Think back to before the Pittsburgh Pirates had A.J. Burnett. You probably don’t want to, right? Okay, sure, if you’re old enough to remember the 1970s until 1992, you don’t mind it as much, I’m sure. I can only speak for myself, obviously, but I am not old enough to remember 1992; I was born in 1993. ‘Winning baseball and ‘Pittsburgh’ didn’t belong in the same sentence before Burnett arrived.
I bring this up because of the Burnett free agency saga that will surely draw hate towards Burnett from some Pirates fans. Let me preface this by saying that I will not tell you what to think or how to feel. I will simply tell you how I feel and what I think is the correct way to approach the situation.
Think back not as far as the 1970s or to 1992, but just to October right after the season ended. Burnett went on Colin Dunlap’s radio show on 93.7 The Fan, a Pittsburgh sports-talk radio station. The veteran pitcher addressed several tough topics in his lengthy interview with Dunlap, including apparent shouting matches with manager Clint Hurdle and shortstop Clint Barmes, Hurdle’s decision to go with Gerrit Cole over Burnett in Game 5 of the NLDS and Burnett’s future with the Pirates.
Burnett was extremely candid in this interview, which is surprising in this day and age, but not surprising if you know Burnett’s straight-forward personality. Burnett told Dunlap that “as of right now” (right now obviously being the day of the interview) he would take some time to choose between retirement and pitching with the Pirates in 2014. At that time, he had no interest in pitching for a different team. The key there is four words — “as of right now.”
When Burnett signs elsewhere — and it seems like he will — remember that he did not lie to you. He chose his words carefully. He said he loved it in Pittsburgh and that he wanted to retire a Pirate at some point, whether it was after the season or after this upcoming season, and I believed it. I still believe it. If he signs elsewhere it doesn’t mean that what he told Dunlap was a lie. People change their minds sometimes, folks. It happens.
Keep in mind, even if you still do think Burnett lied for some reason he owes you nothing. In two seasons, Burnett pitched 393.1 innings for the Pirates with a 3.41 ERA and 389 strikeouts. He, along with his teammates and Hurdle, changed baseball in Pittsburgh. They changed the mindset among the fans and the players. They gave the city a taste of what winning feels like — something far too many baseball fans from Pittsburgh didn’t know.
The Pirates low-balling Burnett with a $8.5 million offer probably didn’t help the situation. With several other teams trying to woo Burnett, it seems a return to the Pirates is probably more of a pipe-dream now. Don’t hate Burnett; thank him for the happiness he helped bring you.