With Pat Burrell's departure to the Tampa Bay Rays this week, we're truly seeing the end of an era for the Philadelphia Phillies. Ever since the day he was picked first overall in the amateur draft in 1998, Burrell was something of a blank slate on which fans and the team could project their neuroses and expectations.
After the J.D. Drew Troubles in 1997, the Phillies badly needed to make a statement, as a claim to legitimacy if not a gesture toward playing winning baseball. Burrell -- the University of Miami slugging legend -- was that statement. The Drew Drama inflicted some serious wounds on the team's psyche. It often seemed like Burrell, probably unfairly, was expected to fix all that.
And it wasn't fair. I always felt like the Phillies braintrust, be it Monty, Wade, Gillick, Schmidt, or their collective G. Gordon Liddy Dallas Green, always kind of resented Burrell for not living up to his "first pick potential." Yeah, he wasn't Chipper Jones or Ken Griffey, Jr. ... but he wasn't Shawn Abner or Matt Bush, either. It was a classic case of letting perfect be the enemy of good. Burrell wasn't a perfect player, but he was very, very good and very reliable.
He loved Philadelphia. Loved it. How many professional athletes can you say that about? He took endless shit from the fans and the press and rarely complained. And the Phillies repaid that loyalty without even a good faith offer of a new contract, opting instead for the older, left-handed version of Burrell in Raul Ibanez.
It's been a sad week, I'm just glad that our last memory of Pat will be seeing him on the carriage with his dog, Elvis*, leading that parade down Broad Street.
Thank you, Pat. And good luck with the Rays.
* My wife made me put this part in. I think she'll miss that dog almost as much as she'll miss Pat.