Commentary

Tell the truth about A.J. Burnett!

Enough with the coddling -- he's disappointing, dishonest and mentally weak

Updated: August 26, 2011, 8:19 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

I really, really miss George Steinbrenner.

I miss the man who called it as he saw it. Who never hesitated to remind everyone that he was The Boss. And when it comes to A.J. Burnett, a mere shell of a New York Yankees pitcher who is the definition of ineptitude, it would be nice to hear a representative of baseball's most storied franchise speak with some degree of honesty.

Instead, the Yankees have left such menial chores to the rest of us, evidently willing to soft-soap Burnett's pathetic pitching rather than call things as they are. Perhaps it's because of the $16.5 million they're obligated to pay him each of the next two seasons, or because of his much-publicized fragile ego.

But nobody will be able to hide from the truth if Burnett struggles Friday against the hapless Baltimore Orioles, a team 26 games under .500 and 27½ games out of first place, without a single hitter batting .300 or better. Another skunk-like performance should provide enough evidence for the Yankees to leave Burnett out of the rotation for the playoffs, which, if we're being truthful, would be just fine for anyone with a modicum of sense.

"He hasn't pitched well," MLB analyst and future Hall of Famer Curt Schilling said recently. "For some reason, he just hasn't pitched well."

[+] EnlargeA.J. Burnett
Al Bello/Getty ImagesA.J. Burnett has been roughed up by the best -- and the worst -- this season.

Schilling mentioned Burnett's toughness, his baseball IQ. Had he had enough time, we probably would've heard about how Burnett's new hairdo affected his performance. It really doesn't matter anymore. We've all simply seen enough.

If Carl Pavano, who stole $39.5 million with his non-performance as a Yankee from 2005-08, can't walk the streets of New York City, why should things be any different for Burnett?

Despite the Yankees' juggernaut offense and bullpen effectiveness, Burnett is 9-10, a two-pitch no-wonder with a 4.96 ERA (it's 4.72 in 92 starts in pinstripes, the worst in history for anyone iwith at least 80 starts).

Hold on! I'm not finished.

Even as the Yankees have piled up a major league-best 275 victories since Burnett contaminated their uniform in 2009, he's managed to go only 32-34. He's managed to lose while the Yankees win.

Yet this man, with a nasty curveball and a averaging 92 miles per hour, has the nerve to cop an attitude when pulled from last Saturday's game in the second inning, and the temerity to lie about it. Burnett insults everyone's intelligence by concocting a lame skit with Russell Martin about his ire supposedly being aimed at the umpire instead of manager Joe Girardi.

"He's just weak mentally," one analyst close to the Yankees told me. "There's just always something with a guy like him and, to be honest, it isn't difficult to see why that is.

"Numbers and production aside, we know what time it is. Certain guys aren't made for the big stage. They can't perform when they're in the line of fire. They wilt beneath the pressure. They just can't handle it. And he definitely appears to be that guy."

Which brings me back to the Yankees' brass.

There's no need to hate on Girardi because the man has done his job. He's already delivered a World Series title. He's gotten the franchise beyond the years of what-are-we-gonna-do-without-Joe Torre? The Yankees have been perennial contenders on his watch and he's lived up to expectations.

It's general manager Brian Cashman and the other Yankee honchos we need to have some concerns about. It's Cashman and the honchos who put all their proverbial eggs in Cliff Lee's basket, assuming money and the allure of pinstripes would be enough to woo him. In the midst of all that, they not only lost out on Lee but watched as the Red Sox got Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, did nothing to counter the strength of Texas' left-handed pitching and, evidently, fired all their conditioning coaches, judging by the ample girth of CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon.

To meet Sabathia, let alone to know him, is to love and respect the guy. But anyone who says the team is not concerned about his conditioning is lying. And let's not get started on Colon, who clearly could use some extra situps.

Come playoff time, the Yankees will be facing either Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers or the bats and the pitching of the Texas Rangers. They need pitchers who are in top condition, mentally as much as physically.

The Yankees would do well to remember this reality, instead of hiding from it by trying to protect Burnett.

The Boss would know this better than anyone, and he wouldn't hesitate to talk about it, especially after cutting that exorbitant check.

I guess that's why they call them the good ol' days.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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