According to reports from the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse, Wednesday’s game against Colorado could very well be the last in the career of Pat Burrell. The injured foot that has plagued the 12-year veteran back when he was playing for the Phillies just might be too much for Burrell to battle for another season.
Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News writes that Burrell actually campaigned to be in the lineup for the regular-season finale.
“I don't know what's going to happen next year, and if there was something at stake, I wouldn't ask,” Burrell said. “Now that we're winding down, I kind of politicked my way into it.”
So if this is the end for Burrell, how should he be remembered? Was he an underachiever, a former No. 1 overall pick in the draft who never had an All-Star or MVP-type season? Or was Burrell a player so charmed that he was able to carve out a niche on two World Series champion teams?
Burrell as a player is always complicated. Then again, the thing about coming to define a ballplayer’s legacy is that it’s totally subjective. Still another thing about legacies is that it defies statistics or any other type of metric. It’s completely one of those “it” things. You know, it’s so tough to define “it,” but you know it when you see, “it.”
In terms of the veritable clubhouse leader, Burrell had, “it.”
The fans in Philly thought Burrell had it, too, which is why he was the perfect choice to lead the World Series victory parade down Broad Street with his English bulldog, Elvis, on top of a horse-drawn beer truck. It was too perfect.
Burrell burst onto the scene when he hit 18 homers in 111 games of his first season in 2000. He followed it up with 27 in 2001 and then the big year in 2002 with 37 homers, 116 RBIs and a career-high .920 OPS. After that season he had the city in the palm of his hand because of his ability to get huge hits against the Mets, his newly-minted $50 million deal, and his de facto title as the “Midnight Mayor” of Philadelphia.
And then he just never put it all together. Sure, there was that good 2005 season and a strong 2007, but his inability to hit with runners on base in 2006 might have cost the Phillies a shot at the playoffs. Strangely, 30-homer seasons with solid RBI and slugging numbers seemed rather mundane, probably because we expected so much more.
Isn’t the curse of high expectations always a lose-lose? Strapped with that burden, it always seemed as if Burrell should have been better when in reality he wasn’t that bad.
Yet Philadelphia loved the guy. He somehow was excused from the boos that rained on Mike Schmidt during rough times, or hundreds of lesser players. Why was that? How could a No. 1 overall pick struggle to hit .200 in 2003 and to avoid a trip back to the minors wind up being cheered… in Philadelphia?
Somehow Burrell charmed the fans even when he was snubbing the press. Needless to say, Burrell was in a unique position for an athlete in the city.
Maybe the reason for that was because he was so accessible. There were probably thousands of Phillies fans that ran into him after games at The Irish Pub or out in Olde City, where he likely bought a few rounds for the house. Perhaps Burrell was immune to the catcalls because he lived the fantasy life of a star athlete to the hilt, and didn’t miss work or call in sick. In fact, he and Elvis were usually the first pair in the clubhouse every day.
He did a lot of things that fans and ballplayers liked, such as calling out guys like Billy Wagner for perceived slights and not airing his laundry in the media. Actually, Burrell called us “rats,” which is fair considering we ripped him for all those slumps and strikeouts.
For those looking for the defining quotes on Burrell, look no further than this gem Dallas Green dropped on Jim Salisbury a couple of years ago:
“I’ve been out with him a couple times in Florida. We have a secret (watering) hole every now and then.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. There are tons of guys in the Hall of Fame that were like that.
“It’s neat to have money, it’s neat to have good looks, and it’s neat to have broads all over you. Every place I’ve managed, I’ve talked to kids about the same thing. It’s a hell of a life. But there comes a time in every player’s life when he needs to get his act together.”
Burrell certainly had his act together enough to get two World Series rings. If that’s how he is remembered, certainly Burrell will have no complaints about that.