Philadelphia Phillies: Reflecting on Pat Burrell's Legacy in Baseball
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Although seemingly lame on its surface, "Pat the Bat" was the perfect nickname for Pat Burrell. Not only did it rhyme, which of course made it cool, but it did what all nicknames should for athletes: It described their game.
Pat Burrell was as much of a bat as Walter Payton's game was of sweetness, Jerome Bettis was a bus or Ed Jones was tall...too tall. Why? He did exactly what a bat could do...he could hit something hard, while being solid itself. The key word though is could, not would. Bats, and Pat being one of them, could hit something hard.
Burrell always seemed to require someone to swing him, though, otherwise he was like a bat that was not picked up or was just sitting on the bat rack and not doing anything. Something needed to fire him up, in order to whack something. When he did, he did it well. But that's how I will remember Pat Burrell.
I think back to when he was coming up, not paid yet and starting to break into the league. Larry Bowa inserted him into the cleanup spot in 2002 and he took off from that point, going on to hit 37 home runs that season while driving in 116 runs for a very mediocre baseball team.
Then, he was rewarded with a big contract and the team added Jim Thome in the 2002-03 offseason. So with Thome and his MVP season on board swinging away, Pat the Bat went back on the rack.
A few years later, Charlie Manuel came on board as the new manager. Manuel of course was the players' coach-slash-hitting guru. His approach to managing swung Burrell, literally and figuratively.
Instilling confidence in Burrell, he swung him for a career-high 117 RBI. Burrell's average would slip nearly 25 points the next year, all while Ryan Howard emerged and there was no need to swing Pat's Bat.
The bat would sit on the rack until 2007, when the Phillies were starting to crumble with injuries. Chase Utley was among the biggest injuries faced in the second half, and it was around that time Pat would start being swung.
Why? The team was desperate for a 3-hole hitter, so that got Burrell going. He would explode for a .435 average in July and ten August home runs.
They were part of his second-half power surge of 22 home runs. The team needed a nice swing and a long drive to get away from the awful start to which they began the season.
Within that 2007 season were a few of the hardest swings the bat ever swung. Burrell and a former Phillies reliever had gotten into a feud through the papers, with Pat Burrell calling Billy Wagner a "rat."
Twice did the "bat" swing hard and drive one far off the "rat" in big games, twice leading to Phillies victories to complete sweeps against the New York Mets, as they would win the division by one game.
This was the following year after Burrell and Wagner got into it. It's not the only time a Mets closer has caused Burrell to swing hard, as he often would battle with Armando Benitez. Burrell three times burned Benitez with home runs, each of which caused the two to boil even more with each other.
The bat seemed to always swing well when it was mad. I still have the image in my head of Pat Burrell ripping a two-run home run to left field in 2005 against Texas and slamming his bat down viciously.
The cause? Bobby Abreu, at that time the hottest hitter in the world, was plunked by a pitch. That was enough to make the "bat," his protection in the lineup, swing and take one for a long drive.
It's one of plenty images we've seen of Burrell being angry and looking to do something viciously.
Remember his seemingly unnecessary and childish staredown with Roy Halladay in the 2010 National League Championship Series? Well, in the at-bat immediately following that one, Burrell would rip a double to left field and then proceed to later score the last Giants run of the night.
His biggest "Pat the Bat" moment was in the 2008 World Series. His hit in Game 5, his only hit in the series, led to the series-winning run.
But even in a moment that big, he needed to be swung. Jimmy Rollins had barked at him in the clubhouse tunnel right before the at-bat, which got the "bat" swinging.
In all these cases, he needed something or someone to swing him. He never seemed to do it himself or automatically.
His teammates even used him like a bat. One of his other nicknames around the ballclub was "Bait," because of his ability to get women at bars and clubs.
In a different sense, his teammates were using him to hit something. It was really just like a bat though. Pat the Bat.
Even when he walked around in the gimp outfit as "The Machine" in Brian Wilson's interview, you have to wonder if that was really him doing that automatically. You have to think that Brian Wilson picked up the bat and swung him in that direction to seriously go on national television dressed like that.
This was as silly as the seemingly rehearsed Spring Training home run he hit off former teammate Cole Hamels in an exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park. Burrell homered, leading off, then immediately left the game. There was reason to think this, too, was an act of someone swinging him.
And so that will be Pat Burrell's legacy in my mind: being one of the best nicknames in sports. He contributed to an increasingly weak category, nicknames in sports.
No "Tony Plush" nonsense, just a catchy, rhyming nickname that was appropriate. I will actually think of his nickname more than I ponder the quality of his career.
It is an interesting question: Did the Bat do enough? To do enough, was it swung enough and swung correctly with the first overall pick?
Nicknames aside, Burrell did have a nice career for a No. 1 pick, winning two World Series in three postseason appearances.
Those were team accomplishments, but individually he did well for himself, collecting six 27-plus home runs, 85-plus RBI seasons, and slugging a respectable .472 percentage. But isn't that what a bat should do?
It's the question that his career and legacy will face, being a No. 1 overall pick. Was he not swung enough? And would you have swung this bat with the first overall pick or would you have taken the pitch?
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