Monday, March 12, 2007

OK Go

Among the scant morsels that pass for “news” in the Township this week, we hear that two-time New York Met Jeromy Burnitz has announced his retirement. It’s interesting, at least mildly, for a couple of reasons.

Skipping ahead to my second thought – upon scanning the blurb, it was: “Jeromy Burnitz hit 315 home runs?” . . . thereby tipping my hand as an old guy amidst the blogosphere’s youth. 300 dingers used to be far more of a respected milestone than it is today, and Burnitz’s entry into the 300 HR group is a pretty strong example of just how wide the doors to this once-worthy club have swung open.

The list of sluggers in baseball history who notched between 300-400 home runs includes names that exude thoughts of long balls. Names like Greenberg, Kiner, Kaline, Foster, Luzinski, and Rice; nicknames like Boog, Hondo, Cobra, and Kid. How many taters would Joe DiMaggio have hit in the modern era? More than 361. Way, way more. Hall of Famer Johnny Mize won four HR titles and finished in the top 5 in the NL nine times; he finished with 359 home runs. (Burnitz never finished in the top five, and only twice in the top 10.) How are we to compare eras properly when baseball continues to use one master list for every player to knock a ball that clears a fence?

Forgive my trite point, that the majority of the statistics of the modern era have no business being compiled with those of baseball’s past. (OPS+ should be the only stat celebrated in milestone form, since it at least attempts to make side-by-side comparisons more of a relative function.) My reason for mentioning all of this is less grand, though; I guess it was just a mild shock for me to see that stat in Burnitz’s bio when . . .

My first thought at the mention of Burnitz’s retirement was a quick, sorrowful reflection upon the dreadful era that was Mets baseball in the early 1990’s. Ugh, what a disaster. Rob and I used to play APBA computer baseball (an almost prehistoric game, by today’s technological standards), and we had the full complement of teams from the strike-shortened 1994. Rob would complain about having Hobson’s Choice when it came to his rotation, but in truth, he was able to better Butch’s managerial record much of the time. I, however, piloted the ’94 Mets to loss after loss – and found myself cursing Dallas Green a fair bit less than ever before. “How’d we ever win 55 games? It’s a miracle.”

There have been books written about “the worst team money could buy,” the 1992 Mets. After that club bottomed out, however, there was something of a rebuilding that took place, and by all accounts the Mets of a few years later should have been one whose prodigious youthful talent met with serious success. Jeromy Burnitz was an integral part of that movement. It’s hard to call him the centerpiece, since the shoulda-been triumvirate of Isringhausen/Wilson/Pulsipher stole the press of that time and came to signify the disappointment later on, but Jeromy was a key cog in the machine that jammed and broke. A 1990 first-rounder, he’d played his way to the bigs in ’93, showed some pop, and just needed a last bit of fine-tuning . . . which wouldn’t arrive, or at least until after he was gone.

The lineup of the new Mets of the early 90’s featured a slew of homegrown up-and-comers (Burnitz, Hundley, Huskey, Vina, Bogar) with a few young prospects garnered in trades (Kent, Brogna, Everett, Thompson). The rotation, it seemed, would soon be fleshed out by the aforementioned trio – known to the dweebiest among us as “Generation K” – plus the likes of Bobby Jones, Jason Jacome, and Dave Telgheder, all Mets draftees in the bigs with significant upside. Honestly, with a few well-placed vets (Saberhagen, Franco, McReynolds), the future seemed limitless. The result was plenty of descriptors with the suffix “–less,” not one of them positive.

Injuries destroyed a whole lot of the “upside,” especially in the area of the pitching staff. And the vets who weren’t as well-placed (a drug-addled Gooden, a revolving door of wash-ups, and most notably, Bobby Bo-gus) eroded all sense of “team” in the clubhouse. But what killed this club as much as anything else? The eventual mediocrity of its young players. What breakouts came from the 1994 Mets, for example? Well, Jeff Kent did – about eight months after the Mets traded him to Cleveland for Alvaro Espinoza and Carlos Baerga. And I guess you could say that Burnitz did, shortly after also being shipped to the Tribe. (Note to Omar: under no circumstances will you make a deal with the jinxifying Indians. Should they offer you Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia for Mike DiFelice, politely decline and move along. Remember Roberto, it should be painted on your office wall.)


Any of the aforementioned bright-futured youngsters who stuck around Shea would suffer through slumps and injuries, with only flashes of the talent touted by the scouts. The promise of a new heyday was mostly a lie.

Burnitz would indeed garner some accolades, mostly as a Brewer around the turn of the millennium. His “swing hard in case you hit something” approach at the plate shouldn’t have worked, but he managed to muscle a good deal of mammoth shots into the Wisconsin night. Then he came back to the Mets and almost magically returned to form: .251/34/100 became .215/19/54. When his 2003 started well, the Mets quickly dumped him on L.A. in a deal that brought Victor Diaz and similar chaff. And thus ended the Mets’ head-shaking Jeromy Burnitz Experience.

The guy was a product of the era, taking advantage of the many theorized gopher-inducing changes to the game in the 1990’s. Smaller parks, thinner pitching staffs, and the highly-hypothesized “juiced balls” all helped bolster his numbers. And perhaps some “really good vitamins,” as one of his outfield predecessors quipped? Actually, I liked the guy – he was humble as hell and likeable throughout it all, and he was someone to root for if only for the swing that mirrored my golf hack, so I won’t hurl any unfounded accusations his way. I should just leave it at the “product of his era” comment and bemoan his Mets of 1993 and 2003.

Jeromy Burnitz made over $46 million but never played in a postseason game. He hit those 315 homers but struck out 1,376 times. After my cursory glimpse, he may be the only guy to retire with 300 or more home runs and under 1,000 RBI. I liked the guy well enough but watched him contribute to some serious Mets misery. He should pause and look back on his career fondly, but to me he’ll unfortunately represent a part of what went wrong in both of the recent wretched eras in MetLand. Farewell, Jeromy. May we never again see such times of unrealized potential and disappointment.

1 comment:

rob said...

jeromy burnitz made $46m? holy hot fuck.