04/12/12 12:33 PM ET
Burrell grateful for chance to retire with Phillies
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
He had already decided this would be it. Bone spurs in his aching right foot had limited his role all season. Burrell had spent time on the disabled list. Surgery wasn't an option. Even though he was still just 34 years old, the end would come on Sept. 28, 2011 at AT&T Park.
So Burrell went to manager Bruce Bochy and asked for a favor. The defending World Series champions had been eliminated. He couldn't damage the foot any more. Burrell asked to start one last time. The manager wrote his name into the lineup card, playing left field and batting cleanup.
Burrell was already pretty emotional when Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery walked up before the game and handed him something. It was the circular patch with "VUK" stitched in white letters against a black background that the Phils wore during the 2007 season in memory of beloved coach John Vukovich.
"Put it in your pocket and play with Vuk today," Flannery told him.
Said Burrell: "I think I started crying right there."
Burrell slipped the patch into the back pocket of his uniform pants and lined a single to left his first time up.
How appropriate. Burrell's professional career started when the Phillies drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998. He ranks fourth in club history in home runs (251), fifth in walks (785), eight in RBIs (827) and ninth in extra-base hits (518).
It ended in the top of the seventh, when Bochy had Burrell take his position then called him off the field. He got a standing ovation as he trotted back to the dugout and came out for a curtain call as well.
Now Burrell will complete the circle during the Red Sox series at Citizens Bank Park May 18-20, when he'll sign a one-day contract and officially retire with the Phils. e will sign autographs in the Hall of Fame Club on May 18, and he'll throw out the first pitch the following day.
Burrell remembered Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal coming back to retire with the team, but initially wasn't sure he wanted to make that much of a fuss about it.
"'Hesitant' isn't the right word -- I just don't like to make a big deal about things," Burell explained. "But the more I thought about it, it's the right thing to do. I was with that organization for so long. I have such good memories. You realize it's an honor and I'm very appreciative of the fact they wanted to do this for me. I'm looking forward to it. I really am."
The final indelible image of Burrell at the end of his Phillies career was riding the Budweiser wagon at the head of the championship parade with his dog, Elvis, sitting next to him.
"That was the top," Burrell said. "[Club president David Montgomery] asked me to ride with the Clydesdales, and of course I said yes. But I didn't understand that I was going to be the first guy to turn onto Broad Street. And that was incredible -- to look up and see all the people hanging out of the buildings. I just couldn't imagine.
"It's funny, because Mike Schmidt and some of those guys from the 1980 [World Series championship] team always said the best part of it was the parade. And I was thinking, 'How could that be better than the actual moment of winning the whole thing?' But it is."
Burrell was the team's longest-tenured player at the time. And his seventh-inning double in Game 5 (Part II) turned into the winning run, as the Phils clinched the second World Series championship in franchise history.
There's more, of course, much more.
"I remember getting there as a young player and the teams not being very good. We were short in a lot of areas," Burrell said. "And then to watch it grow to what it us now and where we finished up when I was there, we went through everything -- the good, the bad. And fortunately for me, we ended on a really good note. All the players and the fans and the organization and all the people I got to know throughout the years, playing at the Vet -- the whole experience was just so much fun."
Burrell spent the final three years of his career with the Rays and Giants, winning another World Series with San Francisco in 2010.
He's been rehabbing since February 16 surgery. Not on his foot -- on his left shoulder.
"There's nothing I can do for my foot. That's why I had to stop playing," Burrell said. "I was playing a lot of golf and my shoulder kept bothering me. Finally I decided I might as well just go get an MRI. And the doctor goes, 'What did you do to your [left] shoulder?' I said, 'I didn't do anything.'
"And he said, 'Your labrum is completely torn and your rotator cuff is a mess.' He was convinced I separated my shoulder at one point. I told him I played every day and never had a problem. I told him I'd had some problems with my neck over the years and he said, 'This is probably why.'"
Burrell is staying in baseball. He now works as an assistant to Giants general manager Brian Sabean and as a special assignment scout.
"Just kind of getting a different perspective on the game, evaluating," Burrell said. "Kind of transitioning and learning the other side, which I've enjoyed. It's been great."
One of the players Burrell talked to about what to expect in his new role was former Phillies third baseman Dave Hollins, who is now a scout for Philadelphia.
"I'm not sure where it will lead," Burrell said. "I'm open-minded about it. At some point, I'd imagine being back on the field in some capacity. I just don't know what that's going to be. We're going to play it by ear."
When Burrell goes to a game, he carries a binder to keep his notes. And when he opens it up, tucked inside a transparent protective cover, is the VUK patch that Flannery gave him, a constant reminder of his time with the Phils.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.