Keidel: A.J. Burnett’s Blowup

By Jason Keidel
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Jack Curry, whom I’ve never met, asked Joe Girardi the exact right questions Saturday night, after yet another meltdown by A.J. Burnett, who was yanked in the second inning in Minnesota, keeping his lovely, August record to one win in three years in pinstripes.

Yet Joe was hardly jovial in response. When asked if there were a beef between he and Burnett: “We had a fistfight,” he barked sarcastically, and angrily toward the team’s own network (YES). “This is silly,” Girardi said twice. “I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J.”

No, Joe, we want you to tell us why this stiff stays in your rotation. We know the answer, of course – he makes $16 million dollars this year to pitch like the East Coast’s Barry Zito. And he indeed glared at you as you meandered toward the mound to give him the hook. Michael Kay said it, and we saw it. The rest of your story may be true, but given Burnett’s penchant for implosion, Curry’s questions were warranted.

Honestly, the fact that Girardi went Kellen Winslow on Curry indicates a simmering truth, one that the Yankees’ skipper skips in public. Girardi is known for his outbursts. How else you explain the inane exacta of getting fired while winning Manager of the Year for the Florida Marlins. He told his owner to shut up, about as brilliant as asking to be fired from your first managerial job, which he basically did, and was.

Any why is the manager of a club cruising toward the playoffs, on the brink of bulging 30 games over .500, so ticked off? Would he prefer to return to Florida, where his old team is ensconced in last place in the NL East. Would he rather make minimum wage managing minimum talent? While there’s no question managing the Yankees is a unique pressure vacuum that only those who have done it can fully understand. But Girardi needs, for lack of a more dignified diagnosis, to chill out.

Girardi gulped some spiritual Valium over the last few years, learning from a litany of gaffes during his first year, in 2008, when he went Belichick on the press, hiding injuries and keeping his gruff and grumpy mien with the media. Since then he has been more calm and candid; until Saturday night, at least.

Let’s assume all involved are telling the truth, that Burnett cursed at his catcher, and then took a b-line to the clubhouse, with his manager following him to watch some film. The sequence is too coincidental to dismiss. For his part, Burnett confirmed Girardi’s assertion, saying he barked at his catcher about a strike called a ball, and said he’d never yell at his manager. Sweeny Murti confirms this, as well.

And even if we who congregate in conspiracies are way off the scent and common sense, it doesn’t blur the bottom line: A.J. – which could double for “Average Joe” – Burnett is a bum by all malleable measurements. 9-10, with a 4.96 ERA, cruising toward another historically bad season, is a good place to start.

Ron Gardenhire is one of the five-best managers in baseball (if not higher) with a talent for improving impoverished teams into winners. But not even Gardenhire can overcome the dearth of decent players at his disposal. His team is a triage, as only two starters have avoided the DL this season.  At 13 games back in the AL Central, not even the Twins (55-71) can muster the summer luster needed to make the postseason again.

And while mojo is a tangible oddity but overrated commodity in baseball, there’s a heretic hex on his team when he plays the Yankees. Entering this series, Gardenhire was 19-60 against the Bronx Bombers, a rather incongruous record considering his record. But I bet Ron runs to the park when he knows Burnett is pitching, as the hurler with the strong arm and sublime stuff is a streak-killer of a different dimension. If you can’t beat the Yankees, just wait until Burnett’s on the bump.  Indeed, they just lost three out of four at home to the Yanks, and you can guess who they beat.

Something must be done with Burnett. Sweeny tells me that he has too much time in the majors to be shipped to the minors without his consent. The team can’t cut him, because they’re stuck with the $35 million or so left on his colossal contract.

If you don’t trust him in the rotation – and I challenge anyone who says they trust him to a polygraph – he’s useless in the bullpen. The only answer this writer can drum up is to pound the eject button for the playoffs. Yes, leave your $82 million pitcher off the playoff roster, who has one win in August in three years on the team. And that came against the hardly royal Royals last week. Seriously.

I took some flak for my Eli Manning column, calling it a quintessential case of bottom-feeding, despite the fact that Mike Francesa covered it and The New York Times ran a piece on it yesterday. My mail is generally 50/50 in the love/loathe department – except when I blasted Burnett last week. About 90 percent of you waved the Keidel Flag, “Preach, Jason!” is what I got. Seems I’m not the only one sick of seeing a man fleece his employer of $82 million under the guise of inconsistency. We’re tired of this chump’s change since he got to New York. He went from borderline ace to Mr. Whipple in a year. (Sorry if those commercials predate you. Feel free to Google the toilet paper person.)

On some level, New Yorkers accept not winning. We don’t accept not giving a damn – the one thing Burnett has perfected.

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One Comment

  1. dabooch says:

    Even a panhandler must think $20 bucks is being overpaid. AJ should start a charity and donate a million dollars for a decent outing…he’ll never have to pay up!

    1. Jonas Altman-Kurosaki says:

      If only Burnett had the heart and mind of Lyman Bostock, may he rest in peace.

      1. JK says:

        A pitcher for the Royals gave a refund. I can’t recall his name, but it happened this year, I think. He realized he was wasting the team’s money and retired, forfeiting about $10 million – an act of nobility beyond Burnett’s capacity.

  2. Jonas Altman-Kurosaki says:

    Fun article, Jason. Is it sad that I get all your references even though I was only born in ’88?

