Burrell emotional as he officially retires a Phillie
Utley, Manuel among those to pay tribute to popular outfielder
PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Burrell always prided himself on being prepared. He thought he was ready this time, too, all set to take one last curtain call at Citizens Bank Park. Then the Phillies threw him with a changeup.
The tribute video had been shown and the accolades had been said Saturday night. He'd thrown out the ceremonial first pitch to close friend and former teammate Chase Utley. There had been the standing ovation and the signs:
Burrell's No. 1 Phan. Welcome home, Pat
Thank You, Pat. We Love You Always
Pat Burrell Is My Favorite Phillie
Earlier, Burrell had signed a one-day contract so that he could formally retire with the team that made him the first overall Draft pick in June 1998.
And just when he thought he was home free, three little girls walked onto the field. Anna, Lena and Stella, the granddaughters of late Phillies coach John Vukovich. And, with that, Burrell lost it.
"Other than crying in front of 45,000 people, I'm fine," he said ruefully a few minutes later. "When the granddaughters came out, I wasn't ready for that."
Vukovich passed away in March 2007 at the age of 59. The Phillies wore commemorative patches on their uniforms that year. Burrell, now a scout for the Giants, carries one in his binder as a constant reminder of a man who had such a profound influence on so many players.
"I was lucky. Guys that I keep in touch with that came through the system when I was. All the guys who had a chance to be around him," Burrell said. "He affected a lot of people in a very positive way. And it wasn't always hugs and pats on the back, either. It was both ways. We had a couple rumbles here and there. But in the end, all he wanted was for you to be the best you can be. It takes effort and it takes preparation, and those are the things he taught all of us."
This is the sort of open emotion that Burrell rarely displayed as a player. At work, he was the strong silent type. Whether he was booed or cheered, he remained stoic. He didn't complain, didn't make excuses. Off the field, he developed a reputation for enjoying a good time. Neither of those one-dimensional images, however, fully depicts the player his teammates saw behind closed clubhouse doors.
"One thing people don't really talk about is the fact that he rubbed off on guys in a positive way. He had an unbelievable work ethic, which helped me adopt my routine here at the park," Utley said. "He came to the park every day to win and to try to improve. And not many guys can say they've done that for 10 years.
"Everybody knows how important a role he played on our winning teams. Or I hope people realize how much of a role he played. In the clubhouse he was a guy who guys fed off his energy. He kept it loose. But he would also speak his mind when he felt it was needed."
Added manager Charlie Manuel: "Pat Burrell has a tremendous personality. He was always early at the ballpark and he wanted to win. And it was probably 2007 when he got more involved in our team. When we changed our team [by trading Bobby Abreu], he got into it more. He was one of our guys as far as the team coming together. He was definitely a leader.
"He was a player who was determined that we were going to win and he was going to help us."
The lasting snapshot will be of Burrell hitting the leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. He was replaced by a pinch-runner, Eric Bruntlett, who came around to score what proved to be the winning run. It turned out to be Burrell's last official appearance in a Phillies uniform.
Two days later, he led the victory parade down Broad Street. That remains his fondest Phillies memory. The following January, he signed as a free agent with the Rays. He won another World Series with the Giants in 2010 but, by then, was beginning to experience the foot problems that would end his playing career at age 34. Now he's moved on to the next phase.
"Chapter Two. I work for the Giants. I'm going to stay involved in the game and see where it takes me," he said. "It's different. Seeing things from a different perspective. When you're a player, you look at the game, for example, as a hitter. From an evaluator's standpoint, it's different. I'm learning. I enjoy it. I'm not sure where I'm going to end up with this whole thing, but as long as they still think I can help, I'll be there."
Baseball is a game of numbers, and Burrell's are easy enough to see. He hit 251 home runs for the Phillies; only Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard and Del Ennis have more. He's in the franchise's Top 10 in walks and RBIs. You could look it up.
More than statistics, though, he was a transformative figure for a franchise that has now won five straight division titles. He learned from Vukovich. He put that knowledge into practice and passed it on to Utley. This is how it works. This, in the end, is what makes Burrell a significant figure in franchise history.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.