There was plenty of credit to go around after Carlos Rodon threw MLB’s second no-hitter of the young season — to first baseman Jose Abreu for his quick feet in the ninth inning, to catcher Zack Collins for improving as a receiver and especially to Rodon for persevering through two major surgeries and disappointing performances that had seen his ERA climb five years in a row.
Oh, yes, also to the White Sox ownership and GM Rick Hahn for not losing faith in him.
But how about David Wells? Specifically, how about the link from Rodon back to Wells, who pitched for the South Siders in 2001?
That’s worth exploring because a 22-year-old Mark Buehrle followed Wells around like a puppy dog when they were teammates, 20 years ago.
Wells came to the White Sox having won the World Series with the Blue Jays and the Yankees and having thrown a perfect game for the Yankees. He had been traded for Roger Clemens and came to the Sox in the first of many audacious deals by Ken Williams. He only made 16 starts for the White Sox before undergoing back surgery but was generous with his trade secrets when Buehrle watched games sitting next to him, contributing at least a little to Buehrle going on to throw unlikely no-hitters (one a perfect game) and earning a World Series ring of his own.
Buehrle, a 38th-round draft pick who had been cut from his high school team, won 214 games and made 30-plus starts for 15 consecutive seasons before the pain in his shoulder caused him to walk away. His presence at the front of the rotation made life easier for White Sox managers Jerry Manuel and Ozzie Guillen, establishing a sequence of young, talented lefties that the team continues to count on.
Buehrle was everybody’s best friend during his 12 years with the White Sox. He and his father even grilled hot dogs for teammates and staff during spring training. He was an ideal mentor for John Danks, a first-round pick of the Rangers who was only 21 when he made his big-league debut after Williams acquired him from Texas.
MORE FOR YOU
Danks was followed by Chris Sale in 2010 and Yankees castoff Jose Quintana in 2012. Rodon, the third overall player taken in the 2014 draft, arrived in ’15, three years after Buehrle had left Chicago to sign as a free agent with the Miami Marlins.
Danks was one of the American League’s best young lefties early in his career but struggled from 2011 through his final season in ’16, partially because of shoulder problems. He, like Buehrle, was a good teammate and committed professional who helped set the tone for younger pitchers like Sale, Quintana and Rodon.
Williams and White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf were burned when they rewarded Danks with a five-year, $65-million contract after failing to re-sign Buehrle, whom they had already paid about $79 million (including a $150,000 signing bonus that counts as some of the best money they’ve ever spent).
In the latter stages of his career, Danks was willing but not able. The Sox released him in May, 2016, but no doubt would have pulled the plug much earlier had he not been the same kind of mentor to younger pitchers that Wells and Buehrle had been.
Trusting their trainers and medical staff, Reinsdorf and Hahn have been as patient with Rodon as they were with Danks.
Because his health allowed him to make more than 20 starts only in his first two seasons, Rodon has yet to earn as much over a season in salary as the $6,582,000 bonus he received after being drafted from North Carolina State (like Danks, he’s represented by agent Scott Boras). But the White Sox offered him salary arbitration three years in a row before non-tendering him last December. Even then, though, they let him know early on they wanted him back and signed him to a one-year, $3-million deal before spring training.
Rodon said it was an easy decision to stick with the White Sox, for a number of reasons. He cited the team’s young talent, which includes left-hander Garrett Crochet, the White Sox’s first-round pick in last year’s draft.
Crochet, like Sale and Buehrle, is starting his big-league career in the bullpen. He’s a good bet to extend the uninterrupted line of White Sox left-handers another five-10 years, if not longer.
Crochet may never know it but he has likely benefitted from some knowledge Wells passed along to Buehrle back in 2001, before his second birthday. The long line of pitching mentors is a subtle key to success for the White Sox.