought his chances of sticking with the team were 50-50. His immediate future was the only storyline during a miserable summer, and reporters were staking out his locker every day for updates. In the end, he signed for four years and $56 million, getting an extra year (the White Sox prefer three-year deals for pitchers) and a limited no-trade clause. Buehrle had no-trade protection for the first year of the deal, and a salary kicker if he gets traded in the next two seasons.
Buehrle talks a lot about retiring early to spend time with his kids. He makes no secret of his desire to pitch for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, and he even donned a Cardinals hat during their 2006 World Series run (How many major leaguers still have a favorite team?).
"That's the beauty of Mark," Berry said. "He really says whatever he's thinking at the moment. I know Mark loves to pitch in the city of Chicago. I get on him all the time. I talk about the pace he's on for 300 wins and everything else. Mark is so unassuming, he tells me, 'You're crazy. Give me a break.' The fact of the matter is he's one of the best pitchers of his generation."
Berry also represents Josh Fields, who lost his job at third base due to poor performance earlier this summer, and now mostly fills in at first for Paul Konerko. Fields found himself there Monday. He hit a grand slam in the second inning and was popping off the bag after nearly every throw. He expertly completed the final out from shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which came on a fairly low toss.
"With his football background, I think he wanted to tackle Mark after that last out," Berry said.
After landing in Detroit, Buehrle told reporters he had a quiet dinner with his wife, Paul Konerko and a couple of coaches. A big dinner is planned for Saturday. As he waded through calls, text messages, interview requests (he'll deliver the Top Ten list on Monday's "Late Show With David Letterman," along with Fields and Dewayne Wise, according to the Chicago Tribune), Buehrle said he was unsure of how to reward his teammates, after doling out pricey watches in 2007. He's thinking of commissioning a painting of Wise making his ridiculous catch that preserved perfection in the ninth.
He'll probably wind up giving another watch. Maybe some cuff links, he said.
"He keeps things simple," Berry said, "and there's kind of a beauty to it."
Buehrle is the toast of Chicago today. But he came close to leaving the Windy City a few years ago.