Jeromy Neal Burnitz, who was with the Indians during 1995 and most of 1996, was known for his enthusiasm (which on occasion crossed into temper), dogged persistence, and a true love for the game. During his 14-year major-league career, he also played for the New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit 315 home runs and had 981 RBIs.1
Burnitz was born in Westminster, California, on April 15, 1969, but spent most of his early years just outside Houston in Conroe, Texas, with his parents and three brothers.2 After graduating from Conroe High School, he was selected by the Brewers in the 24th round of the 1987 amateur draft.3 However, Burnitz chose to attend Oklahoma State University to raise his draft stock.
In 1990 the New York Mets made Burnitz their 17th pick in the first round. With Pittsfield of the New York-Pennsylvania League, he batted .301 in 51 games. But Burnitz truly made a name for himself in 1991 by stealing 31 bases and hitting 31 home runs for Double-A Williamsport. After one more minor-league season, with Triple-A Tidewater (International League), Burnitz was called up by the Mets.
Burnitz’s power impressed the Mets, but general manager Joe McIlvaine said he was also impressed by Burnitz’s psychological test, which “showed his mental toughness, desire. I believe in those things.”4 Manager Dallas Green called Burnitz “a 100 percent barrel-out guy,” adding, “It’s a freshness that you don’t see in some guys we’ve been putting up with.”5
Nevertheless, Burnitz began the 1993 season back in Triple A (Norfolk). Back with the Mets in June, he was more or less a regular. He set a Mets rookie record on August 5 with seven RBIs in a 13-inning game against the Montreal Expos. But Burnitz’s freshness and enthusiasm also came with a hot temper that fueled an outburst against umpire Jim Quick during a game against the San Diego Padres. Burnitz told the New York Times, “If I don’t do good, it ticks me off. This is it, man. This is what I do. It ticks me off when I don’t do well. I’d like to play this game awhile.”6 He ended the season with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in 86 games.
Burnitz spent much of 1994 with Norfolk, and played in only 45 games with the Mets. He encountered intense disagreement with manager Dallas Green over his refusal to play winter ball.7 After the season, he was traded to the Indians for Paul Byrd, Jerry DiPoto, and Dave Mlicki. The Indians sent Burnitz to Triple-A Buffalo, and his only time with the Indians in 1995 was as a late-season call-up. Buffalo and the Indians both had excellent seasons, the Bisons finishing second in the American Association while the Indians won 100 games and went to the World Series. Burnitz later recalled 1995 as his favorite time in baseball.8
Burnitz stuck with the Indians in 1996 as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter, but on August 31 was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Kevin Seitzer. For the Indians he had batted .281 with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs in 71 games. He hit two more homers for the Brewers.
While he got little time in the spotlight with the Indians, Burnitz found a home in Milwaukee.
In August 1997 he became the first Brewer to hit a home run in five consecutive games.9 He finished the season with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs. He did even better in 1998, with 38 home runs and 125 RBIs.
The 1999 season was another big year for Burnitz with several ups and downs. Early in the year, he and his wife, Krissy, had their first child, Chloe. He broke his hand early in the season and missed nearly five weeks.10 But shortly after his injury, Burnitz was chosen to play on the National League All-Star team.11 In July, he hit an estimated 500-foot, two-run homer out of Tiger Stadium during a game against the Detroit Tigers.12 Burnitz ended the season as the Brewers’ MVP and runner-up in the 1999 Home Run Derby at Fenway Park.13 For the season he had 33 home runs, 103 RBIs, and a .270 batting average.
Burnitz, or “Burnie” to his teammates, became one of the Brewers’ best players during his five-year stretch, giving the team a sorely needed strong offense. Brewers manager Phil Garner said, “Jeromy’s been our offensive thrust. When he’s swinging the bat and hitting home runs, we do well.”14 And while he was famous for his powerful home runs, Burnitz’s performance as a runner and outfielder was also crucial to the Brewers during their late-’90s slump. At his best, he had 11 more runs than the average for right fielders in 1998, using the TotalZone scoring system.15
Burnitz’s time with the Brewers was arguably the best period of his career. From 1997 to 2001, he never played less than 130 games per season, and he averaged 32 home runs, 103 RBIs, and a .262 batting average. Part of Burnitz’s success came from learning to control his temper and being easier on himself. “I think I came to grips with the fact that I might not ever be what I thought I should be. It’s tough being mad at yourself 24 hours a day. It’s too hard, and with no benefit,” he later said of his change in attitude.16 In 2001 Burnitz hit 34 home runs, including three homers in a game against the Chicago Cubs.17
Despite early talks with the Brewers for a two-year contract, Burnitz was sent in 2002 to the New York Mets in a trade involving 11 players from the Mets, Brewers, and Rockies.18 The Mets needed Burnitz to revamp their struggling offense: They finished the 2001 season next to last in batting average and home runs. Meanwhile, Burnitz smashed 34 home runs in 2001, approaching the 40 homers the Mets got out of all their 2001 outfielders.
