Sunday, July 18, 2010

AJ must earn his teammates forgiveness

Can baseball players every truly forgive and forget?

AJ Burnett seems to be genuinely sorry that he hurt his hands in a fit of anger and even sorrier that he initially lied about it, putting Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman in the unfortunate position of lying to the media without realizing it. But mostly, Burnett feels badly that in physically hurting himself, he could have jeopardized the New York Yankees’ campaign to repeat their World Series championship.

The righty apologized to his teammates and several of them, including Captain Derek Jeter, said the incident is behind them. But is it really? Burnett wasn't particularly effective even before being lifted early, but he put the Yankees in a tough spot against their chief rivals in the division and the game quickly spiraled out of control. If the Yankees finish the season behind the Tampa Bay Rays, will his teammates look back at that particular game and cite it as the moment they lost control of their own destiny?

Paul O’Neill’s name has been mentioned a lot in the last 24 hours because he was a player who often let his emotions get out of control. Girardi, a long-time friend of the right fielder, invoked O’Neill’s name in talking about how in the heat of competition, players sometimes express themselves in the wrong way. But his outbursts never resulted in an injury that hurt the team, which then-manager Joe Torre warned him against. In contrast, Kevin Brown earned Torre’s ire when he punched a wall and broke his hand. The surly Brown didn’t generate a lot of good will with his teammates and that incident cost him in the clubhouse.

Has Burnett done irreparable damage to his relationship with his teammates? He obviously has a better relationship with them than a guy like Brown ever did, but that doesn't mean they're not pissed off at him. If AJ really wants to earn their forgiveness, he needs to pull it together emotionally and be the consistent #2 starter that the Yankees need. His struggles haven't gotten as much attention as they should have because Andy Pettitte has taken over Burnett's position in the rotation. But with Pettitte likely headed to the disabled list, Burnett must start pitching like he did in the first six weeks of the season. If he can do that, then all will be forgiven.

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