R.I.P. Jim Burton

mabrowndog

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The ex-Red Sox lefty, who surrendered the decisive hit of the 1975 World Series on a Joe Morgan RBI bloop single in the 9th, crushing my 11-year-old soul in the process, has passed at age 64 in Charlotte, NC
 

 
While baseball-reference.com just added him to their In Memoriam main page section, Burton died December 12. In addition to his mother and two brothers, Jim leaves his wife, three daughters and two granddaughters.
 
With his passing, three of the 37 players from that pennant-winning club are now deceased, as he joins Tony Conigliaro and Deron Johnson. (Manager Darrell Johnson and coaches Eddie Popowski and Johnny Pesky have also passed.)
 
 

 
After starring for the University of Michigan, the Sox made him their top pick (#5 overall) in the secondary phase of the June 1971 amateur draft. He never pitched below AA level in the minors, debuting for the PawSox shortly after signing. A stellar 8-2 start with a 1.53 ERA for Pawtucket in 1975 (by then a AAA affiliate) was punctuated by a no-hitter against Tidewater, and led to his mid-season call-up by Boston.
 
Following his June 10 debut at Fenway (a scoreless low-pressure 9th in an 8-3 loss to Texas), Burton made his first start in Chicago on June 12, squaring off against Jim Kaat. He surrendered his first hit, a leadoff solo HR in the 2nd, to the aforementioned Deron Johnson (who'd join the Red Sox for the September stretch run). Burton would pitch into the 6th and would be charged with 6 runs, 4 earned, in a 9-2 loss. Two of those were allowed to score by reliever Reggie Cleveland, the man he'd replaced in the Boston starting rotation.
 
His next outing came June 16 in Detroit, a series more famous for Fred Lynn's 3-HR, 10-RBI game two nights later. Opposing another All-Star ace in Mickey Lolich, Burton pitched brilliantly, allowing a lone run through 9 innings. After Boston took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th, Jim allowed the tying run to score in the bottom half (single-bunt-single) and was pulled. He wasn't around for the Sox' 6-2 win in the 12th.
 
Burton's first Fenway start June 23 against the Indians found him working on a week's rest, and the rust showed. He retired just 2 batters, allowing 2 walks, 3 doubles and a wild pitch. All 4 runs were unearned courtesy of a Burleson error on a steal attempt, but Jim was bound for the bullpen.
 
His next 4 relief stints were all brief and scoreless. On July 5 in Cleveland he was pressed into long relief after fellow Sox rookie Steve Barr got hammered for 6 runs in the 1st. Burton would finish the game but would also yield 6 runs in a 12-2 loss, with 8 of the Indians' runs unearned (3 of his, 5 of Barr's) on 3 Boston errors.
 
For the next three months through the end of the regular season, Burton was a steady and reliable presence in the Sox pen: 20 G, 28.1 IP, 2.54 ERA, 26 K and 10 BB, and just 1 HR. That line included a spot start in Milwaukee (3.2 IP, 2 ER). His final ERA as a reliever was 2.38 in 25 appearances.
 
Burton didn't pitch in Boston's three-game ALCS sweep of the 3-time defending World Champion A's, but he'd get the call in the Fall Classic. After not pitching since September 20, he was finally summoned for Game 3 of the World Series in Cincinnati on October 14. With the game tied 3-3, starter Rick Wise ran into trouble in the top of the 5th with back-to-back solo HRs by Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo to lead off the inning. Wise struck out pitcher Pat Darcy, but yielded a triple to Pete Rose. On came Burton, who promptly walked Ken Griffey on 5 pitches. Next came Joe Morgan, who lofted a sac fly to CF to score Rose. While throwing a first-pitch ball to Tony Perez, Griffey stole second. 
 
That was it for Burton as Reggie Cleveland came on to finish the at-bat and retire Perez to end the threat. If you're scoring at home, Burton's World Series debut involved facing two future Hall of Famers and the father of another future HOFer -- as a rookie on 23 days' rest.
 
Which brings us to Game 7. Tied 3-3 with 2 out in the last of the 8th, Darrell Johnson sent up Cecil Cooper to pinch-hit for pitcher Jim Willoughby. Cooper would foul out to end the inning, and the Sox' best reliever was out of the game.
 
Burton came on to start the top of the 9th, and would later tell Donald Hornig in The Boys of October:
 
"Warming up, my whole body went numb. It was surreal, like an out-of-body experience. In those days, they'd send a golf cart to bring you in, and when it came for me, I knew I couldn't ride in it. I had to trot in from the bullpen just to feel my feet on the ground. Otherwise, I might have floated away.
 
"I wasn't ready. I'd hardly pitched all the previous month. I was rusty. When I was warming up, I couldn't get loose. I could tell I didn't have anything."
 
As in Game 3, Burton was greeted by Griffey. And as he had in Game 3, Burton walked him. The payoff pitch was well high, and Pudge had to stretch his left arm and mitt like a shot-blocker to ensure it didn't sail over his head.
 
After three throws to first to keep Griffey at bay, Geronimo bunted him over to second. Only a great play by Rico Petrocelli, throwing with his ass planted on the ground, prevented it from being a base hit. That brought up Clay Carroll in the pitcher's spot. Sparky Anderson had already used his best right-handed pinch hitters, Merv Rettenmund and Ed Armbrister. Doug Flynn, a right-handed hitting infielder without much punch, had come out on deck during Geronimo's at-bat. But Sparky would call him back and go with slugger Dan Driessen, the third straight lefty to face the southpaw Burton.
 
Burton's initial offering to Driessen was up and in, and he turned on it. Not solidly, but solidly enough. More importantly, he pulled it to the right side for a grounder to second that advanced Griffey to third.
 
Following a mound conference with Fisk and manager Johnson, Pete Rose stood in the right-hand batter's box. Burton fell behind 2-0 on an inside fastball and low swooping curve before dropping another curve in for a strike. A third straight curve missed low again, but Burton came back with a perfect fastball on the outside corner to bring the count full. The payoff pitch wasn't even close, again way up high and outside but hauled in by Fisk as Rose trotted to first. 
 
Up came Joe Morgan. An opening fastball was low and well outside, but the hitter fouled back a nice curve. The 1-1 pitch made my heart sink, as Morgan took an outside fastball the opposite way and hit it hard. However it wound up in the first couple rows of seats alongside Fenway's left field, barely foul, and Burton found himself ahead in the count. I could have sworn Morgan missed the next pitch, a belt-high curve inside, but he topped it foul down the first base side toward the rolled-up tarp.
 
Then it happened. Burton threw a slider that was perfectly placed, sweeping from the left and over the right edge of the plate. Morgan swung, arms fully extended, and got feeble wood on it. The ball lofted weakly and meekly over second base, falling into shallow center. Freddy Lynn, playing fairly deep out of respect for Morgan's power, never had a chance. Griffey trotted home for the 4-3 lead. Cleveland relieved Burton, and that's how it would end. Jim would turn 26 six days later.
 
Burton's postgame comments to the Globe:
 
"The pitch that Morgan hit was a very good pitch, a slider low and away, right where I wanted it. Give the man credit for hitting it. I don't think I could've made a better pitch. I can't say, 'Gosh, I shouldn't have thrown that pitch' or 'I should've thrown it to another location."
 
Reflecting on it to Hornig a dozen years ago:
 
 
"It was the best slider I ever threw. A great pitch. I put everything I had into it. Everything. It was right at Morgan, and you can see him initially bailing out on it... Then, when he realized it was going to be over the plate, he just kind of threw his bat at it."
 
Whatever plans Burton might have had to purge that pitch from his memory banks didn't work. He struggled in Grapefruit League play the following spring (17 hits in 3 games), and was assigned to Pawtucket where he would spend the entire season while compiling a 5.59 ERA in 28 starts with more walks (112) than strikeouts (106).
 
Burton would make it back to Boston and the majors in 1977, throwing 2.2 scoreless relief innings against the Orioles on September, mopping up in an 11-2 loss. It would be his final major league appearance. Just days before the Sox broke camp in spring 1978, they dealt him to the Mets for infielder Leo Foster. Burton split his final pro season between AAA Tidewater and class-A Lynchburg, and then it was over.
 
He was never vilified like Bill Buckner, nor did he completely melt down and wilt on the national stage like Calvin Schiraldi. But many Sox fans nonetheless split the blame for the '75 Series loss on Johnson (for bringing a rookie pitcher into such a high-pressure situation), and Burton (for giving up the run that ended it).
 
