Earlier this week, A.J. Burnett was traded from the New York Yankees to the Pittsburgh Pirates. His mercurial performance while in pinstripes, and even before, has been well documented.
While the dust has largely settled following the trade, one question still remains: Why did Burnett veto a trade to the Angels, the most competitive option of the three (Cleveland, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh) that were most discussed?
The answer? The most common reason that popped up was that Burnett's wife has a fear of flying, so it speaks to reason that multiple trips from the family home in Maryland to Los Angeles would be an immensely stressful experience. Some bloggers deemed this a perfectly rational explanation. Others chose to immediately call the pitcher "foolish."
Now, I'm not going to expend an immense amount of energy espousing the virtues of Burnett. The man is not without his flaws, with attitude and work ethic typically maintaining a steady hold at the top of the list. And I don't know who he is at home as a husband or father, nor do I think that knowing that changes the context of this debate.
The idea that his vetoing a trade to Los Angeles somehow reveals the weakness of his inner warrior, somehow connects to his poor attitude or inexplicably reveals a deep desire to escape New York and hide in mediocrity is a pretty hefty leap.
One of the many things that becomes immensely tiresome in sports debate and sparring is the idea that the win-at-all-costs winner should be revered, regardless of the other priorities in his or her life. What you do off the field doesn't matter if it stays under wraps, or doesn't get you arrested for harming animals. As a society, we've even shown that if you abuse women, over time, it'll move down your obituary the more you win. As long as the athlete says the right things to the media, works hard and puts team before himself in any way, who cares about who he is at home?
But if it's true that the no-trade clause is based on the fear of flying, Burnett made a decision to spare his wife the agony of what is, by all accounts, a pretty debilitating phobia. This is a specific gesture. Built into his contract. Furthermore, even if it's NOT true, the idea that something relatively serious could just be batted away as unimportant nonsense to fit your narrative is pretty alarming.
But hey, while we're casting aside an entirely valid reason why a man wouldn't want to put his family through more trouble than is necessary, let's get sexist and misogynistic about it, too! This was a quote from the aforementioned "foolish" article by Tim Ryan at The Big Lead:
"Yes, Burnett has mentioned on more than one occasion that his wife does not like flying, but I don’t buy this excuse. Her personal driver can take her and the kids out to California for the regular season and she can stop and shop in each big city along the way. Problem solved."
Yes, Karen Burnett, won't you please just go on a shopping road trip and keep out of your man's business dealings?
Even said with most prominent tongue in the cheek, it's flippant, lazy and offensive.
See, the problem is that we can't be so crazily presumptuous as to assume Burnett's desires or interests can be known. Even if every bad thing every critic ever thought about Burnett was true, there's no question that with all things being equal, he'd rather have a shot at a ring. Every athlete does. Some want it more than others, no question, but there's no professional athlete that thinks, "I'd really rather not have a title." Burnett has a couple, lest it be forgotten. The first, with the Marlins, he watched. The second, with the Yankees, he helped secure with a stellar Game 2 performance against the Phillies. But despite doing well in some big moments, his poor showings in other moments have led to a sort of assertion that Burnett is largely apathetic to the cause.
"I honestly don't think enough has been made of the fact that AJ Burnett blocked a trade to the Angels but accepted one to the Pirates." Jimmy Traina of Sports Illustrated said on Twitter, following up with, "And I know his wife is afraid of flying/didn't want to travel. I still think it's absurd & very telling."
Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy chimed in, saying that if the decision to veto the trade was based on distance, that it was "Completely understandable. That's a massive difference location wise."
But hey, you're tired of the Burnett you've built in your head, so why not throw the actual guy under every bus he passes on his way out of town? Better to get a laugh and call him absurd than to consider that he's a human being and has a family to think of first.
A winner would never do that, anyway.
Max Thompson is the Senior Editor at ThePostGame. Follow him on Twitter: @maxthompson.
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