An Open Letter to A.J. Burnett

A.J. BurnettDear A.J.,

On behalf of Yankees fans everywhere, I’d like to extend you a heartfelt goodbye. Sometimes these things don’t work out. New York is a tough place; one minute you’re the greatest Pie Chemist the city’s ever seen, punctuating each walk-off win with a thrilling victory-splat, and the next a red-faced Frankie from Bayonne is wilding on you to Mike Francesa as thousands of listeners nod in agreement, silently assenting to the idea that you should be handcuffed to the back of a garbage truck and shame-paraded down the Canyon of Heroes. No one ever said being an eight-figure-per-season pitcher in New York was easy. Ask Randy Johnson. Or Kevin Brown. Or Javier Vazquez, twice.

The real tragedy in all this — and it is tragic that New York’s Bartertown Wheel of Fortune reportedly landed on “Gulag,” earning you a backward donkey-ride to Pittsburgh for reliever Diego Moreno and outfielder Exicardo Cayones (pending approval from the commissioner’s office, of course) — is what a stand-up, responsibility-taking, hard-on-yourself player you were. Even after a game in which you pitched five unhittable innings, only to uncork two 55-foot cleat-polishers and a three-run homer with two outs in the sixth en route to a 3-2 loss, or one where you loaded the bases early and were suddenly digging yourself out of a four-run hole before anyone was more than three sips into a $15 beer, you showed up to the beat reporter firing squad with your own blindfold and cigarette, ready and willing to take your back-page assassination. Oh, and you won a World Series. If nothing else, you probably never have to buy another beer in New York. Fine, it’s now free beer on a couple of Pirate road trips to New Shea a year, and you have to share them with Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton, but there are worse ways to spend a night in the city.

Here’s why the fans (and ultimately a front office that suddenly found itself with seven starters) turned on you, besides the back-to-back seasons of a 5+ ERA for a $33 million salary: You had The Look. It wasn’t fear, exactly. It was the sudden, glassy-eyed rictus of confusion, as if you were momentarily retreating into yourself to attempt to answer the parallel questions “How did that ball wind up rolling to the backstop?” and “Where did all this shit in the bed come from?” That sounds harsh, but if there’s one thing Yankees fans don’t respond positively to, it’s the yips-plagued sniper who obviously has no idea where the bullet is heading, but shrugs and crouches back down, hoping he’ll hit the target eventually if he yanks the trigger enough times. Things get messy real quick, and the next thing you know, Cashman’s pulling two simmering pitchers off the burners of the hot stove and everyone’s remembering how much they liked Phil Hughes two years ago.

And so we bid a bittersweet goodbye. When you were on, you were a lot of fun to watch. When you were off, we were pulling for you, but we were also sending a million outraged “WTF????” texts to our friends, wondering if we might be able to flip you for a decent bat. We’ll miss you. And Pittsburgh’s not so bad, really. Nail Jose Tabata with a pie for us.

Filed Under: Mark Lisanti, MLB, New York Yankees

Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti