Truth be told I really did like AJ Burnett.
I love what he brought to the New York Yankees organization. He was the screwball in an overly professional environment that livened everyone up that was around him and made the clubhouse a nuthouse.
He for sure wasn’t the prototypical Yankee. He had the most tats on any Yankee I’ve ever seen, he was almost never clean shaven and his shaving cream was mostly used for his infamous after game pies to the face (which I think everyone loved in N.Y.).
But that was AJ.
He gave the Yankees a new identity. At the beginning of 2009 Burnett, C.C. Sabathia & Nick Swisher were all part of a wave of newbies that came to the Bronx and turned it on its head. They were all tatted up, Mohawk wearing guys that changed the culture of the Yankees internally and made things more entertaining.
Burnett more than anybody else was the catalyst of it all. His game ending pies became a fan favorite highlight after big wins and his arm helped produce some big wins in his first season in New York.
His seven inning gem in August of 09 against the Red Sox helped keep the Sox at bay as the Yankees eventually won the AL East. His best performance came in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. After Cliff Lee put the Yankees in a one game hole Burnett came out in game 2 and pitched the game of his life to tie the series. In seven innings and with nine strikeouts Burnett flipped the World Series and turned it in the Yankees favor.
Without him the Yankees don’t win the World Series that year. That’s why I appreciate Burnett so much.
Was he maddening to watch? Absolutely. Burnett has all of the talent in the world; a top notch fastball, nasty breaking pitches and when he’s on he can be unhittable.
But when he’s bad he’s putrid.
He’s one of the wildest pitchers in the game. His location can be non existent, he can walk batters as consistently as he can throw wild pitches. Burnett mentally has never always been there. When he fails it affects him for starts at a time.
He presses too much. Once he walks a batter he panics, one walk leads to another, then another, then a hit, then a run, then before you know it Burnett is a mess and the Yankees are in trouble.
The worst case of this was last year against the White Sox. The Yankees had a 13-0 lead in the fourth inning. My buddy Mike sent me a text message saying “AJ is gonna find a way to give all 13 of those back. WATCH!” Sure enough it was 13-7 in the bottom of the fifth with two runners in scoring position and no outs when Joe Girardi pulled him.
I wanted AJ to succeed so badly because he was just a great dude and those memories of 09 were still fresh in my brain… But he made me and all Yankees fans want to kill him. When Burnett pitched I don’t think there was one Yankees fan who didn’t have a bottle of Jack Daniels next to them because you needed it to watch him.
The pitching coaches couldn’t fix him and he sure as hell couldn’t do it himself. In the end in order for the Yankees to have a shot at winning another title they had to get rid of one of the main catalysts to its last title.
Trading Burnett was the right thing to do in the long run for the Yankees. One of the Yankees weaknesses last year was its rotation and after acquiring Michael Pineda and Hideki Kuroda they seem to have fixed their problems (at least on paper). After the two additions there was no room for Burnett and his end was seemingly eminent.
Now he’s gone and he’s taken his pies with him.
As maddening as he was I really like AJ. Pittsburgh is gonna love his antics, the way he brings guys close together and how he livens up the clubhouse.
Hopefully it’s pitching coaches can keep him focused and on point and Burnett can put together some good seasons. The guy deserves it.
Sure he couldn’t find the plate if he tried in stretches and was wildly erratic… but AJ Burnett helped the Yankees win a World Series and made life fun for all in the process.
That more than outweighs all the other stuff.