    While I thought Girardi’s fistfight remark was completely missing the point, I really wish a reporter would flat-out ask, “so is THIS the last straw for Burnett?” every start from now till October. August 31 is next Wednesday, so the Yanks have 8 days left to swing a waiver deal for someone who might have an inkling of hope for consistency. Even trading for Chris Capuano from the boys in Queens would be an upgrade, as at least Cap has been giving us five or six good innings before faltering at around the 80-85 pitch mark. He’s already cleared waivers, along with everyone else on the Mets’ roster… Obviously any trade would not involve Burnett himself, but it’d at least instill a glimmer of hope that a Yanks starter might win more than once every four days in the playoffs…

    The thing that really bailed out the Mets in the Ollie debacle was “injuries.” The Yankees really need to announce that somehow, A.J. Burnett suffered a sprained/strained/pulled/broken hamstring/calf/quad/hand/fingernail and put him on the DL. I was always baffled by the Mets’ ability to make that happen, so I don’t see why the Yanks haven’t just sent the guy for an MRI, even if there’s no probable cause, just in case they luck out and find something. After all, the 15-day DL + a Minor League rehab stint = a guilt-free demotion!

    1. JK says:

      I tell you, Jonas, Burnett is a kind of monetary and psychological quicksand that’s hard to escape. The Yanks – lead by Brian Cashman – are too proud to pound on Burnett, because it would have the dual effect of hurting his feelings and admitting they made a mistake by making him a millionaire 82 times over. Perez, beyond being a horrible pitcher, was an equally bad person. Just read my “Three Blind Mets” piece where I describe his disdain for visiting our wounded soldiers. Burnett, at least superficially, isn’t the PR problem Perez clearly was.

  3. Joe C. says:

    Standing and Cheering at my iPad. Once again…2 words “Thank You”

    1. JK says:

      My pleasure, Joe. Thanks for reading and responding, as always.

  4. Mr. Nice Guy says:

    I’m a coach. I”d get rid of both of them. No time for BS. case closed

    1. JK says:

      Get rid of whom, Nice? The pitcher and the manager?

      1. Jonas Altman-Kurosaki says:

        He might’ve meant Burnett and Posada, who was mentioned in the previous comment. But at least Posada is done after this year and his lack of production can be hidden by merely benching him with little to no guilt or concern on how it will affect the team’s success.

  5. Paul D says:

    It’s funny, but imagine that was Posada leaving his manager a little verbal bomb out of the side of his mouth and in front of the cameras. Can you picture Joe defending that? Something tells me he wouldn’t. He has no problem embarrassing the veteran and in the most conspicious way- two times before a national broadcast against the Red Sox! But he’s going to defend this joker whose only contribution seems to be throwing pies at nightly heroes. This is a good way for Girardi to lose some guys in that clubhouse. He’s lost Posada a long time ago and, you better believe, Jeter also. If only Joe would open his ears now and then he would be able to hear who the fans would take and who they would run out of town in a New York minute. They cheer for Posada because he’s earned that gratitude for what he’s done for them over a chamionship speckled career. Burnett has won a couple of playoff games. Just goes to show you that Cashman, Girardi and the rest of the brass would turn on one of their own than to be embarrassed for a galactically bad monetery decision in bringing this bum here to stink up the clubhouse.

    1. JK says:

      Always great to hear from you, Paul. And despite the aforementioned, decent starts, his playoff ERA still hovers just below 6 (5.67), including a 7.00 ERA in the World Series he supposedly dominated. He’s simply sickening. Girardi is a polarizing person, no doubt. Frankly, I wanted Pena for the job considering what he did with the Royals. We can dream, right?

  6. Kurt Spitzner says:


    1. JK says:

      If you recall last week’s column, Kurt, I actually compare him to Ollie. Both pitchers are pillow soft and vastly overpaid.

      1. Kurt Spitzner says:


  7. GLJ says:

    Imagine a rotation with Average Joe and Ubaldo. I’d jump in front of an MTA train.

    1. JK says:

      Ha! I love it, GLJ, but you’d have to beat me to the train. I’d push you aside to get the first leap.

  8. Victor Criz says:

    Don’t be so quick to throw him away! How would you feel if it were you in his situation??

    1. JK says:

      You’re kidding, right, Victor? I’d love to be in his situation – making $16 million for a sub-.500 record and 5.00 ERA. Where do I sign?

  9. Robert Richardson says:

    Throw the heat JK …YEAH! !!!

    1. JK says:

      A bowtie under the chump’s chin, my man!

      1. R. Richardson (NYCanes) says:

        Even though you make rock hard valid points, there remains one sad reality … Yanks front office. They will stop at nothing to make the “AJ Experiment work”. Regrettably, “they” fail to learn that one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result.

    2. JK says:

      You’re right, Robert. Pride is a rather bulky blinder. They’re stuck with this stiff and every time he has a decent start the brass will point as proof that patience and faith were rewarded.

  10. JK says:

    Interesting thought, Ron, but then we’re trading a quiet failure for a louder one. Heh.

  11. Ron Davis says:

    Trade him tO the Cubs for Zambrano one headache for another.

    1. Jonas Altman-Kurosaki says:

      You know that just might work. I can almost 100% guarantee you that AJ would stink a lot less in a lower-pressure environment – especially a team that’s had the past two years that the Cubs have – and Zambrano might be a little rejuvenated by the thought of winning.

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