Pirates fans everywhere are in a state of apprehension. AJ Burnett. The man who flew into Pittsburgh with a black and gold cape, batman body armor (sleeveless of course to show the tats), and a bag full of shaving cream bombs, most likely won’t be returning to Pittsburgh. So where does that leave us?
Much like the desperate citizens of Gotham City, it leaves Pittsburghers looking for a hero. Who is going to be the man to step up and lead the pitching staff after arguably the most popular pitcher since Doug Drabek flies out of town? Well. I’m here to tell you that that answer.
We will have a very solid pitching staff as we did last year. But there is no replacement for the intangibles that AJ Burnett brought with him to the Pirate clubhouse. There is only one @wudeydo34. There will never be another. Moment of silence for the potential departed please………………. Thank you. And all together now Pirate fans: ”NUTTING, YOU JAG OFF!”
But it wouldn’t be just a one sided loss if he decides to follow the trail of green and go to another city. Not even remotely. I contend that there isn’t a team in the MLB that AJ can go to where he will be as happy as he was in Pittsburgh. And as a result there isn’t a team in the MLB in which he can replicate the production he had while in Pittsburgh. Why? He’ll still have the same stuff? The tailing fastball. The knuckle curve that leaves batters with pulled obliques because they miss the ball so badly. Those pitches won’t go anywhere. And that’s true.
But AJ has always been a man that plays with his emotions on his sleeve. Not only that, but he brings his emotional state of mind that he is in off the field – on to the field. Not intentionally. It’s just unavoidable. That’s the source of AJ’s strength and weakness at the same time.
Let’s not forget that he was written off in New York. He was ran out of the big apple so unceremoniously that all they told him when he left was ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out paisan!!’. He was disrespected. Cast aside. Beat down. Utterly forgotten.
His last two years in New York saw him put up the worst numbers of his career to date. His ERA in 2010 and 2011 were 5.26 and 5.15. Never before in his career did his season ERA top 5.0. He gave up 109 earned runs both years. Only once in his previous 11 seasons did it even hit 100. He gave up an average of 27 home runs a year in his three Yankee seasons. Nowhere close to his career average prior to NY. Bottom line… it was ugly folks. But why?
Because he was unhappy that’s why. Didn’t like the city. Didn’t like the management. Didn’t like the media. Didn’t like the teammates. Didn’t like being a small fish in a big pond. Just….didn’t….like it. So, unhappy off the field = unproductive on the field.
Enter Pittsburgh stage left. AJ Burnett wasn’t a big fish in a small pond in the burgh, he was a blue whale in an above ground swimming pool. He could do no wrong. Pirate fans embraced his bad-boy image. He was just a Pittsburgh kind of guy. He was the perfect fit. One of our own.
Every time he chastised an umpire for missing a strike, we chastised the umpire even louder. Every time he told a batter to “SIT DOWN” after he struck them out pending a long battle at the plate we stood up and screamed “SIT DOWN” right with him. Every gritty performance that he gave to us, we gave it right back to him tenfold with applause, love, and praise. Nothing went unappreciated in this town. Nothing.
There were times that he gave up five runs in two innings and would STILL get a standing ovation when he left the game!! That’s the love he got from Pittsburgh. He was the shaving cream guy. He was a demi-god to Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole. He was the equivalent of the most popular guy in high school. And he loved it. Who wouldn’t it. Happy off the field = Productive on the field.
But so much as AJ Burnett was the savior of Pittsburgh. In many ways, Pittsburgh was the savior of AJ Burnett. Let’s not forget that. That’s why he said he’ll either retire or play for the Pirates. …(as of right now) Because he knows he’ll never have it as good as he did here in Pittsburgh. How could he? You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. But he can only take so many kicks to the groin by the Pirate brass before he may decide enough is enough.
But now I’m talking to you AJ. The fact is that Nutting is too cheap to pay you what you deserve and Huntington is too conservative to push him to do it. And if that ends up being too much for you to forgive. All we can say is AJ…. It was a hell of run buddy. It was a win-win. You’ll always be remembered fondly. Do what’s best for you. We’ll miss you.
Oh. But don’t you dare take the mound at PNC Park in May or July as a member of the Orioles or Phillies. That would be an unforgivable slap in the face to an extremely proud city……….who just lost their caped crusader.