The trade was a surprise to many fans, considering Burnitz’s previous experience with the Mets. He told the New York Times that, in the mid- to late 1990s, he would never have considered playing for the Mets again.19 His early years with the team were not his best, and his personality clash with Dallas Green still colored his opinion of the Mets organization.
But by 2002, Burnitz saw his trade back to his original team as a second chance and an opportunity to work with exceptional players like Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo. He told the New York Times, “If a manager hates me ever again, I don’t care. I’m going to do my job the best way I can. I’m never going to have any problem with any manager ever again.”20
However, a different scandal faced the baseball world in 2002. Fans saw a much darker side of the game after Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti opened up about the rampant steroid use among baseball players.21 But while Canseco estimated that around 85 percent of major-league players used steroids, Burnitz said he felt no temptation to use performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps thinking of his younger daughter, Grace, who was born in 2002, he told the New York Daily News, “If somebody wants to do it, that’s their decision. Whatever you think is fine. But when I’m 50 and I’m running around with my kids in the backyard, and you’re dead, that’s your deal.”22
Baseball was not kind to Burnitz in 2002. Apart from a two-run, walk-off home run against the Cubs late in the season, it ended up being one of his worst seasons.23 He finished with only 19 home runs, 54 RBIs, and a .215 batting average.
Though it was difficult for Burnitz to stomach, his weak season turned out to be an asset to his career. Enduring a miserable season back with his original team forced Burnitz to re-evaluate his entire approach to hitting. His new tactic was one of simplification: He eliminated all distractions and focused on identifying good pitches.
Burnitz’s new attitude toward the game improved his performance dramatically. He kicked off the 2003 season with a .279 average, three home runs, seven doubles, and seven RBIs in the first three weeks.24 Not only did his new approach improve his play, it also altered his whole attitude about the game. He told the New York Post, “I’ve never really liked playing too much. It’s always just been work and a grind for me. Now, I like the game a lot more, and not just because I’m doing well. It’s from finding an approach I’m happy with. Last year made me understand how hard it was, the game itself, and it made me appreciate what I had accomplished.”25
Burnitz’s upswing was interrupted when he broke his left hand on April 22 in a game against the Houston Astros. He returned to play on May 23 and jumped right back into his offensive stride, hitting four home runs and driving in 13 runs in his first 10 days back.26 When Burnitz left the Mets in July, he had 18 home runs and 45 RBIs.
Despite his improved performance and attitude, the Mets traded Burnitz to the Dodgers in July 2003.27 Though Burnitz could have blocked the trade, he was excited to play with the Dodgers as a center fielder and for the chance to play in the postseason.28 “I played for the Brew Crew [Brewers] and the Mets when we were struggling, so to have an opportunity to go to a club that has a shot at the playoffs, it’s hard for me to explain what it means,” he said of the trade. More importantly, the trade brought him just two hours away from his wife and two daughters who lived in Poway, a suburb of San Diego.29
After injuring his hand early in the season, Burnitz tried a new approach to hitting, but his batting average fell to .239; he did, however, hit 31 home runs and finished with 77 RBIs. When he was traded, Burnitz said of the Dodgers that “the ultimate goal is for me to show up, just go crazy, hope it rubs off on everyone, and the team goes to the World Series. That’s obviously what everyone wants to happen, but I’ll only evaluate myself on the execution of my plan [at the plate] each day.”30 It was an appropriate decision, as even Burnitz’s capable efforts that season could not push the Dodgers to the playoffs.
After the season Burnitz became a free agent and he Burnitz signed with the Colorado Rockies.31 He started the season on a high note: His son Jake was born on March 18. Less than a month later, on April 27, he and his teammates Matt Holliday and Charles Johnson belted three home runs in a row in a game against the Miami Marlins.32
The 2004 season turned out to be one of Burnitz’s strongest. In 150 games, he hit 37 home runs, drove in 110 runs, and batted.283. Burnitz was later chosen by the Rox Pile blog as one of the best outfielders in the Rockies’ history.33
Burnitz declined a $3 million mutual option to stay with the Rockies after the 2004 season, instead signing a one-year deal with the Cubs.34 He replaced star outfielder Sammy Sosa, but knew that he could not completely fill Sosa’s role on the team. “All that matters is how the team does, and I’m going to go all-out with a team attitude,” he said after signing. “It will all revolve around how we do as a team. I can strike out, and if we’re winning, people will love me and everyone else on the squad.”35
The 2005 season was disappointing for the Cubs, with a 79-83 record. Though the season was not a knock-out for Burnitz, either, he was one of a few consistent players who helped to keep the team afloat during the weak season. He batted.258, with 24 home runs and 87 RBIs.
