Nothing like perfection to cement a memory
July 24, 2009
As Mark Buehrle was pitching late in the game on Thursday, legendary White Sox TV announcer "Hawk" Harrelson gave the rest of us permission to get on the phone.
Hawk wasn't quiet about it either. Hawk sounded like the top of his head was about to pop off.
"Call your sons! Call your daughters! Call your friends! Call your neighbors! Mark Buehrle has a perfect game going into the ninth!" yelled Hawk, who's been playing and calling games since just before Constantinople fell to the Turks.
So if Hawk said it was OK to call, it was OK. Even foolish mythological creatures like the wild Heinie Bird know you can't jinx a perfect game from a phone. This wasn't some stupid church-of-baseball movie, like the one my wife made me see with Kevin Costner pitching a perfect game, ponderous and serious, poetic flashbacks on his troubles with Kelly Preston, reminding himself to "clear the mechanism."
Buehrle wasn't a poet clearing his mechanism. Buehrle hunts and drives a truck. He was goofing around in the dugout. And all of us could see.
My boys were with their buddies, 8th graders crowded around the TV set, but this time without Xbox controls in their hands. "Yeah dad," they said. "We're watching."
Back in my office cubbyhole, some crazed Sox fan started shrieking "Come ON! They're SQUEEZING HIM!" when home plate umpire Eric Cooper didn't give Buehrle an inside strike. The crazed fan shrieked so loudly that distinguished editorial board members came rushing out of their offices, squinting, befuddled, to find out who'd released the madman.
You've got your own story, about where you were and what you were doing, and baseball is like that, especially perfect games, of which there had been only 16 in regular-season history until Buehrle's.
Even in Cubs bars, like the Billy Goat Tavern, they were watching. At the Goat, they only use the siren for Great Moments in Cubs History. But in a heroic display of cloven-hoofed bipartisanship, Jeff the Bartender cranked the siren for Buehrle and the Sox.
"Sure, I did," confessed Jeff. "I'm a baseball fan. And Buehrle seems more like a Cub to me."
I thought of all the calls going out across Chicago and the suburbs and the state, people sharing this. Even America's No. 1 Sox fan, the skinny guy with the ears in the presidential limousine, must have slammed the red phone down on a foreign leader.
"I don't care what the Chinese Navy is doing!" President Obama probably said. "Buehrle's perfect through 7! Hawk said it's OK to call Rich Daley! Gotta go! See ya. Go Sox!"
My friend and former colleague Bob Vanderberg, who knows more about Sox history than any man alive, was at the game Thursday. Vandy called me when he got home from the ballpark.
"Billy Pierce had a perfect game going in June of 1958," Vandy said. "Until the 9th, when a pinch hitter came in and hit a bloop double to right. It hit the chalk."
On Thursday, center fielder Dewayne Wise made the catch to save Buehrle's perfect game in the 9th. Wise ran to the wall and climbed up the image of Pierce's face on the padding out in left center.
"It was as if to say this time, Billy, we're going to win it for you," Vanderberg said.
Baseball history is important to fans. We crave it and pass it down carefully, as if we're monks of Ireland saving civilization. But Wise isn't a monk. He's paid to catch the ball.
And that's what every Sox fan will remember, Wise running back and leaping, his right knee digging into Pierce's right cheekbone, sticking his glove over the wall to rob Tampa Bay right fielder Gabe Kapler of that home run. The ball almost popped out of his glove, and in that uncertain split second, Wise corralled it with his throwing hand.
As he slammed the wall, I thought of the last time Wise sold his body out to make a desperate catch, back in April when he robbed the Tigers of a sure double with two runners on base, hurting his shoulder in the process. Wise separated his right shoulder that night and spent an eternity on the disabled list and the shoulder hasn't been the same. Still, on Thursday he ran into the wall.
John Buehrle, Mark's father, was on Comcast SportsNet later, saying he phoned his son.
"I called him after, just like I have every game since he's been in baseball, and left him a little personal message," said Buehrle's dad, who has a pacemaker in his heart and said he needed it during the ninth inning. "And I said, make sure to give Mr. Wise a hug for me."
When the game ended, naturally I called my boys.
"Wise should stay on the Sox for the rest of his life," said the one with the Buehrle poster over his bed.
"That was the greatest catch I've ever seen in my life," said the other.
They're only in 8th grade. They'll see other catches, other games. But this one will always be perfect.