Pat the Bat Retires

Pat Burrell signed a one day contract with the Phillies this season so he could officially retire as a player with the team that drafted and developed him. Last Saturday the Phillies paid tribute to Pat the Bat before their game with Boston.

Pat had a solid career with the Phillies, hitting 251 home runs and compiling an .852 OPS (119 OPS+). Pat led the 2008 World Series parade down Broad Street. He is only 34 years-old, but injuries have forced him into early retirement as a player. He now works for the San Francisco Giants.

Last year I wrote a blog post about conversations in which I mentioned questions I ask baseball fans at ballparks (a link to that post). One question is: Who was the best hitter you ever saw? For me the answer is Pat Burrell. This requires context. I spent a lot of time at Reading Municipal Memorial Stadium during the summer of 1999. That season Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell were playing for the Reading Phillies, it wouldn’t be long before they were in the Majors. Pat had a monster year. He hit 28 home runs with a .333 batting average in 117 games. His OPS was 1.068! But the numbers aren’t what sticks in my mind, it’s the fact that he scalded the ball in every at bat I saw. Vicious line drives. His opponents were overmatched. It was like an elephant playing tug of war with a wildebeest–not fair. Pat Burrell during the 1999 season was the best hitter I ever saw.

On one hot summer night in 1999 a game at Reading went to extra innings. Burrell strode up to plate and hit a majestic home run to left-centerfield. The outfielders didn’t even bother turning, they just started trotting off the field. The ball landed out by the brick wall that borders the centerfield parking lot. It remains the only walk-off home run I have seen in person, and quite possibly the farthest I have ever seen a baseball hit.

Thanks for the memories, Pat.

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