Monday, November 28, 2011
#441) JEROMY BURNITZ
Jeromy Burnitz was selected by the New York Mets in the first round (17th overall) of the free agent draft on June 4, 1990. A product of Oklahoma State University who worked his way through the minor-league system and made his major-league debut in a Mets uniform on June 21, 1993. He would record his first big-league hit as a pinch-hitter at Shea Stadium the next day.
The rookie posted fair numbers during his first experience in the majors. Playing for a club that would lose 103 games, Burnitz finished his first year with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs, and a .243 batting average in 86 games. A performance that gave him the opportunity to become the Mets starting right fielder to begin the 1994 season.
New York manager, Dallas Green quickly soured on the young player, and was quite vocal about his displeasure. Criticizing both poor outfield play, and bad decisions on the base paths from Burnitz. The left-handed hitter had seen his batting average drop to a meager .192. In mid-May the announcement was made that Jeromy was heading back to Triple-A Norfolk. "I keep trying to improve and trying not to make the mistakes I've made in the past," Burnitz explained. "I admit I've made mistakes, but I will learn from them and I will be successful whether it's here or I have to go somewhere else first."
Jeromy would return for the month of July, but ultimately return to the Norfolk Tides to close out the year. Green again vocalized his disappointment in August. "He decided to send me down and said a couple of things to me that I disagreed with, and that was it," Jeromy remembered. "The things he said to me didn't make me happy. They weren't positive, I can tell you that." It was not a terrible surprise when the Mets traded Burnitz along with Joe Roa to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Dave Mlicki, Paul Byrd, Jerry DiPoto, and Jesus Azuaje on November 18, 1994.
Burnitz would continue to improve away from New York and became a Major League All-Star with Milwaukee in 1999. He averaged 34 home runs and 107 RBIs during his last four seasons playing for the Brewers.
With a different manager now in place, the Mets returned Jeromy to the Mets as part of a massive three-team trade that involved no less than 10 players on January 21, 2002. Burnitz was now a veteran who found a supporter in Bobby Valentine. "His personality is alive." said his former Norfolk manager. "He has less questions now. He got more upset with stuff before, but now he knows the answers and he has fewer questions." Jeromy would fail to find any consistency throughout the season. His batting average dipped to a career-low .215 at the close of the 2002 campaign. The 154 games he appeared in led the team, but only managed to provide 19 home runs and 54 RBIs. Marks that were far below expectations.
New York unsuccessfully attempted to trade the slugger that winter. "He didn't forget what to do last year. I think things just kind of snowballed, got away from him a little bit as the season went on." explained general manager, Steve Phillips. "I think when he struggled he tried harder and it compounded his struggles. Nobody cares more. Nobody works harder. And that's a pretty good combination." Jeromy was enjoying a successful start to the 2003 season when another setback occurred. A bone in his hand was broken by a Billy Wagner fastball at Shea Stadium on April 22nd. Burnitz remained in the game following the injury, but x-rays revealed the break and placed him on the disabled list. "It's heartbreaking when you get hurt anytime," Jeromy said. "But it definitely adds to it when you're feeling good."
Burnitz returned to the lineup on May 23rd, and provided instant offense for a club slipping out of division contention. Despite missing a month of the season he found himself with 18 home runs by the All-Star break. In an effort to shed payroll from the team, the Mets dealt Jeromy to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Victor Diaz, Kole Strayhorn, and Joselo Diaz on July 14, 2003. "It's hard for me to get real specific but I wouldn't trade my experience in New York for anything," Burnitz said at the time of the trade. "It gave me something inside. My personal experience there is tough for me to define. I wasn't part of a contending team, but they are the organization that drafted me."
"And with last year's struggles, I felt as bad as anyone. But to be able to come back and execute my job in a way that was productive to the team. When you're struggling there's no hiding anything in New York. To be exposed in a way through struggles, the whole experience gave me a lot inside and I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Jeromy Burnitz signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on November 28, 2011.