Jeromy Burnitz: Former Mets Outfielder (1993-1994 / 2002-2003)
By 1991 he became the first player in the Eastern League to hit 30 HRs & steal 30 bases, ranking him the #3 prospect in the country by Baseball America. He was considered the second top prospect to Todd Hundley in the Mets organization as well. His speed began to fade away early on, and he began to strike out a lot more often.
In 1992 the last season for the AAA Tidewater Tides before their move to Norfolk, his average fell to .243. He only hit 8 HRs in 121 games setting him back even further. The next year at AAA Norfolk, he hit 8 HRs in just 65 games although his average fell to .227 but was still promoted to the Mets big league ball club.
He made his MLB debut in June of 1993 at Shea Stadium as a pinch hitter against the Montreal Expos. He got a hit in his second game & then hit a HR in his first start in Florida against the Marlins on June 29th.
By the 4th of July he had already hit three HRs, all coming during that week. On July 3rd, Burnitz had a three hit four RBI day, against the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium.
On August 5th at Stade Olympique in Montreal, he had a four hit game while driving in seven runs against the Expos in a 12-9 Mets win. In the 5th inning of that game he hit a grand slam HR off Dennis Martinez. Later his two run double in the 13th inning off Expo pitcher John Wettland proved to be the winning runs. In 86 games that year, he hit 13 HRs with 10 doubles & 38 RBIs a .339 on base %, batting .243.
He started out 1994 with the Mets but was hitting just .192 in early May & was sent to AAA Norfolk. There he hit .239 with 14 HRs 49 RBIs playing in 85 games. He returned to the Mets in late July & overall in 45 games would strike out 45 times hitting only .238 with three HRs.
In November 1994 he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Dave Mlicki, Paul Byrd, & Jerry Dipoto.
After a season and a half in Cleveland he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers where he had his best years. On a small market Brewer team he was one of the top stars & most popular players. He started the All Star game in 1999, just the second Brewer to have that honor as an outfielder. He filled in for the injured Tony Gwynn, getting a hit & scoring a run in two at bats.
Burnitz would hit over 30 HRs four straight years in Milwaukee, driving in over 100 runs three times. He came in the NL’s top ten twice in each of those categories, but also was among the tops in the league in strike outs.
In 1998 he was second in the NL with 158 Ks & would have nine 100 plus strike out seasons. Burnitz also stole 20 bases & hit .281 in 1997. He never stole more than 10 in a season again. In 1999 & 2000 he walked well over 90 times each season giving him good on base percentages (.402 in 1999 & .356 in 2000).
The Mets wanted him back & needed his power bat, so in January 2002 he was part of a three team trade. In the deal the Mets got Burnitz, Lou Collier, Jeff D'Amico & Mark Sweeney from Milwaukee, sending them Lenny Harris and Glendon Rusch.
They also sent 2000 NL Pennant Mets players, Benny Agbayani,& Todd Zeile to Colorado for Ross Gload and Craig House.
Return to New York: Burnitz debuted back at Shea Stadium on Opening Day 2002 batting sixth playing right field. He hit two HRs in the third & fourth games of the year, including a four RBI day against the Atlanta Braves giving Pedro Astacio his first Mets win of the year. Burnitz then hit another pair of HRs on the returning home stand a week later.
As May began he had a hot stretch, hitting three HRs from April 28th to May 3rd, giving him seven HRs on the young season. But then he went into a drought only hitting two more HRs until the All Star break as his average fell to just above the .200 mark.
He struggled thrugh the season but had a decent September hitting HRs in three straight games while driving in six runs, from September 4th through the 7th. On September 12th he hit two HRs in an 8-2 Mets win against the Expos in Montreal.
He closed out that four game series with another HR on September 15th, driving in the only Mets run of the 10-1 debacle. In his next game back at Shea, he hit a walk off HR in the bottom of the 13th inning helping Grant Roberts to a win, as the Mets beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1.
Burnitz hit seven HRs in the final month but overall struggled, batting a career low .215 and hitting only 18 HRs with 54 RBIs, his lowest totals since becoming a full time player. He led the team in games played (154), hit by pitches (10) & caught stealing (7) while striking out 135 times.
He struggled and heard it from the Shea faithful, but Burnitz always a good natured guy took it in stride and gave it 100% every day. In the outfield he played 140 games (5th in the NL) made nine errors (2nd most in the NL) but had eight assists (5th in the NL) .
In his career the strong armed Burnitz had double figures in that category four times. In 2002 the Mets finished 75-86 in fifth place.
He rebounded a bit in 2003, starting out with two doubles on Opening Day in a 15-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. It was a cold day at Shea that day, as I was in attendace to witness To Glavine's terrible debut.
On April 15th he led the Mets & Tom Glavine to a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh beating Josh Fogg. Burnitz went down with an injury & missed a month of action.
When he returned on May 24th he hit a grand slam HR off Russ Ortiz leading the Mets to a 6-5 win in Atlanta. Burnitz hit HRs in three of his first four games back & drove in runs in all of the four games upon his return. In June he hit three HRs in an inter league game at Anaheim, including two in an 8-0 Mets win over the Angels in the series finale.
In a cross town double header against the AL New York the first game then hit a three run shot two games later. For June he hit eight HRs while driving in 18 runs. In July he hit three HRs in the first week & drove in runs in seven straight games getting his average all the way up to .286.
On July 17th he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Victor Diaz, Jose Diaz (no relation) & Kole Strayhorn. At that point Burnitz had 18 HRs which was enough to tie for the season team lead with Cliff Floyd. Burnitz batted .274 with a .344 on base %, 18 doubles & 45 RBIs.
Even though the 2003 Mets weren’t going anywhere it was still a tough trade to figure out, especially since Victor Diaz did not work out. No matter what is said about his production, Burnitz played hard & always was a good natured guy during his stay in New York.
Burnitz finished with 31 HRs that season, and then signed on with the Colorado Rockies for 2004. There he hit 37 HRs (8th in the NL) drove in 110 runs (7th in the NL) and batted a career high .287 in the mountain air. He moved on to the Chicago Cubs in 2005 where he hit 24 HRs at Wrigley Field batting .258 with 87 RBIs.
He then moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates for 2006 signing as a free agent. He batted.230 with 16 HRs 12 doubles 49 RBIs & a .289 on base %.
The laid back Burnitz once held a press conference in Pittsburgh to apologize for not running out a grounder, he joked "I'm your Highest-Paid Free Agent. That, in and of itself, should tell you the big picture that the team's in." The Pirates didn’t renew his contract in 2007 and he chose to retire at age 38.
He finished a 14 year career with 315 HRs (130th all time), 981 RBIs, 298 doubles, a.253 batting average & a .345 on base % . He struck out 1376 times (112th most all time) in 5710 at bats in 1694 games.
He played 1365 games in right field (35th most all time) with a .977 fielding % making 2473 put outs there (37th all time) with 82 assists (78th all time) & 61 errors (42nd most all time). He also turned 18 double plays in right.
Retirement: In February 2008 Burnitz and former Dodger Eric Karros began a sports talk radio show in San Diego called Live At Five. He now lives in a San Diego suburb with his wife & children.