This is the swing possessed by Pat (the Bat) Burrell I remember first seeing in Clearwater in the Spring of 2000. He was wearing #33 at the time, and the veteran who was playing left field was Ron Gant. Burrell was a third baseman in college, but there was no way he was going to displace the Phillies phenom at third, Scott Rolen. So in the 7th inning of spring training games Pat trotted out to LF to spell Gant, who was in the twilight of his career. My boys and I sat close to the field in the intimate setting of Jack Russell Stadium, and each time Gant stepped to the plate we began to chant: “We Want Pat. We Want Pat.” Gant was not pleased and on one occasion after he homered, he glared at us as he rounded third base toward home plate. We shrank in our sets. It was nothing personal against Gant. It was simply that Pat was supposed to be so good that we couldn’t wait to see him play. That Spring I bought a poster of Pat when he was in Reading, painted by one of this teammates who was a talented artist. It became a shrine in our den at home, but also a lingering reminder of unfulfilled promise.
After his one stellar season in 2002, Pat never quite lived up to the Big Bopper label. He started out in the heart of the McGwire/Sosa era, and we had him pegged to be in their league. Steroids or not, he wasn’t. His RBIs rarely exceeded one hundred. Perhaps due to foot injuries and a shaky platform, his swing started to look like a tilt-a-whirl, often angling too far and lunging at pitches outside. I had the feeling his walks began to increase because his swing was so poor that he lost confidence in pulling the trigger.
Doug Glanville was the Phils’ center-fielder that Spring of 2000 when Pat’s time came to join the Big Club. He wrote a great tribute to Pat that captures what I felt all those years having the Burrell shrine in my den:
“He could be doing more, but he is doing more than you thought.” That was how Pat came into the game and how the peak of his earning years ended up.