DETROIT – Alex Anthopoulos likes to say the perception of a player is directly tied to his production. If a team is winning and a player is excelling, the guy becomes known as a "leader" or a "positive clubhouse influence." When a team is losing and a player is struggling, his character is questioned.
It's easy to be enamoured with Mark Buehrle because of the year he's having. By now you know the statistics: 10-1, a 2.10 ERA and in his only no-decision of the season, Buehrle left with the lead.
Even last season, when Buehrle struggled through the first half of the Blue Jays' haltingly poor year, he drew no negative attention. He went about his between-starts routine despite his weight-related self-deprecation. He was always approachable despite his claims that he detests speaking into a microphone.
What became clear, quickly, was Buehrle's devotion to his family. Married with two kids, he looks in advance at the schedule and plots out homestands that will facilitate relatively lengthy visits. His father, John and mother, Pat, seem to be constants around the ballclub, even though John estimates they attend about 30 games per season.
When this reporter renewed acquaintances with Buehrle on the first day of spring training and casually asked how his offseason had gone, it took the pitcher less than five seconds to begin to explain the difficulty he had saying goodbye to his children, who are now old enough to understand their dad has to leave home to go to work but wish that he wouldn't.
John is in Detroit for the brief road trip, having scheduled a personal matter in the Motor City to coincide with the Jays' lone visit to the Tigers. He'd have it no other way.
"Our whole family was brought up as a family," said John Buehrle. "Everything we failed in or excelled in we shared as a family, our trials and tribulations if you will. When Mark did well in school, high school, college, everybody shared. When my other sons did well, everybody shared. They were brought up as a family, just as I was. They were brought up with respect."
Mark Buehrle is making $18 million this season and is due $19 million in 2015, the final year of the four-year pact he inked with the Miami Marlins in the 2011-2012 offseason. When it comes to respect, money isn't an object in the Buehrle household.
John's three sons, Mike, 40, Jason, 37, and Mark, 35, and his one daughter Amy, 32, are expected to adhere to a set of rules when they visit.
"Even today, they come to my house, they sit down at my table, their hat comes off," said John Buehrle. "I'll sit there and I'll stare them down. They won't even look at me, they can feel it. They can feel me looking at them because it's manners. They'll say 'Yes sir, no sir' and 'Yes ma'am, no ma'am' and open the door for the wives and their wives because that's the way they were raised."
Mark is four wins shy of 200 for his career. Not many pitchers make it to the big leagues, let alone last long enough to win that many games. John's son has never been placed on the disabled list. He's pitching in his 15th big league season.
John is pleased for Mark's success but shows his youngest son no favoritism.
"Any parent is proud anytime their child excels or succeeds at anything, regardless of what it is," said Buehrle. "I'm just as proud of Mark for being where he is today as I am of my one son who's driving a concrete truck who's never had an accident. And that's a lot to say for concrete truck drivers, believe me, because I used to be one."
Asked about Toronto, John returns to what matters most.
"Toronto is as much of a family-oriented town as what we had found Chicago to be," said Buehrle. "We were there 12-and-a-half years in Chicago. Everybody in Chicago was like family. Every place we went, they were so nice."
He admitted to uncertainty about Toronto after the trade with the Marlins and no, the fact John's son's pitbull dog wasn't allowed to move to Ontario wasn't his top concern.
"We didn't know, coming to Toronto, big city, we didn't know what it was going to be like," said Buehrle. "From day one, the people, everyone, not just the team, the staff, the people we ran into in the restaurants, it was genuine, you can tell when someone's putting it on, but you could really tell there was a genuine 'We're glad you're here.'"
The Blue Jays are glad to have Buehrle. Since last year's All-Star Break, Mark is 17-5 with a 2.66 ERA.
With an impending second knee replacement surgery scheduled soon, John hopes to be able to travel to Minneapolis for this year's All-Star Game. He expects Mark will be a participant.
"He's having a real good year and I couldn't want or wish any better for him or the team," said Buehrle. "I'm really happy for the fans, too, because the fans, I guess in a certain way through Mark see a little hope and glimmer and think, 'Oh, we may just pull it off this year.' It's not just Mark. You look at Joey Bats, Edwin, Melky. Everyone's having an awesome year."