With three months into the 2014 season and a lingering small inguinal hernia that won’t go away anytime soon without surgery, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher A.J. Burnett is going into the remainder of this season as his last hurrah.
"It looks like it," Burnett said to me on Thursday about possibly retiring after this season. "I don't know how much time I have left, so nothing is going to take me out of the game."
Hernia be damned! That is until the end of the season when he’ll likely get that mandatory surgery to fix it. Right now the hernia is manageable.
According to Burnett, the pain is "hit or miss". Sometimes he feels the sting, other times it is just a pull that he feels as he winds up.
“It feels like my left testicle is in my belly,” he said.
For a 37-year-old righty with a hernia, Burnett is pitching well. He has a 3.92 ERA and a .248 opponent batting average. He’s been dominating right-hand hitters to the tune of a 2.49 ERA in 65 innings pitched but has been a disaster against lefties (5.71 ERA in 52 innings) and currently leads the National League in walks with 54.
To say he's laboring through the season is an understatement, but it's clear that if anyone can pitch through an entire season with a hernia, it's Burnett -- who also said that the hernia isn't even the worst pain he's experienced in his career.
Burnett's career started with the Florida Marlins in 1999 a year after being traded from the New York Mets for Al Leiter. His seven-year stint with the Marlins was a wild one that included a nine-walk no-hitter in 2001, a World Series ring in 2003 and a rant in 2005 that had Marlins management show him the door.s His post-Marlins career included leading the American League in strikeouts in 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays, winning the 2009 World Series for the New York Yankees and riving both his career and Pittsburgh baseball by leading the Pirates to the postseason in 2013, their first postseason appearance in over 20 years.
"He was one of my favorite teammates," said 14-year veteran Frank Catalanotto who played with Burnett in Toronto in 2006. "He was always in the dugout rooting on his teammates on the days that he wasn't pitching. Usually you didn't see the starting pitchers in the dugout if they weren't pitching that day. They were usually sitting on the couch in the clubhouse. He really cared about his teammates and wasn't selfish. Real big team player."
Burnett was originally considering retirement after coming of a 209 strikeout season in 2013. But the money, the location of the money that is only an hour and a half away from his home in Monkton, Maryland, and the competitive itch to return to pitch brought him to Philadelphia.
Burnett is guaranteed $15M this season and has a $7.5M player option for 2015. According to an MLB Daily Dish report by Chris Cotillo, the Pittsburgh Pirates are among the nine teams on Burnett's "Acceptable Assignment" list where he would not exercise his veto power of a potential trade.
At 44-41, the Pirates are 6.5 games behind the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers but are only two games behind the second Wild Card spot currently occupied by the Washington Nationals.
Should the two teams agree on a deal, Burnett would have an opportunity to finish his career on top. However because he chose to sign with the Phillies because he was just a commute away from his home in Maryland -- Orioles and Nationals did not pursue him -- it's not likely that he'll be moveable.