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Boats, Buehrle And The Silver Chalice

The image I prefer to remember from Ozzie Guillen's departure shows him kneeling down to eye level with Mark Buehrle's kids in the caverns of the Cell. He was having fun with the little ones, seemingly relaxed and, dare I say, likeable when the TV cameras captured him long after the final pitch of his last game as Sox manager.

The rest is bizarre. He ranted about needing enough money to buy a boat, clothe his wife properly, and travel to Spain. As if he couldn't do all that on a paltry $2 million salary amidst an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent with millions wondering where their next paycheck would come from. Ozzie was an agitated, angry man.

Hawk Harrelson implored fans to stick around after the final out of that Monday contest for an important announcement while ESPN, the Sun-Times, and the Internet already were spewing the news. Hawk read a statement from the Chairman, who - per usual - let someone else do his talking.

Now that Chairman Reinsdorf and his lieutenant Kenny Williams have solved the Guillen riddle, they can pay closer attention to the next night's celebrity, Buehrle, who pitched seven shutout innings in what no doubt will be his final appearance in a Sox uniform. Hiring a new manager - I say it will be Rays' bench coach Dave Martinez - is the top priority, but as far as the team's improvement for 2012 is concerned, the Buehrle dilemma seems more pressing.

Despite getting lit up in three of his September starts, Buehrle was the team's best pitcher this season. No one else came close to his 13-9 record and 3.59 ERA. He shows up for every assignment, and he'll be just 33 next year, which would be his 13th in a Sox uniform.

Buehrle's style is much like future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who pitched until he was 42 and won 355 games. Relax. I'm not saying that Mark Buehrle is on the same level as Maddux, but each is/was a soft-tosser, who rely/relied on hitting his spots, cunning, and know-how. Like Buehrle, Maddux pitched his usual 200-plus innings each season, often giving up more hits than innings pitched.

Maddux had won 202 games at the same point in his career while Buehrle has won 161. Greg went on to win another 153. Is it foolish to predict that Buehrle has another 100-plus victories in his future?

So - big surprise - it comes down to a matter of money, if you believe what Kenny Williams says. Much has been written about the team's 2011 payroll of $127 million, and the generous amounts of guaranteed money that Williams negotiated with underachievers Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

The team sold slightly more than two million tickets this season at an average price of $39, according to Forbes. That adds up to $78 million, though many tickets went for reduced prices in an attempt to fill the seats.

Nevertheless, Forbes lists the Sox' revenue at $210 million. Ticket sales are simply one line item in the budget. The Chairman didn't get to be Chairman by being dumb. He has a sweetheart lease for the Cell with the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, while the team exercises complete control over something it technically doesn't own. Parking, concessions, broadcast rights, and road receipts all contribute to the pie.

And in 2009 the Sox created Silver Chalice Ventures, a media company which is a subsidiary of the franchise. I know absolute nothing about this business other than that Brooks Boyer, the Sox' marketing chief, is the CEO. But I suspect that it either brings in more revenue or serves as some kind of tax shelter. Maybe both.

But let's assume for a moment that all of the revenue streams just can't cover the cost of adding in Buehrle - let alone Juan Pierre, who was 11th in hits in the American League this year. The Chairman and his investors are intelligent businessmen and a lot more responsible than those doofuses in Washington who spend far more than they bring in. They can't keep on spending, spending, spending.

Or can they? Consider that the Chairman and his group bought the team 30 years ago for $20 million. Today Forbes values the Sox at $526 million. Hmmmm. Not a bad investment. At some point the Chairman and his colleagues - or their heirs - will cash in.

Meanwhile, those of us who file through the turnstiles year after year will notice that Mark Buehrle wins 14 or 15 in St. Louis - or elsewhere - for that sourpuss LaRussa while we hope beyond hope that Dunn won't strike out yet again.

Sorry to say, but January's Sox Fest doesn't excite me. But like all loyal, addicted, longtime Sox fans, I'll be back next spring. See you then.

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Comments welcome.

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