Players Past: Jim Burton

Jim Burton played for Michigan from 1968-1971.  He was a left handed pitcher who was known to bat right  handed, somewhat of an oddity in today’s game.  He was drafted by the Tigers in the 1967 draft, but he decided against signing the professional contract and came to Ann Arbor.  While his college he had 288 strikeouts in 228 innings.  The highlight of his career in Ann Arbor had to be his no hitter, thrown against Wisconsin (back when they had a team) in 1971.  It was the first no-no thrown by a UM pitcher in 88 years (so long that they don’t even have reliable records for games before that).  It’s one of only 2 complete game no hitters in Michigan history.  That’s impressive.  While I haven’t found his win total for his 3 years on the varsity squad, he did have a ridiculous 19 wins his senior season (there wasn’t a cap on games played in a season until the late 80s/early 90s).

Burton was selected in the 1st round (5th overall) by the Red Sox in 1971. After several years of pitching woes (rampant wildness) and back problems, he finally broke into the big leagues in 1975, a big year for the Red Sox, it was the year of the epic Red Sox vs Reds World Series.

Burton had a successful season with the Red Sox.  In 29 appearances (4 starts), he went 1-2 with a 2.89 and a save.  His bad luck began in the World Series.  In game 3 at Riverfront stadium in Cinncy, Burton lasted only 1/3 of an inning with a walk.  Game 7 was worse.  Jim would be tagged with the loss in the ninth after walking Griffey, getting 2 outs, then giving up the winning run on a Joe Morgan single.  A walk later and he was yanked.  Many Boston fans blamed him (or manager Daryll Johnson for putting him in) for the loss of the series.

Burton was interviewed many years later for the book “Boys of October” by Doug Hornigs:

“Yeah.  You know, over the years Morgan has always given me credit for making a good pitch in that situation […] Which doesn’t change the outcome, unfortunately.  But I threw that pitch because the one before it, which was an inside fastball he fouled off.  I was surprised at how fast he came around on an inside pitch like that, and I decided I better not try it again.  Fisk came out.  We discussed it and decided on the slider.”

“That’s what it was.  I wound up and threw it exactly where I wanted it, as hard as I could throw one.  My slider wasn’t a tight one; it was more like a ‘slurve’ that started in close to a left-hander and broke a lot, away from him.  That’s what that pitch did. It fooled Morgan, and you can see him start to bail out at first.”

You can, but but it’s not by much.  And his recovery is amazingly fast.

“Then he kind of threw the bat at the ball.”  Just trying to foul it off?  “Maybe.  But he got the end of the bat on it and blooped the fly to center.  I turned, and the first thing I saw was Freddie Lynn going back a step or two.  And I thought, ‘Oh, no.’  I knew Morgan hadn’t hit it solid.  I could see Freddie had no play.”

Burton spent the next year at AAA Pawtucket trying to regain his confidence.  He eventually made it back into the MLB for one game in 1978.  He threw 2.2 innings giving up a hit, a walk, and striking out three.  He would spend the next season in the Mets minor league before heading back to his native Michigan to begin life after baseball. After trying a few different jobs in Michigan, he opened his own printing shop.  The job eventually took him to Charlotte, NC, where he still lives today.

A special thanks to the The Baseball Biography Project for so much great information.

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