Inside Baseball: Burrell won't be missed by Tampa Bay

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Fans and media in Tampa Bay are celebrating the release of Pat Burrell, who was a problem on and off the field for the Rays. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

By the time Pat Burrell left his city by the bay earlier this month, it was clear the glory that was Philadelphia was of another day.

After a spectacularly unsuccessful stay in Tampa Bay - during which time he failed to hit a single home run off a lefthanded pitcher - Burrell, 33, was designated for assignment by the first-place Rays.

Remember how Burrell had exited Philadelphia? He and his dog, Elvis, riding like parade marshals in a wagon at the front of the Phillies' 2008 victory march, delightedly sopping up all that post-World Series goodwill?

Well, 19 months later, there was no parade marking the former Phillie's departure from Tampa Bay, though it now seems certain that fans and sportswriters there would gladly have participated in one had they been provided with torches, tar, and feathers.

Rays fans, who had booed Burrell roundly and regularly, cheered his May 15 release on Internet message boards - one of which posted a photo of the then-Phillies outfielder sneeringly giving the finger to someone during a Phils-Red Sox game

Many in those chat rooms pointed out that the 16 homers Burrell managed in 11/4 seasons had cost the Rays $1 million apiece, since the team had signed him to a two-year, $16 million free-agent contract before the '09 season.

As happy as Tampa and St. Petersburg's fans were to see Burrell go, the media there were even more delighted. For them, "Pat the Bat" had become "Pat the Brat."

St. Petersburg Times sportswriter Tom Jones wrote: "Has there ever been a Tampa Bay athlete more disliked in Tampa Bay than Burrell? The designated hitter's personality - occasionally off-putting and seemingly apathetic - didn't allow him to build up the brownie points to overlook his embarrassingly unproductive 146 games in a Rays uniform."

His colleague, columnist Gary Shelton, called Burrell's signing "the worst idea in Rays franchise history," no small feat for a team that until 2008 was a poster child for bad decisions.

Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson described Burrell as a "dour drone" and suggested the designated hitter's negative clubhouse influence was one of the reasons the 2009 Rays were so disappointing in defense of their AL pennant.

In a similar vein, New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden labeled him "a clubhouse cancer."

You used to hear those same things whispered about Burrell from time to time in Philadelphia, where he apparently was on a mission to put the "life" back into the city's nightlife. He was frequently surly and dismissive with reporters - at least on those occasions when they could find him.

But all was forgotten and mostly forgiven after Burrell contributed to the Phillies' 2008 championship, getting the key hit in their Game 5 clincher against the Rays. Many here even urged the team to hold on to the aging player, who, when he was drafted first overall in 1998, was supposed to make Philadelphia forget the J.D. Drew debacle.

Even though the Rays rank in the bottom third in big-league attendance and almost certainly will lose several potential free agents - Carl Crawford? Carlos Pena? Rafael Soriano? - after the 2010 season, they seemed more than happy to eat the remaining $6.4 million Burrell was owed.

Now, more than two weeks later, and despite the fact that American League teams like Seattle, Cleveland, and Oakland badly need an infusion of power, no one has signed him, although it appears that the San Francisco Giants may be interested, according to some reports.

And, given his suddenly slow bat, his defensive liabilities, and his locker-room baggage, it would be no great surprise if Burrell's career is at its end.

He was supposed to be the righthanded power bat the Rays lacked against good lefthanded pitching. Instead, he hit zero home runs against lefties in 138 at-bats.

In those 146 games with the Rays, Burrell batted .218, drove in 77 runs, and struck out 147 times, validation of the Phillies' verdict that he was on the downside.

Finally, once Hank Blalock rediscovered his stroke at triple A, the Rays unloaded Burrell.

"I don't think it caught him totally off-guard," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the release. Perhaps not coincidentally, he noted that Burrell's roster replacement, Blalock, was "going to fit into our clubhouse well."

And in one more indictment of the fan-based all-star voting system, Burrell, as of Friday, was fourth among American League DHs - though apparently an Internet movement sparked by tongue-in-cheek Phillies fans is responsible.

Whatever Tampa Bay's feelings toward Burrell, Rays management handled his release with class.

General manager Andrew Friedman waited until one day after Burrell had hit the 10-year service mark before dumping him, meaning he was fully vested in the plan, which pays the average 10-year vet $180,000 annually. Not bad for a guy who hit .202 with two homers and 28 strikeouts in 24 games this season.

The Rays had greeted Burrell just as warmly when he arrived, going so far as to provide Elvis with his own name-plated locker at the team's Port Charlotte training site.

Burrell and agent Greg Genske did not respond to several phone calls and e-mails. Again, not a surprise.

After hanging up on a St. Pete Times reporter shortly after his release, Burrell fired off the following text to the writer:

"Lose my #."


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.