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Where have you gone, Britt Burns?
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09/26/2002  9:21 AM ET
Where have you gone, Britt Burns?
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CHICAGO -- As White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle moves closer to his 20th victory, it's natural to recall that Britt Burns was the last lefty to win as many as 18 games in a Sox uniform.

What's never mentioned is that Burns missed his final two starts of that 1985 season with a degenerative left hip and never threw another pitch in the big leagues.

The Sox traded Burns to the New York Yankees after the 1985 season, in which he had gone 18-11, but the bad hip never allowed him to return and he retired with a 70-60 record at the age of 26.

"It was such a disappointment," Burns said. "I had to block baseball out for a while."

The rehabilitation was very difficult and Burns was on crutches and then a cane for about eight months before he began to consider what to do with his life.

What Burns realized, and which he would later pass on to his three children, was that without a college education he had denied himself quite a bit.

"After my career ended I didn't really have a lot of options," said Burns, who was drafted in the third round out of high school and made his Major League debut at the age of 19. "If you're going to invest your time and energy into something, do it into something that can't be taken away from you."

Burns eventually found himself doing some hiking in Colorado and bought a dude ranch that offered guests an assortment of outdoor activities, including fishing, hunting and horseback riding.

That became his life for almost five years and in a nice twist of fate, eventually led him back to the game of baseball.

"I fell in love with the Rocky Mountain West," Burns said. "It was out there hiking in the mountains and chasing elk around that I found myself getting into shape without trying to get into shape."

Still young and feeling fit again, Burns made comeback attempts in 1990 with the Yankees organization and in 1991 with Boston but neither led to a return to the Majors.

Instead, Burns found that many of the young pitchers in the organizations, whom he could relate to since he was only 31, were coming to him with questions.

Even better was that he very often had the right answers as well as the necessary temperament to impart it on others.

"I enjoy the teaching part of (coaching)," Burns said. "It applies to anything I might be knowledgeable in but in my case it happens to be baseball."

In 1993, Burns called newly-hired Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski, an old friend from his days with the Sox. Dombrowski wasted little time in hiring Burns to be the pitching coach for a Marlins' Rookie League affiliate.

Burns remained with the Florida organization for eight seasons, coaching every level of minor league ball and also serving as its minor league pitching coordinator, before losing his job when Jeffrey Loria purchased the team last year.

While Burns had once had to call Dombrowski for a job, it worked the other way this time. Dombrowski had moved on to become the President and GM of the Detroit Tigers, and on May 3 of this year Burns began his new job as the pitching coach for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

"It turned out quit well," Burns said. "Toledo had built a new stadium. Tremendous baseball fans. We ended up winning the division this year. Eleven guys from that pitching staff went to the big leagues, some to get there first shot, others a return visit.

"It was a lot of fun, very rewarding, to see guys get a shot at the big league level at a brand new stadium."

Burns doesn't adhere to the theory that pitchers can be rushed up to the big leagues too quickly and he uses himself as an example.

In 1978, just a few months after pitching for his high school team, a 19-year-old Britt Burns found himself on the mound at Comiskey Park pitching against the Tigers. Burns made it to the fifth inning in his debut and then got hit hard in his next start before returning to the minors.

"At the time the White Sox were struggling," Burns said. "I suppose attendance was down and (Sox owner) Bill Veeck wanted to bring up this high school left-hander to see if he could handle it. I, of course, had no idea what was happening."

Burns still keeps in touch with former White Sox teammate Richard Dotson, who is now the pitching coach for the Sox's Rookie Bristol club. They were both starting pitchers for the 1983 White Sox team that won the American League West by 20 games.

"We got to reminiscing and realized that he and I had 'it'," Burns said, "however you want define 'it' -- the ability to go out and compete, to not let fear let dictate behavior on the mind. To go out and perceive competition as something that is stimulating rather than something that is stressful.

"That's something you like to find out about kids as soon as possible."

Burns was the fourth starter and only went 10-11 for the 1983 Sox team while in 1985 he went 18-11 and had more wins than teammate Tom Seaver, who went 16-11.

But nothing will compare to winning a championship in 1983.

"The thing that stands out, ironically enough, was (shortstop) Jerry Dybzinski starting to hit," Burns said."And it seemed like the whole team caught fire behind him. The whole team came together.

"The chemistry, the feeling in the clubhouse, the leadership. We had the talent and we had the chemistry. That was special."

Jimmy Greenfield is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached by e-mail at jcgreenx@yahoo.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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