From the time he was drafted, Pat Burrell was going to be the savior of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies took Burrell with the first overall pick in the 1998 Draft and fans were awaiting his arrival in Philadelphia from the moment the Phillies called his name on Draft Day. For their part, the Phillies were also looking forward to Burrell's arrival and started him at High-A Clearwater immediately after he signed. By the time the following season ended, Burrell had moved all of the way to Triple-A, but would never see a full season at that level before the Phillies brought him to Philadelphia. Technically, they brought him to Houston where the Phillies were playing on May 24, 2000. In his debut, Burrell went 2-for-5 with a single off of Octavio Dotel and a triple off of future Phillie Billy Wagner.
The Pat Burrell era was officially underway in Philadelphia.
From day one though, there were ups and downs in Burrell's career. He was quickly discovered to be the type of player who would get hot enough to carry the club, only to come crashing down to Earth. While he was never the type to give less than 100%, he suffered from the same curse that Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt suffered from during his time in Philadelphia. Burrell was so cool and collected, that he sometimes appeared to not care about what he nor his teammates were doing on the field. That reputation would continue to grow and was compounded after Burrell signed a six-year, $50 million contract prior to the 2003 season.
At the time, the contract seemed like a good deal for both sides. Burrell was coming off a season where he hit 37 home runs and hit .282, both of which are still career highs for Burrell. In Burrell and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies had two young players, who debuted just months apart in 2000 and both of whom were figured on to lead the Phillies for years. Now, the tandem have the Phillies on the way to a World Series title, but it may result in the final game of Burrell's career in Philadelphia.
While he's often maligned for his "soft" numbers, there is no disputing that no matter how much he may appear to struggle, his numbers are generally solid by the time the season ends. Even in 2003, Burrell's worst season of his career, he had hit 21 home runs by the end of the season, but hit just .209 on the season. That season was a low point for Burrell, not only numbers-wise, but in terms of his career in Philadelphia. Fans had constantly let Burrell know how much disdain they had for him, which only seemed to deepen his offensive slide. Then, came run-ins with manager Larry Bowa, including a now famous incident where Burrell purposely headed for the far end of the dugout after a home run to avoid shaking Bowa's hand. The contract that seemed like a good value when the Phillies and Burrell signed it, had now become an albatross around the team's neck. Besides the financial end of the deal, the Phillies were also saddled with a no-trade clause that seemed to mean that they were stuck with Burrell.
|Pat Burrell's very first media photo with the Phillies shows that his look has changed a little over the years, but his bat has been mostly pretty consistent. In eight full seasons in Philadelphia, Burrell has hit at least 21 home runs per season. Once the World Series ends, Burrell will be looking at free agency and the Phillies may be looking at life after Pat Burrell.|
(Photo: Getty Images)
The exit of Larry Bowa and the arrival of Charlie Manuel was probably the best thing that ever happened to Burrell. In Manuel, he found not only a player friendly manager, but one who had the ability to help him learn the art of hitting. Manuel immediately took up Burrell's cause and publicly defended him. In his first season under Manuel, Burrell approached his career highs, hitting .281 and ripping 32 home runs. While Burrell's average hasn't reached anywhere near the .280 level since, he hit 33 home runs this past season, the second most in his career. Through nine seasons in Philadelphia, Burrell has 251 home runs and a career .257 average. Burrell didn't find as much of an ally in GM Pat Gillick, who arrived after the 2005 season and immediately set upon taking advantage of Burrell's big numbers by working out a deal that Burrell would give into. For some time, it appeared he was headed for Baltimore, but at the last moment, Burrell nixed the deal and kept himself in Philadelphia. Rumors of deals to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox also abounded, but never materialized.
So now, Burrell's career could come down to just one more game. That albatross of a contract is up and Burrell is eligible for free agency. At various times, it appeared that the two sides might agree on a new deal, but ultimately, nothing has gotten done. The fact that Gillick is ultimately a lame duck GM hasn't helped the situation either. Gillick's retirement means that Burrell's issue will likely not be resolved and he'll at least file for free agency and have to await the hiring of a new GM for the Phillies. While Burrell has a comfort level in Philadelphia and with manager Charlie Manuel, his career may actually be better served if he were to sign on with an American League team where he could serve as a DH. The question mark there is that he hasn't hit well when he's served in that role with the Phillies.
At 32, there is little doubt that someone is going to offer Burrell a lot of money. The Phillies would be able to take advantage of a hometown discount, but with a number of players deserving big raises and headed for arbitration, there may not be a lot of money to go around. The Phillies also have to decide on whether or not to re-sign starter Jamie Moyer, who has pitched well, been a fan favorite and has also served as a coach and mentor to the young pitchers on the staff. It's likely that the Phillies will not only be pinched financially, but may not like the idea of giving Burrell another no-trade clause and tying their hands for the length of the contract as former GM Ed Wade did when he initially gave Burrell the six-year deal. Rumors abound that the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and even division rival New York Mets would have an interest in Burrell if he were to hit the open market.
No matter where he winds up, fans in Philadelphia owe Burrell a debt of gratitude that they didn't always express during his time in the city. He was never one of the real fan favorites and his cool demeanor still strikes some fans the wrong way. What Philadelphia has gotten out of Burrell during his career is a guy who has agreed to learn first base, only to be later asked to move to left field and who has given them at least 21 home runs in each of eight full seasons. Some will say that Burrell's tenure in Philadelphia hasn't been as good as most thought that it would be, but perhaps, expectations were just too high. As we enjoy this postseason run and stake out our seats for the parade down Broad Street, we will soon be reminded that baseball is a business and Pat Burrell's time in Philadelphia could come to an end because of a business - not a baseball - decision.