Fare Thee Well, Pat

As we posted yesterday, it appears that Pat Burrell, longtime Phillies outfielder, two-time World Series Champion and owner of one of the biggest hits in the history of the organization, might be calling it a career, thanks to a foot injury that hampered him much of last season.

If this news is true, and if Burrell does in fact hang up his spikes for good, count me among the many that will most assuredly be sad at this development, despite the fact that he hasn’t played for the team in three years.

He was at the center of the new youth movement that the team went through in the middle of the last decade, along with Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers and Mike Lieberthal, among others. Their arrival was supposed to usher in a new era of baseball in Philly, and although it didn’t come along as quickly as some had predicted or hoped, Burrell’s inclusion on the team was crucial in pushing them past the finish line and into the playoffs.

That said, I always felt that Burrell was never truly appreciated in his own time. While he did have his share of struggles – his 2003 season being one of them – he had a very good career with the Phillies, where he hit .257/.367/.485 with 251 homers over nine seasons. The fact that he was a first round draft pick with a shiny new contract saddled him with enormous expectations, which became amplified when he had to compete for the affection of the fans with Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. To most, he was a defensively-challenged, strikeout-prone left-fielder who came up short more often than not.

It wasn’t until the Phillies started to win that Burrell became less a pariah and more of an icon in the city, as his talents – namely, his power and ability to get on base – became more and more valued and appreciated. And thanks to a strong cast of supporting players, he was viewed as less of a liability and more of an important cog in what would become the 2008 World Series Champion Phillies.

His post-Phillies career was not nearly as fruitful, as he signed a two-year deal with the Rays following the 2008 season, but found himself struggling in his new role as a designated hitter. He was released by the Rays early on in the 2010 season, and found success with the San Francisco Giants, where he hit .266/.364/.509 with 18 homers in 96 games, before going on to win his second World Series ring later that season.

His shining moment as a Phillies player was, in fact, his last one in the red pinstripes. In the seventh inning of Game Five, Part Two of the 2008 World Series, he came to the plate hitless in his 18 World Series at-bats. With Tampa Bay Rays pitcher J.P. Howell on the mound, Burrell blasted a long drive that, had it not been for the wind and biting cold, would have landed in the seats instead of caroming off the top of the centerfield wall for a double. He was replaced by pinch runner Eric Bruntlett, who would come around to score two batters later.

Personally, my favorite Pat the Bat moment happened earlier that season, when the Phillies hosted the San Francisco Giants. It was a Friday night game, and former Phillies centerfielder Aaron Rowand homered in the top of the 10th inning to give the Giants a one-run lead. With Brian Wilson on to close it out in the bottom of the frame, Burrell came to the plate with a runner on and two outs, and delivered a rocket of a two-run homer to left field to send the Phillies away as winners, as Harry Kalas exclaimed “Pat Burrell! Pat Burrell!” 

I found it fitting that, after the 2008 season, Pat was at the head of the parade that went through the city (along with his bulldog Elvis), as confetti and cheers of adulation reigned down upon him. He was an important part of the foundation of that team, and there was no better way for him to bid farewell to Philly.

Good luck to you, Pat. You were one of my favorites.

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