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Ballot 30: Pat Burrell


Pat Burrell

Played 12 years for three different teams

Lifetime .253 average with 292 home runs. 18.8 WAR, -1.2 WAA

Pro argument: Slugger who hit 30-plus homers four times.

Con argument: The rest of it.

Deserves to be in Hall?: No

Will get elected this year?: No

Will ever get elected?: No

Pat Burrell, unlike Matt Stairs, Freddy Sanchez and Casey Blake, was born to be a star. He was a star in high school (football and baseball), and even bigger star in college (three-time All-American, winner of the Golden Spikes Award and Most Outstanding Player of a College World Series his team did not win) and he was the first overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft.

He promptly hit .300 with flashes of power in the minors, and Baseball America named him the 19th best prospect in baseball as a 21-year-old.

The next year, he hit .320 with a lot of power in the minors, and Baseball American named him the No. 2 prospect in baseball behind only Rick Ankiel.

The story of so many players on the Hall of Fame ballot is the story of exceeding expectations, of proving people wrong, of enduring various bad breaks or crises of confidence and pushing through. Matt Stairs was sent to Japan. Casey Blake was waived four times. And so on.

With Pat Burrell, it was very different. He could never EXCEED expectations because those expectations were limitless. He hit .260 with 18 home runs as a 23-year-old and finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting … and that was fundamentally DISAPPOINTING. Where was the guy’s much-celebrated power? When was this guy going to turn into Harmon Killebrew?

The next year, he hit 27 home runs. Yawns.

The next year, he hit 39 doubles, 37 homers, drove in 116 RBIs and … OK, fine. Finally.

This was the thing that hounded Burrell. Is it easier to succeed with or without expectations? The thing about Burrell is that he always had real liabilities as a player. He couldn’t run at all. This made him a liability as an outfielder. He had a huge hole in his swing and so was Top 10 in strikeouts more or less every year … but he was never Top 10 in slugging percentage.

And so, after a while, people began to think about all the things he could not do over the things he could. He had good plate discipline. He hit his share of home runs. But he was never quite as good as he was supposed to be, and that more than anything defined him. It’s not fair or unfair, these are just the realities. Pat Burrell was given opportunities at a young age that guys like Matt Stairs and Casey Blake could only dream about. But he was also held to a standard that left his career feeling like a disappointment while their similar careers felt like triumphs.

* * *

Ted Williams hit .200 in the World Series … and he never heard the end of it. It was only 25 at-bats, which is nothing, but World Series at-bats help determine a player’s legacy, and there were always those who saw Ted Williams as an overrated and selfish ballplayer who cared about himself more than his team and choked in the clutch. His .200 batting average in the World Series probably feeds that nonsense better than his .333/.518/.628 career line with runners in scoring position.

In any case, Williams hit .200 in the World Series … and David Ortiz hit .455. Dave Winfield hit .136 with one double while Lou Brock hit .391 with four homers. In big ways and small, the tiny sample sizes of the World Series tell stories.

Pat Burrell hit .037 in two World Series. That’s one hit in 27 at-bats. He got one hit in the Phillies 2008 victory over Tampa Bay, and he got zero hits in the Giants 2010 victory over Texas.

This is the realm of many pitchers like George Earnshaw (0 for 22) and Sandy Koufax (1 for 19). We’re talking about the world of Marv Owen, who went 2 for 29 in the 1934 World Series and topped that by going 1 for 20 in 1935 … the world of Swede Risberg, who went 3 for 25 in the 1919 World Series that he helped throw.

There are others — Bill White, Bill Freehan, Bill North (lots of Bills) — who had World Series woes, but Pat the Bat Burrell is the king of them.

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31 Responses to Ballot 30: Pat Burrell

  1. Douglas Bisson says:

    Great piece. But it’s “Swede Risberg.” 😉

  2. EJ says:

    FWIW, his one WS hit was pretty important. Leadoff double (that missed being a homer by about five feet) in the bottom of the 7th of Game 5, a 3-3 game at the time that had just resumed in the top of the 7th after that multi-day rain delay. He was replaced by a pinch runner who scored, and that run held up to clinch the WS.

    • Rob Smith says:

      And this was the thing about Burrell. You’d almost be happy to see him up against your team because he was pretty easy to get out. Then, after striking out twice and grounding into a double play, he comes up late in the game in a tight situation. The pitcher, under duress, throws him something he can handle & bang! Three-run HR. Game over. And you’re going, what?! We got him out all game, and then someone throws him a lollipop and he clubs it. That was the essence of Burrell.

    • Richard says:

      And he got the game-winning hit that won the pennant for the Phillies, and the game-winning hit that won the NLDS for them, too….

      So naturally, he got to lead their WS Championship parade that year….

