We knew Pat Burrell was retiring, but today we learned the circumstances under which he’d make it official. Burrell, in a move more about nostalgia than anything else, will sign a one-day minor league deal to retire with the Phillies.
Burrell is, in addition to being the Phillies’ first $50 million player, and the only player the Phillies ever drafted No. 1 overall, was the first piece to fall into place on the road from the Terry Francona Era to the World Series title. On a personal note, Burrell is the first Phillies player whose entire career I followed, from draft to retirement.
And what a career.
The Bat is currently fourth on the Phillies’ all-time list in home runs, fifth in walks, and, since integration and with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances, tenth in OBP and eighth in slugging percentage. Burrell slugged at least .500 in each of his last four seasons in Philadelphia, hit 30 home runs four times, and was the top right-handed power threat on the Phillies between Scott Rolen and Jayson Werth.
And yet we never seemed to appreciate him until the end. Burrell was, in the finest tradition of his contemporaries Donovan McNabb and Bobby Abreu, the object of ridicule for Phillies fans. This feeling, I think, has two causes: first, for whatever reason, when a team isn’t any good, the blame tends to go to the best players. I’m not sure why, but Burrell and Abreu, as well as McNabb and Andre Iguodala later, were all very good players, but the general public heaped blame on them for being merely good, and not the world-beating, ubermenschen they’d need to have been to make a contender out of the teams with which they were surrounded. Turn Desi Relaford or Greg Buckner or Todd Pinkston into a championship sidekick? That’s telekinesis, Kyle.
The second reason for Burrell’s rough start (apart from that .203/.309/.404 line in 2003, which was never really properly explained or forgotten) is the relative lack of understanding at the time about sabermetrics. Burrell walked a ton–114 times in 2007 alone–and hit more than his share of doubles and home runs, but was slow, dreadful in the field, and never hit for a high average. It never looked like Burrell was giving anything less than his best effort in the field, but he was trying hard in much the same way I try hard to get the projection screen in my classroom to go up and down reliably. First, the results are never good and, second, it’s impossible to try without looking like an absolute idiot.
But that’s neither here nor there. Eventually, we came to appreciate the value of Burrell’s walks and power, in spite of his being one of the slowest players of his or any generation, and in spite of his striking out with more verve and panache than any Phillies player in recent memory.
So I’m looking forward to May 19, as I imagine the rest of you are, so we can pay our respects to one of the most unique and important players in recent Phillies history. Vaya con dios, The Bat. If there’s any doubt that we love you back, just remember–no one shed a tear for Adam Eaton.