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Pat Burrell certainly had one interesting career

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The last week or so has been an interesting one in news surrounding members of the Phillies’ 2008 World Championship team. First, 2008 post season hero Brad Lidge signed with the Nationals, and now Pat Burrell has decided to call it a career after 12 seasons.World F*&*ing Champions!  Photo: lehighvalleylive.com

Burrell came to Philadelphia with lofty expectations after being taken as the number one overall pick from the University of Miami in the 1998 MLB Draft.  A power hitter who could compliment Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu perfectly in the Phillies batting order, the Phillies thought they had the next Mike Schmidt on their hands.

The turn of the millennium offered trying times for the Philadelphia Phillies franchise. Burrell arrived in the midst of the J.D. Drew debacle, and his first year spent with the club in 2000 would be the team’s seventh straight losing season and 13th overall in the last 14 years.

Then Larry Bowa took over as the Phils’ skipper in 2001, and Phillies fans got their first real dose of Burrell. Something the Phillies’ brass was none too pleased about.

Around Spring Training of that year, an interview with Penthouse Magazine surfaced featuring Burrell, who did not pull any punches regarding several off-the-field topics, none of them really involving baseball if you catch my drift.

Thus began the countless ‘legendary’ stories of the Midnight Mayor of Center City. Everybody’s got a Pat Burrell story who hung out in the city around this time. Despite hearing countless stories, I only saw Burrell out just once during his nine years in Philadelphia. Maybe it’s a sheer coincidence, but Burrell was anything but revealing to the press after the Penthouse interview for basically the rest of his career.

On the field, Burrell’s first full season was encouraging, hitting 27 home runs along with 89 RBIs. Certainly not something to sneeze at, especially for a player in his first full season in the big leagues. The Phillies had a 21-game improvement over their nightmarish 2000 season, only ceding the division to the Braves during the season’s final weekend. Losing was no longer excepted on this team, and fans as well as experts thought Burrell was going to take things to the next level as 2002 beckoned, and he did.

Burrell slugged 37 home runs that year, the most by a Phillie since some guy named Schmidt during his MVP year of 1986. The highlight of Burrell’s season came when he hit a walk-off homer against the Marlins on a Sunday afternoon early in the season and hit another against the Braves just a few nights later (you know, the homer run where he points to the dugout after blasting it?). The Phillies finished one game under .500, but everyone was convinced Burrell was on his way to becoming one of the games true superstars, and the Phillies rewarded him with a six-year, $50-million dollar contract.

Unfortunately, that was as good as things got for Burrell as far as individual numbers are concerned. With the addition of Jim Thome to the club during the off-season, fans were drooling at the thought of another monster year for Pat the Bat. Problem was, only Thome held up his end of the deal. Burrell didn’t, hitting .209 with just 21 home runs in 2003, as the Phillies edged out of the Wild Card to the cinderella Marlins. This season alone should debunk the myth that Philly fans boo everybody, or at least all of their star players. If Burrell hit even .230, the Phillies make the playoffs that year. The fans were probably saving their boos for Mesa, because they let Burrell off easy, and he’ll tell you that himself.

It wasn’t until late April-early May of 2007 when fans really started voicing their displeasure towards Burrell, and they gave it to him in droves. He lost his starting job in left field, but when finally came around, Burrell raised his average 100 points by the end of the season.  Burrell was a key factor down the stretch, getting several clutch hits (many against the Mets, his favorite team) as the Phillies finally got over the hump and advanced to the playoffs. I said it back then, and I’ll say it now: If not for Burrell, the Phillies don’t win the NL East that season. He carried that team offensively for the better part of three months.

Burrell continued his hot hitting into the first month of 2008, but seemed to wear down during the season's final weeks. And although his post season that year wasn’t necessarily one for the ages, Burrell’s two home runs in Game 4 of the NLDS against Milwaukee helped the Phillies advance to the NLCS, where his home run in Game 1 off Derek Lowe was the game winner, giving the Phils a 1-0 series lead against the Dodgers.Clydesdales!  Photo: broadandpennsylvania.blogspot.com

Perhaps the most telling at-bat of Burrell’s Phillies career however, was his last one- Game 5: Part Deux in the seventh inning of the World Series against J.P. Howell. Burrell, who had been 0 for 14 in the series, rocked what appeared to be a home run to the deepest part of Citizens Bank Park, but it came up just short.

Instead, Burrell manages a double and leaves the game for a pinch-runner. It would be the last time he would wear a Phillies uniform on a baseball field again. Two days later, in a fitting gesture, Burrell was leading the World Series parade with his dog Elvis down Broad Street.

I guess that long fly ball against Howell pretty much sums things up. Pat Burrell had a career that didn’t quite reach its potential, but was good enough to get the job done. Nonetheless, years of nagging foot issues finally took its toll on him, and 292 homers and two rings later, Burrell is walking away from the game. Yes, I know I’m skipping over his time with the Giants, because I prefer to remember Burrell thanking the fans at the parade as opposed to cursing out Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the 2010 NLCS.

Now that Burrell is officially retired, you have to admit he squeezed quite a bit into those 12 years he played in the majors. He may not have become the next Schmidt like people thought he would, but nonetheless, only three other players in the history of the Phillies franchise have more homers than Burrell, and he ranks in the top 10 in several other offensive categories. And oh yeah, the man had more World Series rings (2) than he had hits!!  How is that possible?!!

And perhaps the craziest part of it all? How many players in Philadelphia sports history leave town a winner let alone lead some Budweiser Clydesdales down Broad Street?

Interesting indeed.

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Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com  

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Homepage photo:  Photo: lehighvalleylive.com

Clydesdales photo: broadandpennsylvania.blogspot.com