In anticipation of the imminent end of the A.J. Burnett Error, ESPNNewYork.com humbly offers "A.J.'s Greatest Hits,'' the highlights -- or is it lowlights? -- of the three-year Yankees tenure of Allan James Burnett.
1. The Shiner
Every bit as mysterious as the Jack Nicholson/Stanley Kubrick film of a similar title, Burnett showed up with a black eye -- the right eye, by the way (as an ex-boxing writer, I notice these things) -- before a start at Camden Yards in September of 2010, the source of which has never been revealed. All we were told is that it was not "baseball-related,'' meaning none of his teammates took a poke at him, and a call to the local police stations in Baltimore revealed no evidence of an off-field incident involving the Yankees' right-hander. I even asked Joe Girardi if he had popped Burnett. "No,'' said the manager, who was not laughing.
2. I have two words for you, Joe Girardi
No, that's not really what Burnett said when the manager came to collect him in the second inning of a miserable outing in Minneapolis. In fact, you didn't have to be a lip-reader to know what Burnett threw back at his manager on the way off the mound, although everyone involved denied it afterward and Girardi even had an on-air meltdown when questioned about it by the YES Network's Jack Curry. Whatever was said, and to whom, was serious enough to warrant Girardi charging down to the clubhouse and demanding that Burnett repeat it, according to Burnett, but the two claimed to be lovey-dovey after the game.
3. Clubhouse doors, beware
After Burnett pitched a shaky but certainly not terrible second inning against the Rays at Yankee Stadium on July 17, 2010, he was abruptly removed from the game after facing two batters in the third. The Yankees offered no explanation for the sudden pitching change until after the game, when Girardi, rather awkwardly, said, "A.J. got a little frustrated, and, er, hurt himself.'' Turns out Burnett, after allowing a two-run HR to Reid Brignac in the second, had stormed into the clubhouse and slammed his hands into the doors leading to the back area, slicing the palms of both hands on the Plexiglas frames used to display the lineup cards. Burnett then made it worse, lying to Girardi that he had tripped on the stairs and landed on his hands. The result: the frames were gone by the next time Burnett started and the lineup cards are now taped to the doors.
4. Soupy Who?
In 2009, Burnett endeared himself to Yankee Stadium fans by treating teammates who won games with walk-off hits with a cream pie in the kisser -- really nothing more than a blob of shaving cream in a towel -- a continuation of a routine he had started while a Toronto Blue Jay. Since the Yankees had 15 walk-off wins in the regular season and two more in the postseason, Burnett threw more pies than Soupy Sales, the old TV comedian for whom pie-throwing was a form of comic aggression. In fact, Sales died during the 2009 season, an event I informed Burnett of in front of his locker. "That sucks,'' Burnett said, with real concern on his face. "Who's he?''
5. ABJ -- Anybody But Jorge
No, there was never any problem between Burnett and Jorge Posada. The two got along fine -- except on days Burnett was pitching and Posada was catching. And even though both vehemently denied what was clear to anyone paying attention --that Burnett didn't like throwing to Posada and Posada didn't like catching him -- of the 15 postseason games the Yankees played on the way to the 2009 World Championship, Posada caught 10 of them, light-hitting Jose Molina the other five. The five pitched by Burnett. And as soon as Burnett left the game, so did Molina, for Posada as a pinch-hitter. In 2010, it was a similar arrangement, with Francisco Cervelli assuming the Molina role. Last year, there was no Posada behind the plate for A.J. to kick around, and in fairness, he seemed to find a rapport with Russell Martin.
6. It wasn't all bad. Really
There was, of course, Game 2 of the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, both a blessing and a curse for Yankees fans. The blessing was that Burnett pitched seven strong innings, striking out nine, in the Yankees' 3-1 win, the victory that evened the Series after Cliff Lee had stifled the Yankees in Game 1. The curse was that this was the game Girardi kept pointing to as his reason for keeping Burnett in the rotation, even when it was approaching two years in the rear-view mirror.