Johnson took the most heat, but that's a foolish stance considering the options. Willoughby and lefty Roger Moret had already pitched in Game 7. Dick Drago had thrown 35 pitches over 3 innings the night before. Dick Pole, Diego Segui and Reggie Cleveland were all righthanders, and the Reds likely would have had five lefties facing them (Griffey, Geronimo, Driessen, Rose, Morgan). If you want to fault Johnson for anything, blame him for not giving the youngster more work from September 20 to October 22.
 
As for blaming Burton, screw that. He had earned the right to be relied upon with an impressive three months in the bullpen. That night he faced one of the most potent lineups ever assembled, and made a great pitch when it counted. Unfortunately a Hall of Fame hitter got the best of him.
 
A great bio on Burton, written by Les Masterson in 2005, can be found at SABR. It concludes as follows:
 

In addition to spending time with his family ... and running his business, Burton spends time traveling to Haiti for missionary work. He helped open a print shop for natives and prints educational materials for the schools. 
 
His time in Haiti also provides him with a different perspective. Giving up a game-winning hit in the World Series isn't quite as important after one sees life in the Third World. "You look back and you realize that baseball is such a small part of your life, when you think about it. There's so much that's more important," Burton told Hornig. 
 
 

Godspeed, Jim.
 

Sprowl

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mabrowndog said:
The ex-Red Sox lefty, who surrendered the decisive hit of the 1975 World Series on a Joe Morgan RBI bloop single in the 9th, crushing my 11-year-old soul in the process, has passed at age 64 in Charlotte, NC
 

...
 

Godspeed, Jim.
 
Johnson never shoulda pulled Willoughby. His sinker had awesome movement that day. My soul was 15 at the time.
 

pedro1918

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My soul turned 7 in the bleachers of Game 2.  My parents let me stay up for game 7, after I had fallen asleep the night before. 
 
I can't really blame Burton or Johnson.  Pinch hitting Cooper for Willoughby was certainly defensible.  I find it hard to look past the eephus pitch.
 

mabrowndog

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Sprowl said:
 
Johnson never shoulda pulled Willoughby. His sinker had awesome movement that day. My soul was 15 at the time.
 
Willow was indeed pitching superbly. But remember who was coming up:
 
* Griffey
* Geronimo
* Driessen (I doubt we'd have seen Flynn or anyone else in the on-deck circle to hit for Carroll)
* Rose
* Morgan
 
Would Willoughby's sidearming sinkerball have sufficiently flummoxed that quintet of lefties? I'm not so sure.
 
Then again, the three days of rain that pushed back games 6 and 7 at Fenway meant Burton had another 8 full days idle between his WS outings. Before taking the mound in Game 7, he'd faced 3 major league hitters over the course of 32 days -- and he only threw a single pitch to one of them (Perez).
 
I just keep chalking it up to the fact that managers in those days didn't stay in as close contact with their players to gauge their mental, physical, and emotional readiness. Old school approaches didn't allow for touchy-feely sentiments like that. You were either tough enough to hack it, or you weren't, and baseball's landscape is littered with the carcasses of players who were mis-used, rushed, or improperly evaluated.
 
Today the likes of Tito and Farrell would be grilling a kid like Burton for signs of fragility, not to mention ensuring he'd at least gotten some simulated games in to stay fresh and sharp. Plus they'd have made 100% sure Driessen never saw anything over the inside half. ;)
 

E5 Yaz

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As 'dog points out in the opening post, Burton gets screwed by history because he actually threw a good pitch. Even Morgan has spoken about how fortunate he felt he was to get the base hit.
 
My memory fades a bit, since I was on my way to getting very drunk at that point, but I've always wondered whether Lynn's banged-up back prevented him from getting a better jump on the ball. Or was there no chance of it being caught?
 

Smiling Joe Hesketh

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You can see the pitch Burton threw to Morgan at 7:00 of this video:
 
[youtube]http://youtu.be/k8XeTNH9P3A?t=6m58s[/youtube]
 
Burton's recollection was correct, you can see Morgan start to bail out then just throw his bat on the ball. A good pitch that a HoF hitter did something with.
 

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Wonderful writing, 'dog. Do you need an agent?  :nsmith:
 
I'd been at game 6, was still to spent too closely watch game 7. Jim's death is a harsh reminder of passing years for those like me who were full grown in 1975. The Series was wonderful in everything except the final outcome, but that was one of the rare times you could only shake your head in admiration for that incredible Reds team. If there is honor in losing, that was it.
 