  3. Edwin says:

    My friend whom shall remain nameless told me that she had sex with him during his tenure with the Phillies. And he told her “You are f**cking Pat Burrell, and you are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” I guess this tidbit won’t help his Hall of Fame case, but “The Bat” was legendary in Philadelphia.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yes, allegedly he didn’t receive the name “Pat the Bat” from playing baseball.

      • invitro says:

        You guys are saying Burrell was a vampire?

        • Rob Smith says:

          Mmmmmm… it had to do with the size of his junk and his willingness to use it regularly and indiscriminately. I’m not sure if he was crossing species with his nocturnal activities, but it’s possible.

    • Brad says:

      There was a hilarious piece, I believe in Esquire, about a year ago detailing the exploits of Pat the bat, known to some as “Hoover” for his alleged fondness of vacuuming up his own shooty shoot off of the backs and stomachs of his lady friends and his oversized reputation for wrangling cattle in the bathroom of the Continental. A must read for all baseball fans.

      • invitro says:

        Hey, that stuff is normal for vampires.

      • Rob Smith says:

        There are also some awesome stories in Deadspin that pretty much lineup with the stories already told here. Not the same stories, mind you, but similar, different stories. Apparently the guy did like to congratulate the girls for their good fortune in f*ing him. He also liked to throw parties where he floated around the room nude before selecting his companion for the night and seemed to have acquired a taste for various bodily fluids.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Are you saying that baseball players have pre-marital or extramarital sex? I’m shocked.

  4. ajnrules says:

    Is it me or is it kind of depressing that the #1 draft pick from 1998 – the year of the magical summer with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa – is now on the Hall of Fame ballot?

  5. the_slasher14 says:

    Gil Hodges went 0 for 21 in the 1952 Series. But he hit quite well in the four Series he was in thereafter (.337/.422/.565) and was forgiven.

  6. Mike says:

    Burrell will be forever linked in my mind with Nick Johnson, a very similar prospect for the Yankees who came up around the same time. Both were supposed to be amazing hitters. Both could be but Burrell never became a superstar and Johnson was beset by injuries.

  7. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I said I may be making this comment a lot…

    And Javier Vasquez couldn’t even get on the ballot?

  8. Gordo says:

    How obscene is the RISP slash for Teddy Ballgame??!!


    For his career!

    Probably some intentional walks added to the OBS, but wow!

    • Gordo says:

      OBP (damn auto correct)

    • nightfly says:

      “There goes the best hitter who ever lived.”

      Certainly in the conversation… and when you add in that he was a world-class fly-fisher and a world-class fighter pilot, well, that’s one heck of a life lived.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Yep, not bad; not only a fighter pilot, but almost got shot down. If he had been captured, I guess someone would have said, “I prefer my baseball heroes who fly jets in combat not to get captured.

        Great life; unfortunately, his idiot son desecrated his body though some goofy thought about regeneration.

  9. Hearing Pat Burrell’s name always reminds me of the old Fire Joe Morgan post about Burrell’s strikeouts:

    Ahh, good times and good memories.

  10. birtelcom says:

    Burrell absolutely killed the Mets. 42 homers vs. the Mets, no more than 26 vs. any other team.

    Pat Burrell vs. the Mets: 653 PAs, 42 HRs, 106 RBI
    Willie Mays vs. the Mets: 624 PAs, 39 HRs, 106 RBI

    Only guys with more HRs vs. the Mets than Burrell and Mays are Aaron, McCovey, Schmidt, Stargell, Chipper Jones (who named his son Shea) and Ryan Howard.

  11. Jason says:

    Phillies ended up with the #1 pick in 1998 only because they selected JD Drew #1 in 1997 and he refused to sign. I’d be interested to hear Joe’s take on which player had the better career. For my money, I’d take Burrell over Drew any day.

    • NPB Card Guy says:

      That’s actually not true. The Phillies ended up with the #1 pick in 1998 because they finished 68-94 in 1997, tied for the worst record in the league with the Cubs. They got the 42nd pick in the draft as compensation for Drew and took Eric Valent with it.

      Baseball-Reference gives Drew’s career WAR as 44.9 while Burrell’s is 18.8.

    • invitro says:

      J.D. is coming up, in about 10 more posts. Of course Joe thinks he had a much better career than Burrell.

  12. Michael C Lorah says:

    Whatever the expectations for his career, Pat led a World Series parade down Broad St and will always be beloved by me. As previously noted, his one and only World Series hit was a huge one. And he hit a few big homers in the 2008 playoffs to help get them to the Series in the first place.

    I also have very fond memories of Pat clobbering Billy Wagner repeatedly during the 2007 season. I always liked Billy, but he was on the wrong team and the wrong side of a very fun comeback for me.

    Basically, what it boils down to is, I don’t know if ANY of the 2008 Phillies will ever wind up in the Hall of Fame, but I’ll remember them better than whoever does get elected.

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