New York Yankees Pitcher Kevin Brown Throws during the first...

New York Yankees Pitcher Kevin Brown Throws during the first inning of his game against Oakland on May 8, 2005. (Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The real shame of it, on this Old-Timers' Day, came in that neither Doyle Alexander nor Kevin Brown was on site to console A.J. Burnett for his stupidity.

And, quadruply so, that George Steinbrenner couldn't get in the pricey righthander's grill for not only inflicting an injury upon himself but lying about it.

Instead, we received Joe Girardi's odd, expected Downplay and Diminish strategy, and promises that good ol' A.J. has learned his lesson.

To which we say, in honor of The Boss, what's wrong with just laying a guy out every now and then? Especially when he behaves as selfishly as Burnett did Saturday, suffering lacerations on both hands after - according to Burnett - slamming them into hard plastic on a door in the Yankees' clubhouse.

This explanation came after he initially told the club he had slipped and fallen on the staircase leading to the clubhouse.

"He's embarrassed. He's disappointed in himself," Girardi told reporters after the Yankees' 10-5 loss to Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium. "You learn from these things, and you've got to move on. It's not the first time that a guy has expressed emotion in a way that could hurt yourself."

In further trying to defend his pitcher, Girardi invoked two holy names in the Yankees pantheon: "Mr. Steinbrenner deemed Paul O'Neill 'The Warrior,' and he hit more things than anyone I've ever seen. Some guys just are better at expressing their frustration than others."

Yes, O'Neill took some hacks at water jugs, but unless the Yankees executed some masterful cover-ups back in the day, he never put himself at risk. He never placed his teammates in a tough spot.

As opposed to Burnett, who - as lousy as he thought he pitched - found himself in a tolerable 3-0 hole after an inning and a half. Sheesh, Brett Gardner's two-run single in the bottom of the second cut it to 3-2. Against the dangerous Rays, however, Burnett's early departure, caused by his self-inflicted wounds, allowed Tampa Bay to take batting practice against mediocre middle relievers Dustin Moseley and Chad Gaudin.

And though Burnett said he'll be fine for his next start Friday against Kansas City, we'll need to see how he pitches before agreeing.

To his credit, Burnett stood at his locker, took myriad questions from reporters and said all of the right things. "An apology is needed to my team and the organization," he said. "I need to be out there in that game. It's a big game against a very good team that's right behind us, and you can't allow that to happen. And it won't happen ever again."

If you had offered a pool as to which 2010 Yankees pitcher would follow the leads of Alexander (broken knuckle, 1982) and Brown (broken non-pitching hand, 2004), the Burnett shares would've sold heavily. This is who he is.

He's the guy talented enough to convince the Yankees to invest $82.5 million in him over five years, and who, as Girardi pointed out, defeated the Phillies in last year's World Series Game 2 after the Yankees lost Game 1.

He's also the guy who caused Girardi to bench Jorge Posada during the playoff games Burnett started, as backup catcher Jose Molina better managed the high-maintenance righty. And Burnett's slump just last month brought great attention upon pitching coach Dave Eiland's awkward leave of absence.

He is, in short, a perpetual risk to blow up on his team. He is not a horrible investment but is a poor one, to be sure.

You wonder what Girardi would risk by offering tougher public criticism of Burnett. After all, two years ago, Girardi waited too long to deal with an ineffectual Robinson Cano.

Maybe it's inconsequential in the long run. Yet on the day that Steinbrenner's family buried him in Florida and that Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles and Goose Gossage reminisced here at the Stadium about The Boss' toughness, it felt as though Burnett deserved a harsher scolding for such an egregious act.