Pat Burrell was the first-overall pick in the 1998 draft. In order to enjoy that first-overall pick, Phillies fans had to watch an unbelievable amount of bad baseball. Fourteen pitchers on the '97 Phillies finished with an ERA over 5.00; six of them finished with an ERA over 7.00. Mike Mimbs was involved.
The only light at the end of the tunnel was the draft pick. After all of that awful baseball, the Phillies could march right into the draft, and pick the best player in the country. That player was Pat Burrell. Phillies fans earned Pat Burrell.
There were ups, and there were downs. There were cheers, and there were boos. In 2003, there were a lot of boos. I'd say there were batteries, too, but then someone would show up in the comments and yell at me for resorting to stereotypes. And then they'd throw Internet batteries at me. I don't want trouble. But we shan't forget the cheers.
After 1,306 regular-season games, 292 homers, and 39 penicillin shots, Pat Burrell ended his Phillies career in the best possible way: with a World Series title. And Burrell walked out the door that offseason, stopping only to brush a little confetti off his shoulders. The Phillies crawled through a river of Calvin Maduro and came out clean on the other side. Burrell had as much to do with the turnaround as anyone else.
He went to the Rays and flopped, released with almost $6 million left on his contract -- almost seven times the Rays' entire payroll. He was plucked out of the recycling bin by the San Francisco Giants, and he enjoyed a Hollywood-worthy redemption with them, winning his second World Series. He now had more World Series rings (two) than World Series hits (one), but he was (and is) beloved in both cities.
But he will always be associated with the Phillies. And now he'll officially retire as a Phillie:
Former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell will sign a one-day minor league contract and retire with the organization.
Burrell will officially retire as a Phillie during the Boston Red Sox series in May at Citizens Bank Park. He'll be honored May 19 and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
My first reaction was what actually prompted what you're reading now: How stupid. What's the point? What sort of symbolic, treacly nonsense prompts the one-day contract? And this isn't just coming from a disgruntled Giants fan eager to claim Burrell for his own team -- the Giants did this sort of thing too, signing J.T. Snow to a one-day major-league contract, putting him in a uniform, and plopping him out at first base so he could leave the field to raucous cheers before the first pitch was even thrown.
Of course Burrell is going to be remembered as a Phillie, even if he'll be a part of Giants' postseason lore. And of course J.T. Snow is going to be remembered as a Giant. If you asked Terry Francona to list all of the teams Snow has been on, he might give six or seven wrong guesses before he got to the Red Sox. Having those guys sign a one-day contract is meaningless.
Again, that was my first reaction. But once you go down that rabbit hole, it's tough to climb out. Turns out this is all meaningless. Dudes hitting round balls with sticks and then running around, stomping on white squares … you aren't going to wrap your baby in it when it's cold, and you're not going to feed it to your cat when the horrible thing is batting at your nose at six in the morning. It's all meaningless.
And if you're going to attach meaning to it -- and it turns out this is all meaningful, right? -- then these sentimental touches are very much worth it. Retiring uniform numbers. Putting faces on a plaque, and hanging the plaque in a visible place inside of a ballpark. And, yeah, signing a guy to a minor-league deal and having him retire as a member of the organization he never really left. It's a gesture, a nice touch. It's a way for the team to announce the player in question was their player, and he would always be their player.
So here's to Pat Burrell, and here's to the Phillies, reuniting at last even though no one really thought they'd separated. It's a nice gesture, which it was all it was supposed to be in the first place. Also, my prediction for that one-day minor-league contract: Two strikeouts, a walk, and a long home run.