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Name in the News: Baseball Burn

Bringing up the name Jeromy Burnitz in my family and you'll start an interesting debate between me and my dad as to whether Burnitz (who has been Mr. Walk-Off in two of the last three Cubs games,) was a quality Met.

I tend to take the opposing view in this debate. I can remember plunking down a quarter for a Burnitz rookie card at a baseball card show sometime in 1993 or 1994 when Burnitz was a touted power prospect. The problem came when I initially saw him play. This author generally doesn't like violence, be it in real life, on television, or in baseball games. Jeromy Burnitz has had the most violent swing in baseball for 13 years. Yes, he played as hard as anyone, and hustle is wonderful, but the results didn't impress me in either his 1993 or 1994 tenure, or his stint with the team in 2002-2003. The high strikeout total (301 with the Mets) cost the team scoring chances in numerous key situations. Burnitz batted .237 with the Mets, and .225 with runners in scoring position (he had 71 strikeouts and 64 hits in such chances).

Nonetheless, we give every Met proper due on this page when it comes to walk-offs, and Burnitz had his moment of glory against his current team, the Cubs on September 17, 2002, in a game that had little bearing on the season, or saving the job of manager Bobby Valentine. The fans at Shea were more impressed that day with Sammy Sosa, who hit career home run number 497 in the fourth inning off Al Leiter, evening the score at one in a game that would have no further scoring until the ninth inning. The Mets did very little against Cubs starter Alan Benes, managing only one run and four hits through the first seven innings.

Burnitz hit only .215 with the Mets in 2002, but it would have been far worse had he not made significant improvements in an otherwise unimportant September. With Edgardo Alfonzo on first base in the ninth inning, Burnitz homered to right field off reliever Juan Cruz, handing reliever David Weathers and the Flushing 9, a 3-1 triumph.

To that point, Burnitz was hitting .300 with seven September home runs. But as my dad likes to say when it comes to free throw shooting, over time you tend to be what you are historically statistically (if that makes sense), and by the end of the season, after a 4-for-30, 1 RBI slump in his last 11 games, Burnitz was back to what he was, and always has been- a man whose violent swing produces the occasional significant result, but whose overall performance makes you wish he would cut his cuts down just a little bit. Though his batting average is up and his strikeout totals are down this season, Cubs fans may find that out by the time 2005 is done.

True Metsnitz know...The player with the most strikeouts as a Mets hitter, without a walk-off hit, is pitcher Jerry Koosman, who ranks 20th in team history with 386 whiffs (thanks to the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia for that sure-to-stump nugget...among position players, the answer is Ryan Thompson, whom I believe is still 35th with 276 strikeouts). Also of note, heard on ESPN (which gets much of its cool info from the Elias Sports Bureau) within the last 24 hours is that the five walk-offs on Wednesday were a season high, and ex-Met Marco Scutaro is now tied for the MLB lead in walk-off hits this season with Twins outfielder Jacque Jones.

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