He didn't need to finish the thought, and it may be finished for him. Owed $14 million in the final year of that impressive contract -- signed after the 2002 season, when he amassed 37 homers and 116 RBIs in just his second full season in the Majors -- Burrell has been unable to live up to the expected hype.What seemed destined to be a career filled with All-Star appearances and regular MVP consideration has become littered with painfully long slumps (he followed up his breakout 2002 by hitting .209 in 2003, with 21 home runs and 64 RBIs) and blistering hot spells. The 2007 campaign combined both elements. Hitting .201 on July 1, including a stretch from June 17-29 when he was benched in eight of 11 games, Burrell salvaged his season by hitting .302 with 22 homers the rest of the way -- 16 of those came between July 1-Aug. 30, when he batted .353. "Something just took over [near] the All-Star break," said Burrell, who stopped trying to pull everything. Though Burrell said he would be open to extension talks, that likely won't happen until after the season, if at all. The Phillies typically don't like to have such discussions during a given season, and Burrell won't be one of the exceptions. The team has tried trading him a few times over the past two years, but has been blocked by Burrell's complete no-trade clause that he's always indicated a refusal to waive. He likes it here, despite the wild ride. "I came up and was a first-round Draft pick and there was a lot of hype and expectation, and I enjoyed that," he said. "Have I also seen the other side of that? Absolutely. But I've also played in stadiums and seen reactions that other fans give their teams. In Philly, when it's good, there's no better place. There's something different about the Northeast when it comes to baseball. There's an excitement where they can't wait to jump on that team and support it if the team is playing well. That goes both ways, but there are also places where I'm not sure if there's that big of a deal [regardless of whether] it's winning or losing." Ironically, Burrell's non-verbal communication embodies the uncaring feeling that local fans have come to detest. They see his calm demeanor after a called third strike as indifference. They don't see him fuming and taking out frustrations on an unsuspecting bat rack. "If you're worried about [boos], you're not going to last very long," he said. "Is it realistic to get cheered every at-bat? No. In a perfect world, yeah. But who lives there? I don't." The former University of Miami superstar has clubbed 20 or more homers in seven straight seasons, something also accomplished by Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt. With 218 career homers, he ranks fifth in franchise history, and could trump Greg Luzinski (223) and Chuck Klein (243) in 2008. He likely would've topped 100 RBIs last season had his defensive liabilities not forced manager Charlie Manuel to replace him late in games. It might not be enough for a guy who's never made an All-Star team.
"Any time you deal with adversity and go through some of the things I have, you have two choices: You can let it beat you up or build from it and go forward," Burrell said. "Not only do you become a better player, but a better person, more understanding. You always see certain players struggle. Sometimes, you feel like you're alone out there. Everybody who has played long enough has been through times where things aren't going right. It can be a good thing."Many of his frustrations evaporated in the glow of Sept. 30, when the Phillies clinched the first National League East championship, the first in Burrell's tenure. "That was No. 1," Burrell said, ranking the moments in his baseball life. Stronger, the 31-year-old wants to stay. The former California kid who has residences in Arizona, Clearwater, Fla., and Philadelphia doesn't want to leave. A guy with a reputation for late-night partying during his bachelor days has settled down, marrying his fiancee, Michelle, at a San Francisco wedding in November. In his thoughtful, 30-minute chat with reporters, Burrell expounded on far-reaching topics that went beyond his baseball career. While not revealing his honeymoon destination, he spoke lovingly about his English Bulldog, Elvis, who has been seen over the years loafing around the clubhouse adorned in a Burrell jersey. Elvis was seen at Citizens Bank Park at last season's Family Day. Since the dog has grown to 115 pounds, the Burrells no longer live in his condo on Clearwater Beach, which has a 40-pound weight limit. "I was in the elevator every three hours to take him out and a couple of people weren't exactly thrilled," Burrell said. "The little ones are the ones who make the noise." So Burrell has a second residence to accommodate Elvis, who apparently is a picky dog. "It's too hot in Florida," Burrell said. "He hates that. In Philly, you have to walk two blocks to get to the park. He hates that. In Arizona, he doesn't like the gravel outside. He doesn't like the grass. He likes the Bermuda golf course, but they don't let him out there. Elvis, man, I'll tell you what." Burrell also laughed about his most recent "embarrassment," shirts made up by a teammate that depict a shirtless Burrell pumping iron with the words, "Man or Machine?" printed on the front and "Winning Starts Now" on the back. The photo is from Burrell's earlier days and once hung on a billboard near the park. "There's a lot of people that want them," Burrell said, while acknowledging that he'd like to dispose of them. "J-Mike [former Phillies teammate Jason Michaels] called me and said, 'Get me that T-shirt.' My wife has one. She asked me why I don't look like that anymore. You guys have to remember, that was on a billboard. That picture has been around." So has Burrell, and he'd like more memories like that.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.