PAT BURRELL was asked to lead the Phillies' triumphal parade down Broad Street. Then, nothing. After that the organization seemed content to allow him, like MacArthur's old soldiers, to just fade away.
Even while actively seeking his replacement, club officials never said out loud that they didn't want their longest-tenured player back. Didn't say they did, either. Just decided not to offer arbitration and went about the business of not having substantive discussions with the first overall draft pick in 1998, the leftfielder they once viewed as the face of their franchise.
It was a curiously anticlimactic end for the player who has hit more home runs for the Phillies than anybody but Mike Schmidt and Del Ennis, an end that finally came when the organization agreed to terms on a 3-year, $31.5 million contract with free agent Raul Ibanez, a deal expected to be formally announced this week.
"I kind of had a feeling there was a strong possibility, you know, that I wasn't in the cards," Burrell said during a lengthy phone conversation over the weekend. "At the same time, I hadn't heard anything from the team.
"I'm disappointed. I can't lie about that. But I can't say I'm upset about it, either, because when I think about my time there I have nothing but good things to say. The city, the fans, have been behind me from the very beginning. That's the hard part, especially with respect to what happened last year, with us winning the whole thing. It was very meaningful to me to be a part of something like that. But you have to move on.
"You know, there's a business [aspect] to this sport. And as a player you'd better learn to accept that or else it's going to be pretty frustrating for you. I was aware that, most likely, the team was going to go the other way. At the same time, I thought there was a chance I might be back."
He's still just 32 years old. He hit 33 home runs last season. Only three righthanded hitters in the National League (Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and St. Louis' Ryan Ludwick and Albert Pujols) had more. While he rarely shared himself with the media, he was immensely popular with his teammates, who respected his toughness and work ethic. And he was consistent in talking about how much he enjoyed playing in Philadelphia and that he would love to return.
On the other hand, he recognized that he was making $14 million and doesn't run as well as he used to and routinely came out of games for a defensive replacement or a pinch-runner in the late innings.
So after he doubled against the wall to lead off the bottom of the seventh against Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the World Series - the score was tied, 3-3, at the time - the realization of what it all might mean started to hit him when Eric Bruntlett trotted onto the field to run for him.
"I was coming off the field and I started looking around and thinking, 'This might be it.' At the same time, here we were possibly about to win the World Series," he said. "On a personal level, I remember hitting the ball and thinking it was way over the fence. Then getting a chance to be on second with nobody out and [Shane] Victorino up, I thought we were going to get [Bruntlett] over and we were going to get him in. That's kind of where I was at."
That's exactly what happened. Bruntlett went to third when Victorino grounded out to second and scored what proved to the winning run when Pedro Feliz singled.
During the chaos in the celebration that followed the second world championship in franchise history, Burrell remembered club president Dave Montgomery seeking him out.
"I could be wrong about this, but we won Game 5 and I think at some point during the celebration [Montgomery] asked me if I wanted to bring [his wife] Michelle and [his dog] Elvis and go on with the Clydesdales. At that point, I was in a dream," he said.
"They called the next day and confirmed it. But even at that point we didn't know where it fit in the whole scheme of things. There were so many people and it seemed like such mass confusion to start this thing off. Then we found out that we were actually in front of all the flatbed trucks with the players, then I really knew it was something pretty special."
He embraced the city in a way few professional athletes have. And the city, in return, returned the emotion. Sure, there were boos when he fell into a prolonged slump. Overall, though, the fans were often more supportive than might have been expected.
"The only way I can explain it is that if you're always on top of the world, if you're always at the top of your game and feeling great, it's hard to understand why other players who are struggling are having a good time. You understand what I'm saying?" he said.
"I've certainly been through some periods where I haven't played very well and struggled and went through all these things. And to be able to get out of that and to get back to where I am now and have the fans' support that whole time, it's a special feeling.
"These fans, I don't think they get the credit they deserve for being as passionate about the game and the players as they are. They only want one thing, and that's to win. As a player, that should be the only thing that matters, too. They came every night, and that's all you can ask. If you don't think the fans were important in us winning that World Series, you must have been watching on TV. Because every one of us on our team knew we had the [homefield] advantage. And I think their team did, too."
Asked what he would like people to know about him that they might not know, he said simply: "That winning came first."
He got a heads-up from former Phillies third baseman Dave Hollins. He was on his way up, on the verge of making the big leagues. Hollins was on his way down, playing in the minors.
"I was at Triple A [Scranton/Wilkes-Barre] and we were in the playoffs against Charlotte. I got to first base, I was having a good series, and [Hollins] was playing first. I remember him saying, 'They're going to love you up there. Just keep playing hard.' For some reason, after all these years, that sticks in my head more than anything.
"Because when you're going through these times and the fans are watching you go through it and you're struggling, as long as you're giving it everything you've got, they appreciate it. Especially for me.
"Living downtown with Michelle and having the dog, walking to the park every day, the support was incredible coming down the stretch. I can't tell you how many people came up to me and said stuff like, 'We love having you here, we hope you stay. You went through such bad times and you made it out. You came back and became a great player.' Stuff like that is important, for me anyway, to know that, hey, they're behind you and they care about you and they're pulling for you to get back on track."
There were reports earlier in the season that Burrell had turned down a 2-year, $22 million offer that would have kept him in red pinstripes. He addressed the issue reluctantly.
"This is all I'm going to say about it: Early in the season there were preliminary discussions about the possibility of an extension. And the truth of it is, it never got to be more than that. It just never did," he said. "The rest of the season went on and that was the end of the preliminary discussions. To be honest, nothing specific was ever talked about. Nothing official was offered. There were just some preliminary talks."
Then there were no talks at all. Now Burrell is starting over, wondering what the future holds.
"I wish I knew," he said. "For the last 10 1/2 years, being in this organization since 1998, I always knew where I was going. For me, that meant a lot. There was a comfort in that.
"At the same time, this is what we signed up for. You never know what's going to happen. I don't know what the future holds. We'll have to wait and see."
It's a bittersweet time. "If you had told me last spring training that this was going to be my last year and how did I want to go out, there would be no better way to go out," he said. "But having gone through everything . . . Like Cole Hamels said, 'I can't wait to do this again.' So there's a touch of that, too."
Now he knows, finally, that if he wins another World Series it will be with a different team. *