It's 2003 and Pat Burrell has blonde hair. Seriously, he did.
It happened in August of 2003, in the midst of Burrell's worst season as a Phillie. He was hitting under .200 at the time, was trying to change his luck, and did it with his buddy, pinch hitter Tyler Houston, who was released by the team later that month for being a bad influence on the struggling Burrell (per Jim Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer writer at the time)...
There were indications last night that Bowa and the coaching staff - as well as some players - were furious with Pat Burrell's behavior after he homered in the second inning Friday night. Burrell took a noticeably circuitous route back to the dugout and did not shake Bowa's hand.
Burrell denied snubbing Bowa a day after the manager unloaded on the team. Bowa yesterday said he didn't notice what Burrell had done, and Wade said it was not an issue.
However, there were indications that Bowa and the coaches were upset enough about Burrell's actions - unwitting or not - that they suggested to Wade that Houston, a close friend of Burrell's, had become a bad influence on the underachieving slugger.
Houston was on a one-year contract. Burrell signed a six-year, $50 million contract this winter. There's no way Burrell was getting released.
In short, 2003 was a crap storm of failure for Burrell.
Domonic Brown can relate. Below are the stats of the two men, Burrell's full 2003 numbers and Browns' 2014 numbers through Tuesday's game against Milwaukee.
Obviously, there are major differences between Brown's 2014 season and Burrell's 2003. Burrell had more of a track record in the three seasons prior to his awful 2003 season, hitting 18, 27 and 37 homers the three years before, never with an on-base percentage below .346 in any of those seasons. Brown, meanwhile, was an All-Star last year with 27 homers and a .272/.324/494 slash line, but much of that was done in the month of May, and his plate appearances prior to last year were too sporadic to generate any real kind of track record.
Also, the Phils were more committed to Burrell because he was in the first year of a six-year, $50 million deal. That kind of money usually leads to patience by management. Brown, on the other hand, is making $550 thousand dollars this year and isn't eligible to be a free agent until 2018. Team control is a good thing if you want to keep a player, but it's not so good for the player if the team thinks it might be better served by moving on.
But the team stuck with Burrell, and as a result, good things happened. He responded in 2004 with a 24 homer season in which he hit .257/.365/.455, and then had four straight seasons in which he hit 32, 29, 30 and 33 homers, ultimately playing a key role in the Phils' World Series title in 2008.
For the record, the Phillies don't seem inclined to be ready to move on from Dom Brown yet, at least not in a way that would see him leave the team permanently. And for his part, Brown didn't seem too worried about the shots fired across the bough by general manager Ruben Amaro concerning the team's lackluster offense and, more specifically, his play in left field and the plate.
"I don’t know anything about that," Brown said after last night's game. "I don’t look into that stuff. I don’t want to see anybody in this clubhouse go anywhere, but that’s part of the business and if they think that’s going to help the ball club, so be it. But I don’t want to see anybody go. Hopefully we can get some wins and prove we’re a good ballnclub, which I think we are."
But those sounds Brown pretends not to hear are the clacking cleats of Darin Ruf and Grady Sizemore, both of whom could join the Phillies and see significant time in left field if Brown doesn't get his act together fast. Last night's 2-for-4, two-run, three-RBI game, in which he hit a key two-run home run, his first since June 14 and his first extra base hit in his last 15 games, was a good start.
But the Phils are going to need to see far more from him over the next couple weeks if he doesn't want to lose playing time to Sizemore and/or Ruf.
The comparison between Burrell and Brown are not perfect. Burrell was a more established veteran when he encountered his struggles, Brown is not. And Burrell's salary required the team to be more patient with him, whereas the Phils can cut ties with Brown whenever the want.
However, unlike 2003 when the Phils were competing for a wild card spot, the 2014 season is lost. As a result, the Phillies should be able to show more patience towards a young player who is struggling than in previous seasons. And unlike Burrell in 2003, there have been absolutely no reports of any behavior or attitude problems with Brown that would spur the team into taking action.
Every baseball metric out there shows Brown has been among the worst, if not THE worst, outfielder in baseball this year. It has been hard to watch, and you would not be blamed if you just wanted the team to move on.
Yet there is no reason for the Phillies not to stick with Brown for a while longer. Maybe, just maybe, if the young player can make it through this season without going crazy, he can come back next year and have a bounce back season similar to the one Burrell had in 2004. Not only that, neither Sizemore or Ruf are viable long term answers in the Phils' outfield.
Still, Brown has to perform, and soon, or else, the Phils will put someone else out there. Here's hoping Brown can get something together soon, pull a Burrell, and reward the patience the team has shown him throughout the first half of this season.