Bill Conlin | A striking contrast between Pat B & Joe D

FIRST, I WANT to thank Pat Burrell's left wrist for setting up this interview with the left hemisphere of his brain.

Hi, and thanks for giving me some time on this important NFL Sunday. Should I call you Pat? Half-Pat? Half-Brain?

PB: Any of those would be better than what some fans attach to "Brain." Pat will be fine. He used me to hit in the cage for an hour this morning, now he's moved over to his right hemisphere for the games.

First, I want you to take a deep breath, close your eyes and try to clear everything out of your left hemi. Ever hear of Joe DiMaggio?

PB: The guy who sold those Mr. Coffee machines, right? I remember those ads when I was a kid. And wasn't he married to that fat actress, Marilyn somebody?

Marilyn Monroe. He was the most famous baseball player in America. She was the No. 1 Hollywood sex goddess back when models and actresses wearing shag sweaters weren't mistaken for pipe cleaners. She never had to walk into a plastic surgeon's office and say, "Fill 'em up." Joe was also a great hitter who had that 56-game hitting streak in 1941.

PB: Oh, that guy. Remember, I'm half-brained right now. But I do remember a tune my folks used to play that had a line, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? . . . "

Pat, DiMaggio wound up hitting .357 in '41. He only hit 30 homers because he missed 15 games with injuries and the leftfield power alley in Yankee Stadium was 415 feet. Guess how many times he struck out in 541 at-bats?

PB: High-average power hitter? Probably put the ball in play. Maybe 100 to 125?

How about 13! That's thirteen strikeouts. What a coincidence. In 2005, when you had one of your better seasons, your numbers were similar to Joe D's 1941 in some areas. You had 562 ABs, just 21 more. You hit 32 homers, two more - of course you were playing home games in a ballpark with an alley 70 feet closer than Joe's yard. But you struck out 160 times. That's 147 times more than DiMaggio struck out in just 21 more at-bats.

PB: Yeah, but he never had to face closers. And setup men. And guys throwing close to 100 mph.

And you never had to face big-league pitching at a time when there were just 16 teams and major league baseball dwarfed every other sport in importance. Bob Feller won 25 for Cleveland that year. He was clocked at 100 mph when he was 18. And the fastball was his second-best pitch. He threw a curve in the mid-80s that used to hiss like a snake when it broke 12-to-6 and letters-to-knees. He would have turned you into the mother of all right-bracket parentheses.

PB: So what's your point? Is this about me "protecting" Ryan Howard?

This news just in. Chase Utley has agreed to a 7-year, $85 million contract. And it sounds as if they actually think he'll earn it. Insulating Howard is part of it. But a bigger part is you getting a grip on your own baseball career. The word is you refuse to alter a flawed approach to hitting. You're stronger than DiMaggio was and he was a powerful, athletic man for his time, one of the first genuine "five-tool" players. Some scouts projected you as a .320 average, 40-homer guy for a decade. Not quite . . . Of course, they were basing that on the swing you had at the University of Miami before you fell totally in love with your ability to hit batting-practice pitches 500 feet.

PB: That's a little harsh. How come Jim Thome was able to hit 47 homers in 2003 with me having my worst year? Some days it looked like Larry Bowa picked our batting order out of a hat. Abreu, Thome, Lieby, Utley, me;

Thome, Lieby, Abreu, me, Utley. I mean, on and on, different almost every day.

It's called clutching at straws. Let's close the book on Joe D's strikeouts vs. yours: Joe retired after 13 years with 361 homers - and 369 strikeouts. That's an average of 28 homers and 28 strikeouts a year. After seven seasons, you're averaging 27 homers and 147 strikeouts - that's 1,017 Ks.

PB: Chicks dig the longball . . .

When DiMaggio was a teenager tearing up the Pacific Coast League, they told him after signing him off the family tuna boat that if he struck out a lot he was gone. So he spread out into that ultrawide stance and cut his stride to a matter of inches. Guess who else in the 21st century game has taken the same approach?

PB: Albert Pujols? He spreads out and just sort of does like a half pivot on his front foot. And . . .

And then he hits it as far as you do. He's in perfect balance. His hands are always inside the ball. Bottom line, he's had the greatest first 6 years in offensive baseball history, going back to the deadball era. He's averaging 41.7 homers and 65.6 strikeouts with a career .332 average. And he just turned 27.

PB: So you think I should spread out so I strike out less and can protect Ryan Howard?

Pass this on to the rest of your brain, as well: Forget about protecting Ryan Howard and start worrying about protecting your own baseball reputation. Start by taking a long look in the mirror and asking, "Am I the hitter I wanted to be 7 years ago?" You won't like the answer. *

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