Some rules, like records, are made to be broken. Thank goodness that Jerry Reinsdorf didn't let one of his unwritten ones get in the way of his baseball franchise a few years back.
Reinsdorf is a strong believer in limiting ownership's risk by not signing players, especially pitchers, to extended contracts. He had drawn a line in the sand for pitchers at three years, and it almost cost the White Sox the services of one Mark Buehrle.
Let's hear it for compromise.
About three months after Buehrle no-hit the Texas Rangers, Reinsdorf agreed to give his cornerstone left-hander -- one of the best pitchers in the game both then and now -- a four-year offer. Buehrle had wanted to stay in Chicago all along, and the $56-million deal allowed him to forego an impending round of free agency. He would have been snapped up by somebody -- Yankees, Red Sox, his beloved Cardinals.
I sometimes have referred to Buehrle as "the left-handed Maddux," to the amusement of at least one friend who worships the ivy at Wrigley Field. But look at him now. Look at him real hard.
Buehrle, barely 30, added a perfect game to his resume Thursday at U.S. Cellular -- an instant 5-0 classic against the Rays that will be remembered more for the acrobatic, uncannily well-timed catch defensive replacement Dewayne Wise made as any of Buehrle's 116 pitches.
But man, were these good pitches -- never two in the same spot, rarely one that a hitter could anticipate.
Just ask Michel Hernandez. He struck out on a 3-2 changeup for the 26th out, one after Wise robbed Gabe Kapler for No. 25, and one before shortstop Alexei Ramirez handled Jason Bartlett's grounder for No. 27.
You have a perfect game on the line and you throw a 3-2 changeup? That's Buehrle.
The ability to throw the perfect pitch at the perfect time, without even looking like he's breaking a sweat trying, is the true signature of Chicago's best pitcher since Maddux. He now has as many no-hitters as the times he was cut by his high school baseball team. And look at the company he is in.
Five pitchers before Buehrle had thrown more than one no-hitter and at least one perfect game. Those guys -- Addie Joss, Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning and Randy Johnson -- are either already in the Hall of Fame or awaiting future induction.
He just may be on his way, if he keeps pitching. He's 133-90 in his 10 seasons, and is as much of a cruise-control, 15-plus victory guy as there is in the major leagues. He doesn't get as much attention as the hard throwers -- CC Sabathia and the rest -- but he thrives in a hitter's park in a muscle-bound league. Try that sometime, Jake Peavy.
Buehrle has been as durable as they come since he arrived as a wide-eyed rookie on the Sox's 2000 playoff team, setting a great example for the pitchers who have come behind him.
Buehrle said after Thursday's game that he has surprised himself throughout his career. He never expected to throw a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game. He never thought he could hit a home run (he got that earlier this season).
There are two things he wants now, he said -- a Gold Glove (he long has been deserving, as pickoff victims will attest) and a Cy Young Award. This could be the season he makes a run at the latter, as the perfect game put him in the forefront of voters' minds and he seems capable of winning 18-plus games.
This is only the second year of the four-year contract he signed after he moved within half a season of entering the free-agent market. It's too early to talk about a new contract or any of that.
The question may be whether he wants to keep pitching when this contract expires at the end of 2011. He told me earlier this year that this might be the last one of his life, as he misses his family (wife, children, father, mother and siblings) badly when he is away, especially for long stays like spring training.
Was he kidding? I don't think so. He's about as sincere as they come.
Buehrle is one of the players who really gets it. He's willing to share his experiences -- all of his experiences -- with fans via every form of media known to man.
He was making the rounds of talk shows after the perfect game. At the end of one interview, a host referred to him as "a class act."
"Thanks," Buehrle said. "That means a lot."
He's as good as it gets.