It takes more then a savvy GM to recruit top free agents. According to Anthony McCarron at the NY Daily News, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon were instrumental in bringing AJ Burnett to the Bronx.
A-Rod and Damon, who both repeatedly expressed admiration for Burnett’s pitching last season while the righty was going 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts against the Yankees, urged Burnett to join them with the Bombers and touted New York as a great place to play.
“Johnny was calling him regularly, and he and Alex talked on numerous occasions,” said the baseball official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Johnny was extremely influential in this process, absolutely out front on this deal.”
Burnett, who will be 32 next month, savaged the Yankees last season with his mid-90s fastball and sharp-breaking curve. After a 2-1 loss to Burnett in August, Rodriguez said Burnett had “unbelievable stuff out there. He was throwing pellets…and had a snake for a breaking ball.”
Burnett became friendly with both players simply through pleasant banter while playing against each other, the official said. Damon and Burnett exchanged phone numbers a few years ago. The official was unsure if Derek Jeter had recruited Burnett, too, but noted that Burnett and Jeter had become friendly at Michael Jordan‘s charity golf tournament.
“They had some banter back and forth and developed a relationship,” the official said of Burnett and Damon. “It’s over the last couple of years, just chatting.
“Johnny talked to A.J. about New York, the differences between New York and Boston, how he views it. Johnny couldn’t be happier here and he communicated those thoughts to A.J. I know at one point he told A.J. about dealing with New York and told him, ‘Be accountable. If you’re accountable, you’ll be fine. Don’t fear the media unless you give them a reason.’
“I know on a couple of occasions, Johnny said to him, ‘You don’t have anything to worry about.'”