It's some consolation that Burton found a full life beyond baseball and game 7. He left us too early.
 

curly2

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I was 10 at the time. I cried at the end of Game 7.
 
Rest in peace, Jim. It's hard to blame him. He was a little-used rookie beaten by a bloop.
 
One overlooked thing that really hurt: With two outs in the seventh, a runner at second and the Sox still ahead 3-2, Roger Moret walked Ed Freakin' Armbrister and his (.185/.254/.200 line) with Pete Rose on deck. Rose, of course, singled to tie it. But of course ...
 
pedro1918 said:
 I find it hard to look past the eephus pitch.
 
There's the real problem. Thanks a lot, Spaceman.
 

mabrowndog

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Smiling Joe Hesketh said:
You can see the pitch Burton threw to Morgan at 7:00 of this video:
 
You can also see that it took about 3.5 seconds for the ball to land. That means the ball wasn't hit any higher than 15 meters, and probably a little less when friction and any vertical wind component are factored in. In any case, less than 50 feet.
 
To address E5 Yaz's question, Lynn is shown taking 8 strides before the ball lands, then 2 more before gloving it on a hop. We can assume he'd taken at least 3 additional strides prior between contact and his appearing in the frame. It's safe to say he had to run further than 50 feet, and probably closer to 60, on outfield turf that had been drying out for less than 48 hours following three straight days of heavy rain.
 
The average MLB hitter takes 4.25 seconds to cover the 90 feet from home to first (4.3 for RHH, 4.2 for LHH). That's on hard-packed dirt where they immediately know where they're going and instinctively start sprinting in a straight line with eyes fixed on a stationary target ahead. They don't first have to read the direction and distance of a batted ball, decide in which direction to move, and start running while their heads are tilted back still watching the ball in flight. They also aren't wearing a fielder's glove soaked with neatsfoot oil (the break-in substance of choice in the 70s), nor are they disrupting their running mechanics by starting to position their bodies and arms to catch a ball (or field it on a hop or roll) and make a throw if needed.
 
For Lynn to have covered 60 feet in about 4 seconds (I'm figuring another half-second after the ball bounced) suggests the previous back injury didn't really affect his ability to get to the ball.
 

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I always liked this nugget from Gammons' book,  Beyond The Sixth Game:
 
In his 1985 book, "Beyond the Sixth Game," ESPN's Peter Gammons, who covered the Red Sox for parts of two decades, tells the story about the fan sitting in a bar three months after the '75 World Series, ". . . drinking fifty-cent shots with twenty-five-cent drafts, blankly staring at the television mounted up in the corner of the bar. He had been there for nearly four hours, watching, when he turned for the first time to a group of three men down the bar. 'Why,' he stammered, 'did Johnson bat for Willoughby?'
 
Link
 

BCsMightyJoeYoung

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mabrowndog said:
Willow was indeed pitching superbly. But remember who was coming up:
 
* Griffey
* Geronimo
* Driessen (I doubt we'd have seen Flynn or anyone else in the on-deck circle to hit for Carroll)
* Rose
* Morgan
 
Would Willoughby's sidearming sinkerball have sufficiently flummoxed that quintet of lefties? I'm not so sure.
 
Then again, the three days of rain that pushed back games 6 and 7 at Fenway meant Burton had another 8 full days idle between his WS outings. Before taking the mound in Game 7, he'd faced 3 major league hitters over the course of 32 days -- and he only threw a single pitch to one of them (Perez).
 
I just keep chalking it up to the fact that managers in those days didn't stay in as close contact with their players to gauge their mental, physical, and emotional readiness. Old school approaches didn't allow for touchy-feely sentiments like that. You were either tough enough to hack it, or you weren't, and baseball's landscape is littered with the carcasses of players who were mis-used, rushed, or improperly evaluated.
 
Today the likes of Tito and Farrell would be grilling a kid like Burton for signs of fragility, not to mention ensuring he'd at least gotten some simulated games in to stay fresh and sharp. Plus they'd have made 100% sure Driessen never saw anything over the inside half. ;)
Piling on the unfortunate decision .. IIRC, Cecil Cooper was mired in a pretty bad slump at the time .. And there were two outs and no none on when he pinch hit.
 

mabrowndog

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BCsMightyJoeYoung said:
Piling on the unfortunate decision .. IIRC, Cecil Cooper was mired in a pretty bad slump at the time .. And there were two outs and no none on when he pinch hit.
 
