Former Phillie, Pat Burrell, announced his retirement this past week, allowing me to finally hang up his number five t-shirt for good. Summing up the career of Pat “The Bat” is tougher than it seems. If you look at his stat sheet, his strengths and weaknesses as a player are readily apparent. He was a consistent power hitter, with a predictable batting average hovering around .260. Despite a high amount of strikeouts, Pat always worked counts, leading to a high on-base percentage. His range in the field was limited, to put it nicely, but he had a knack for gunning guys down who tested his arm. However, there more than meets the eye that shaped Burrell’s career that his numbers just won’t due justice.
Standing at 6’4”, 235 lbs, there’s no mistaking who Pat Burrell was in the clubhouse. He arrived as the number one overall pick in 1998 out of Miami. It was just one year removed from the J.D. Drew debacle, where Drew painfully turned down the Phillies to take the prettier girl to the dance. As much as the fans hated Drew for his disrespect of our fair city (and still do!), we embraced Burrell as our savior. If anyone could fill the big void of Drew, it was Pat “The Bat”. Burrell claims he hated the nickname, but I have a hard time believing he really didn’t like all that attention.
Every Phillies fan was eagerly awaiting Burrell’s debut with the big club, especially given that there was nothing else going on with the team at the time. Floundering through another disappointing start to the season, the Phillies brought up Burrell after first basemen Rico Brogna broke his leg. Burrell’s power was there from the start, as he belted 18 home runs on his way to a 4th place finish in rookie of the year category. Burrell was a super hero to young fans (like me), but he wasn’t without his own kryptonite: breaking balls low and away.
Pat had his best season in 2002, hitting .282/.376/.544. His OPS+ was a whopping 146, earning him a six-year, 50 million dollar contract, but with great contracts comes great scrutiny. Most players are under the microscope after signing big deals, and Burrell certainly wasn’t exempt. His career-high season was followed by an abysmal year that was painful to watch at times. He hovered around the Mendoza line all season finishing with a lowly .209 average. Our superhuman savior had become mortal.
Burrell’s personal life was also a point of scrutiny among the media. Most young ball players enjoy their celebrity, but no one came close to Burrell’s mythical reputation. Pat’s carousing was the thing of legend, earning him another nickname: “The Midnight Mayor of Philly”. I’m not sure I believe all the stories, but he did always seem to struggle during Sunday day games…
Former Phillie Doug Glanville wrote about what it was like to play with Burrell in a recent article on espn.com
. Glanville’s behind the scenes look back at Burrell’s career offers a thoughtful conclusion,
“He could be doing more, but he is doing more than you thought.” That was how Pat came into the game and how the peak of his earning years ended up. But he closed it out in fine fashion, even with releases and demotions. He still brought home three rings, two from championships and one from his wedding. Sure he struggled mightily at times and some took joy in seeing him get knocked down a few pegs, but from my vantage point, Pat very much understood that he had to work at what everyone thought he was given.”
It’s true that Pat always left us wanting more, as we expected him to be great, if not perfect. He endured a lot while in Philadelphia from both the fans (myself included) and the media, but you have to respect the way he handled it all. He never complained. He never mouthed off, he just kept going about his business. I will choose to remember him as he was in his last moment as a Phillie, riding out front of the Phillies parade with his dog, Elvis, as a World Series Champion. Here’s to you Pat, a salute to a successful career, on and off the field.