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Kipper : How Much Are The #Pirates Missing A.J. Burnett?

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
He was cocky.
He had arrogance.
He was determined.
He had swagger.
He was Bad ***.
A.J. Burnett
AJ.jpgOne can argue and the debate would be worthy, about how much A.J. Burnett meant to the turn around of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It wasn't that the Pirates simply got a pitcher who came in and resurrected the end part of his career and gave the Pirates an unlikely Ace. The Pirates received a leader that brought a much needed attitude to the team and it's fan base that had been missing for a couple of decades.
People like to attach title "Leader" to whoever is that teams best player, but that doesn't necessarily make them a leader, let alone a great one. Andrew McCutchen is more reserved as a personality. If you look around the Pirates clubhouse, nobody outside of Russell Martin really sticks out as a natural Leader. In A.J. Burnett, the Pirates had that.
After starting out 10-18 and having a fairly miserable month of April, especially for the Pitching Staff, the question lingering in my head isn't "What can Gregory Polanco do?"
How much do the Pittsburgh Pirates miss A.J. Burnett right now?
There's no swagger or attitude with this team. They're blowing leads left and right. They're not clutch when they need to be. Their focus is missing something. There's a vibe and mystique missing from this team that they had in 2012 and 2013. There's a certain strut and belief that you could see in the players demeanor that isn't there. All of these being things that were a part of A.J. Burnett's personality.
I'm a big proponent of Leadership. I'm a firm believer that the right Leader can make a huge difference with a team and that you can see the results with and without that person. Take a peak across the river at the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby is labeled as the teams "Leader", but is he really that? The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins truly had a leader it was with Billy Guerin (and some could argue that Max Talbot played a role) and coincidentally, that was the last time that the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanely Cup. Look next door at Heinz Field. The Steelers have been full of internal dysfunction for a few seasons now. Ben Roethlisberger is given the "Leader" tag, but is he? The Steelers haven't had a winning season or made the Post Season since Hines Ward retired after 2011. Ward carried the torch after Jerome Bettis' Leadership retired.
Some players are natural born leaders. They have the "It" factor that makes the team around them respond. Sometimes they don't have to say much, sometimes it is just respect for that person that captures a team and makes them buy in to what is being sold. It doesn't require one to be a Ray Lewis type cheerleader, it just requires a certain attitude that reflects off of a player onto everyone else.
A.J. Burnett had that.
While it is too early in the season to cast too much judgment on this, one thing is certainly clear about the 2014 Pirates - they lack attitude. They lack the killer instinct that they had. They can clear benches and brawl with the Milwaukee Brewers all they want. It means as much now as it did when they were a crappy team in 2009, clearing benches with the same team prompting Brewers catcher, Jason Kendall to call Pirates pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan - Dave Kerwin. The Pirates were still a bad team after that. The Pirates still lost to the Brewers after this last bench clearing brawl. Anyone can fight, but the Pirates are fighting the wrong battle.
The 2014 Pirates have yet to find the fighters inside that persevere in difficult situations. They've yet to find the fighters inside that persevere even with success. That swagger when they walk out onto the ball field expecting to win, looks more like a team walking out on the ball field, hoping not to lose. There's nobody sitting anyone the f*ck down on this team anymore. That guy is gone. A.J. Burnett isnt here and the Pirates haven't found a replacement for what they lost with his leadership. Perhaps someone will rise up to the occasion. Perhaps, the Pirates find someone at the Trade Deadline. Maybe, Gerrit Cole, who A.J. Burnett mentored and started the brawl with the Brewers will be the next boisterous Leader?
Until it happens though, this team is struggling to find it's identity, an identity that they once found in A.J. Burnett and followed. Without someone to follow, the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates are just looking around, waiting to find "It".

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