Right on both counts. He was just 1-for-18 before that final AB against Carroll, the lone hit a leadoff double in the 1st inning of Game 2 off Billingham. So, hitless in his previous 14 trips.
 
He had also hit .400 in the ALCS, so there's that.
 

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mabrowndog said:
 
Right on both counts. He was just 1-for-18 before that final AB against Carroll, the lone hit a leadoff double in the 1st inning of Game 2 off Billingham. So, hitless in his previous 14 trips.
 
Fuck Vern Ruhle
 

curly2

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mabrowndog said:
 
Well, it did have its moments.
 
 
I think that made it worse. Perez had already seen the eephus pitch earlier in the game, so when he saw it the second time, he had time to adjust, time it and hit it 900 feet.
 

curly2

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By the way, an amazing fact about the 1975 Red Sox: Rookies Steve Barr (7 IP) and Bill Krueger (4 IP) combined to pitch 11 innings. Otherwise, the Sox used 10 pitchers all season. The 2013 Sox used 26 pitchers.
 

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BCsMightyJoeYoung said:
Piling on the unfortunate decision .. IIRC, Cecil Cooper was mired in a pretty bad slump at the time .. And there were two outs and no none on when he pinch hit.
 
 
Of course, Willoughby hadn't had a plate appearance in over a year.
 
John Farrell was criticized in the 2013 World Series for letting a pitcher hit.  I don't remember the exact situation  Was it letting Workman hit in Game 3?  Or was it letting Lester hit in Game 5?  Somebody please help me out here!
 

mabrowndog

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curly2 said:
By the way, an amazing fact about the 1975 Red Sox: Rookies Steve Barr (7 IP) and Bill Krueger (4 IP) combined to pitch 11 innings. Otherwise, the Sox used 10 pitchers all season. The 2013 Sox used 26 pitchers.
 
Slight nitpick: Rick Kreuger, who pitched for the rival college of Burton's alma mater.
 
And yes, the personnel count is amazing. The 2004 Sox also used 26 pitchers. The '75 club had three starters with at least 17 complete games and a minimum of 255 innings.
 
Roger Moret made more relief appearances (20) than starts (16), yet still pitched just one less complete game (4) than the entire 2013 Red Sox staff combined (5).
 

edoug

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pedro1918 said:
 
 
Of course, Willoughby hadn't had a plate appearance in over a year.
 
John Farrell was criticized in the 2013 World Series for letting a pitcher hit.  I don't remember the exact situation  Was it letting Workman hit in Game 3?  Or was it letting Lester hit in Game 5?  Somebody please help me out here!
Workman
 

Larry Gardner

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mabrowndog said:
 
Slight nitpick: Rick Kreuger, who pitched for the rival college of Burton's alma mater.
 
And yes, the personnel count is amazing. The 2004 Sox also used 26 pitchers. The '75 club had three starters with at least 17 complete games and a minimum of 255 innings.
 
Roger Moret made more relief appearances (20) than starts (16), yet still pitched just one less complete game (4) than the entire 2013 Red Sox staff combined (5).
 
In the mid-90's, I was trying to collect the autographs of everyone on the '75 roster, and found Rick Krueger in Grand Rapids, MI, and talked to him on the phone.  I had asked him about Burton, and he told me the story that he was going to get the callup when he pitched a, IIRC, one-hitter, but then Burton pitched a no-hitter.  I asked him about Burton and losing his confidence after game 7, and remember him telling me that he was "absolutely shattered"....  really great opportunity to talk to Rick Krueger-- really nice guy-- and I was able to get all of the autographs from '75......
 
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I was also 15 in 1975, and that was the first year that I really started following the Sox intently, i.e. reading the Sporting New, listening to games on the radio when they weren't on channel 38, etc. I remember thinking how cool it was to listen to Burton's first start, against the White Sox, on the radio. I can also remember a few years later when I was in college talking to a fellow Sox fan about how bad a manger Darrel Johnson was, and we both agreed that he ruined Jim Burton. I'm glad to hear that he put that one night in perspective.


R.I.P. Jim