After a year of active pursuit from the Pirates, Burnitz signed a one-year contract for $6.7 million. The Pirates also signed Sean Casey and Joe Randa, building a core of veteran players to add some consistency to their overwhelmingly young team.36
The 2006 season turned out to be disappointing for Burnitz and the Pirates alike. Burnitz batted only .230 and hit only 16 home runs with 49 RBIs. The rest of the team did not fare much better. “This is the first team I’ve been on in a couple years where I’m Joe High-Paid Free Agent. That, in and of itself, should tell you the big picture that the team’s in. If I’m just another guy on one of those big-market, big-paying teams … that’s not the way it is here, and I understand that. I’m cool with it,” Burnitz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.37 April 4 provided one highlight to a disappointing year. In a game against the Brewers, he hit the 300th home run of his career.
After playing major-league baseball for 14 years with seven teams, Burnitz decided to retire after the season with the Pirates. He finished with 315 home runs and 981 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .481. After retiring from baseball and life in the public eye, he and his family settled in Agoura Hills, California.
This biography was published in “1995 Cleveland Indians: The Sleeping Giant Awakes” (SABR, 2019), edited by Joseph Wancho.
1 “Jeromy Burnitz Stats,” ESPN. Accessed January 1, 2017. espn.com/mlb/player/stats/_/id/2903/jeromy-burnitz.
2 Tom Friend, “Steam Heat in July: It’s Burnitz, Bubbling,” New York Times, July 23, 1993.
3 “MMN Prospect Time Machine: Jeromy Burnitz.” MetsMinors.net, September 13, 2013. metsminors.net/mmn-prospect-time-machine-jeromy-burnitz/.
7 Paul Hoynes, “Looking for Opportunities: Outfielder Jeromy Burnitz Tries to Prove His Mettle to Snag Open Utility Position,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 4, 1996.
9 Paul Ladewski, “Milwaukee Brewers Defeat Struggling Chicago Cubs,” Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, Illinois), April 17, 2017. nwherald.com/2017/04/18/milwaukee-brewers-defeat-struggling-chicago-cubs/as4lxnb/.
11 Tom Verducci, “Bleach Boys,” Sports Illustrated, April 2, 2001.
12 “Burnitz, Woodard Propel Brewers Past Tigers,” Chippewa Herald (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin), July 10, 1999. chippewa.com/burnitz-woodard-propel-brewers-past-tigers/article_911c0c7f-7dd4-51c9-97f3-ba3229478323.html.
14 ESPN, April 22, 2003.
16 H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl, The Mental Game Of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance 3rd ed. (Boulder, Colorado: Taylor Trade Publications, 2002).
17 “Burnitz’s 3 HRs Lift Brewers 11-1,” USA Today, May 11, 2001.
18 “Mets Re-Acquire OF Burnitz in Three-Team Deal,” The Daily Star,???? City? January 22, 2002.
19 Jack Curry, “Mets’ Burnitz Finds He Can Go Home Again,” New York Times, February 22, 2002. nytimes.com/2002/02/22/sports/baseball-mets-burnitz-finds-he-can-go-home-again.html.
20 H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl
21 Jason Reid, “Caminiti Admits Using Steroids,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2002. articles.latimes.com/2002/may/29/sports/sp-steroids29.
22 John Harper, “No Denying Steroid Usage: Burnitz Has No Interest,” New York Daily News, May 30, 2002.
23 Brian Lewis, “Jeromy Jolt Sends Fans Home Happy,” New York Post, September 18, 2002. nypost.com/2002/09/18/jeromy-jolt-sends-fans-home-happy/.
26 Christian Red, “Hits Keep on Coming for Burnitz,” New York Daily News, Accessed January 2, 2018. nydailynews.com/archives/sports/hits-coming-burnitz-article-1.658889.
27 Jason Reid, “Dodgers Add Some Offense: L.A. Acquires Burnitz from Mets, Then Signs Future Hall of Famer Henderson to Help Provide Spark to an Anemic Lineup,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2003.
28 Dave Caldwell, “Rebuilding Mets Ship Burnitz to Dodgers for Prospects,” New York Times, July 15, 2003.
29 Michael Morrissey, “The Happy Hacker: Burnitz Having Fun with New Approach,” New York Post, May 29, 2003.
30 “Dodgers Add Some Offense.”
31 Tracy Ringolsby, “Rockies Sign Burnitz, Won’t Retain Payton.” Rocky Mountain News (Denver), December 20, 2003.
32 Ben Macaluso,“The The 100 Greatest Colorado Rockies: 89 Charles Johnson.” Rox Pile (blog), January 18, 2017. roxpile.com/2017/01/18/the-the-100-greatest-colorado-rockies-89-charles-johnson/.
34 Ken Rosenthal, “Inside Dish,” The Sporting News, February 11, 2005.
35 Toni Ginnetti, “All Burnitz Worried About Is Helping Cubs Win,” Chicago Sun-Times, February 3, 2005.
36 Daniel G. Habib, “Pittsburgh Pirates,” Sports Illustrated, April 3, 2006.
37 Dejan Kovacevic, “Pirates Notebook: Burnitz Apologizes for Failing to Run Out Grounder,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 13, 2006. post-gazette.com/sports/pirates/2006/05/13/Pirates-Notebook-Burnitz-apologizes-for-failing-to-run-out-grounder/stories/200605130175.