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Burrell's value to Tampa Bay Rays goes beyond numbers

Pat Burrell takes his dog Elvis for a walk during 
the World Series victory rally at Citizens Bank Park.

Getty Images

Pat Burrell takes his dog Elvis for a walk during the World Series victory rally at Citizens Bank Park.

If you are a numbers guy, this might be all you need to know about Pat Burrell.

He's going to hit 30 home runs for the Rays this season. That alone is a pretty good reason to say hello.

If history is any indicator, Burrell is going to hit somewhere in the .250s, and he's going to drive in about 90 runs. He'll walk more than 100 times, and he'll strike out about 130 times.

Lovely things, statistics. And, yes, part of the beauty of baseball is the way the game turns all of us into accountants.

But if you want to know who Burrell really is, if you want to know what the Rays have bought for their dollars, perhaps a better description can be found in a moment.

It was on Oct. 27, late in the evening, and for the Tampa Bay Rays, a pretty good story was about to come to a close. It was Game 5 of the World Series, and Burrell was working in the indoor batting cage at Citizens Bank Park when teammate Jimmy Rollins approached him.

"You know what's missing?" said Rollins, his voice with an edge to it. "You. I don't know who this guy is. I don't know who you are. I want to see No. 5 show up."

And Burrell, mired in an 0-for-13 slump, promptly went out and banged a seventh-inning double high off the rightfield fence. A pinch-runner eventually scored the winning run of the Series-clinching game.

Today, perhaps you can appreciate that anecdote a little more than then.

Today, perhaps you can appreciate Burrell a little more, too.

No, Burrell is not a perfect ballplayer. He is slow, and he is prone to maddening slumps, and he strikes out too much. He is much more suited to be a designated hitter than an outfielder.

All of that said, this is an excellent signing by the Rays. Put simply, the batting order just got a little more muscle. Among Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Burrell, the Rays are staring at 100 home runs from the middle of their order.

Let's face it. The Rays are a team built on pitching and defense, but yes, they needed a little more thump. Last year's primary DH, Cliff Floyd, finished with 11 home runs. By comparison, Burrell hit his 11th home run last year on May 22.

Again, however, that's just numbers talk. You know how you judge a player? In part, by how his teammates feel about him. And the Phillies loved Burrell.

He was Pat the Bat, after all. Once, his teammates made up a shirt with a photo of Burrell lifting weights on the front with the slogan: Pat Burrell: Man or Machine.

If you wonder why, perhaps you should consider Burrell's answer Monday when he was asked which part of his game he took the most pride in.

"It's an attitude that winning comes first," Burrell said. "All the other stuff will come. There is a lot of outside-the-game stuff that goes on in baseball. If the emphasis stays on what happens on the field and on taking care of your teammates, all the other problems tend to solve themselves."

Amazing how a relationship evolves between a player and a town, isn't it? For a long time, Philadelphia didn't seem to be able to make up its mind about Burrell. He was the kid with the big contract. He was the player who, back in his single days, loved the night life and loved to boogie. He was the guy you cheered and the guy you booed, often in the same at-bat.

Despite it all, Burrell endured. He lasted until he sat on a beer float with his wife (Michelle) and his dog (Elvis) and led a World Series parade.

Sam Donnellon, the Philadelphia Daily News columnist, once wrote this: "There has never been a player like Pat Burrell in this town. No one has been loved, loathed and loved again the way he has, at least while wearing a hometown uniform the entire time."

Phil Sheridan, a columnist for the Inquirer, said this: "He's an oddity. At the end of the year, his numbers are going to be pretty good, but he's going to get there in the ugliest way possible."

Any direction you travel, however, 30 home runs is a pretty good place to wind up. And with the DH, Burrell is a better fit with the Rays than he was with the Phils, where he had become a seven-inning player.

All in all, it's a fairly impressive signing. The Rays could have gone cheap, after all. Given their success last year, given their acumen at picking players out of the clearance rack, you might have expected them to re-sign this year's Eric Hinske (or for that matter, last year's). Whenever the Rays plunk down $16-million for a two-year contract, it should be viewed as a pleasant surprise.

Even in the current marketplace, Burrell looks like a bargain. Think of it like this. Baseball analyst Bill James projects Burrell to hit 32 home runs this year. He also projects Mark Teixeira, who just signed an eight-year, $180-million contract with the Yankees, to hit 36. Those extra four home runs, one assumes, will have to be fairly impressive.

Good signing. The numbers say so.

Before he's done, perhaps the moments will agree.

Burrell's value to Tampa Bay Rays goes beyond numbers 01/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 9:39pm]
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