Catching up with Britt Burns

TROY, N.Y. — When the White Sox fell to 16-24 with a 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, many people pointed out — most with tongue planted firmly in cheek — that they were merely following the gameplan of the 1983 White Sox, who recovered from the early struggles by “Winning Ugly,” winning 99 games and winning the AL West.

A good rule of thumb: If you're ever a Diamond King, you've had yourself a career.
The 2010 White Sox may have fallen further, but they’re still on pace.  The “Winning Ugly” team crossed .500 for the final time at 34-34, which the White Sox did by beating John Lannan and the Washington Nationals two Sundays ago.
On Saturday, I had an opportunity to talk to a member of the ’83 Sox.  Britt Burns, who serves as the Houston Astros’ minor-league pitching coordinator, was in town to work with the Tri-City ValleyCats’ pitching staff.
While Burns was the only member of the rotation with a below-.500 record (10-11), he turned in an incredible, notorious pitching performance in Game 4 of the ALCS.  Burns tossed nine shutout innings before Baltimore’s Tito Landrum cracked him with a solo shot in the 10th.
Talking to Burns about how the 1983 team was able to dust itself off and finish the season with a 43-13 tear, he touched upon one key difference between his Sox and this year’s version.  At the time of “Winning Ugly,” the Sox hadn’t won a pennant in 34 years.  Expectations were muted as they gradually climbed toward respectability.  The 1983 campaign was a culmination of that progress.
“We didn’t even really think about [the slow start],” Burns said. “We collectively, as a group, hadn’t been there before, so we didn’t really have a whole lot of expectation, other than we knew we had a chance to do something.  We all looked around and said, ‘Hey, this is a pretty good team. If this, this and that come together…’
“Once we did start getting on a roll and start hitting on all cylinders, we saw how were matching up against the other teams in the division … obviously, we started feeling pretty good about it.”
This, this, that and everything else came together for that team, winning 99 games with perfect balance.  They finished first in runs scored and third in ERA, and Burns said starting pitching drove the Sox towards their 46-15 finish to the regular season.  He singled out Floyd Bannister and Richard Dotson, who posted a combined record of 27-3 with a 2.24 ERA in the second half.  And then there was the Sox pitcher who actually did win the Cy Young, Lamarr Hoyt.
“I didn’t get on track until September,” Burns said.

Hip pain too much to bear

Inconsistency plagued the second half of Burns’ Sox career, alternating brilliant starts with compete flops.  He finally put it together in 1985, leading the Sox with 18 wins, exceeding 200 innings for only the second time in his career, and finishing seventh in the AL Cy Young voting.
He wouldn’t have a chance at an encore.  The hip that had troubled Burns since childhood turned arthritic.
“In my last start, I had that sick feeling in my stomach that I was probably done.”
That Burns’ hip could end his career was no secret.  Shortly after the 1985 season, a story ran in the Chicago Tribune with the headline:

BURNS SAYS HIP THREAT TO CAREER

Yet the New York Yankees were still interested in his services.  In maybe his one good move, then-GM Hawk Harrelson sent Burns to the Bronx, with the Sox receiving Ron Hassey and Joe Cowley in a five-player trade.  The Yankees planned to use Burns as a No. 2 pitcher, but despite changing his delivery to alleviate stress on his hip, he couldn’t continue.
The Yankees were aware of the hip issue (how couldn’t they be?), but not the extent of it.
“They knew about some of it; I don’t know if there was a degenerative arthritis … I don’t know if they had a precedent to go on.  They didn’t know, and I didn’t know if I would heal from it … if I had one year left in me or whatever.”
I asked if the Yankees put him through a physical or ran other tests.
“No, they didn’t at that time. I’d heard there was disclosure; what that amounted to back then, I have no idea.”

The power of Herm

For the last few decades, the Sox have played the injury game as well as anybody.  They’ve shown a knack for knowing when to hold and fold players, and prevent and manage injuries with the ones they keep around.
Twenty-five years after Burns was traded, some teams still aren’t particularly diligent when it comes to trying before they buy.  The Sox picked up J.J. Putz on the cheap after a down year depressed his value.  He had bone chips in his elbow, but he says the Mets didn’t give him a physical.
Likewise, they picked up Freddy Garcia off the scrap heap and built up his shoulder strength after three other clubs ditched him.
Garcia wasn’t shown the same kind of attention when the Phillies took him off the White Sox’s hands for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez.  They ignored the declining velocity and watched it turn into a shoulder that required surgery.  The same happened six years before when Toronto failed to give Mike Sirotka a physical before finalizing the David Wells trade.
Herm Schneider is at the center of it, and Burns spend plenty of time with him.
“Herm took very good care of me, as he did everybody,” Burns said.
“Back then, he was the guy who left no stone unturned to get the answers.  I remember a specific incident with Rich Dotson, couldn’t seem to find the root of some shoulder stuff, and they ended up doing a procedure I don’t think anybody had heard of. Herm kept digging until he found an answer, and ‘Dot’ went on for a few years after that.  He might have been done with another organization.”
Burns commended Schneider for managing the hip issue.
“I found out later that they could see the arthritic changes occurring,” Burns said.  The only thing the Sox — or Yankees — didn’t know is how much pain it would cause Burns.  His hip told him when to hang it up.

White Sox connections

Burns says he keeps an eye on what the Sox are doing throughout the season (he asked me what the deal was between Williams and Ozzie Guillen).  He also gets the alumni newsletter and keeps in touch with a number of former teammates.
White Sox connections have served him well through his post-playing career.
“It’s funny that a lot of my employment has been with former Sox people,” Burns said. Dave Dombrowski, who served as assistant GM to Roland Hemond before Harrelson fired him in 1986, in particular, has sought out Burns’ services, hiring him to work with minor-league pitchers with both the Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers.
Burns has also had casual discussions in the past with Jerry Reinsdorf about potentially working with the club, but nothing serious has materialized.
“In general terms, it would be nice if it all worked out, and that entails a lot of variables,” Burns said.  “I think it would be interesting someday, and I would certainly welcome the opportunity.”
**************************
The kind of balance the 1983 team boasted has eluded the 2010 White Sox, as their return to American League play indicates that they’re still at least one bat short.
Joe Cowley (the writer, not the aforementioned pitcher) says Kenny Williams is trying to make it happen:

According to multiple sources, Williams has been acting on his list in the last week, specifically targeting the Washington Nationals’ Adam Dunn.
“Names have been talked about by both sides,” one source said. “[Williams] might want to act quickly, though.” […] But Williams is working against the Los Angeles Angels, who are starting to turn up their efforts to acquire Dunn. And most of the Sox’ highly regarded pitching prospects were dealt in previous trades to acquire Jake Peavy and Juan Pierre.

**************************
Minor league roundup:

  • Charlotte 13, Buffalo 12
    • Alejandro De Aza and Buck Coats each went 5-for-6. De Aza doubled twice and drove in four; Coats one and five.
    • Brent Morel went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a sac bunt.
    • Tyler Flowers went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts.
    • Jordan Danks singled twice, walked once and struck out once over five at-bats.
  • Mississippi 5, Birmingham 3
    • C.J. Retherford hit a solo shot, walked and struck out over four trips to the plate.
    • Christian Marrero went 0-for-3 with a walk.
  • Salem 12, Winston-Salem 1
    • Brandon Short went 1-for-4 with a double.
    • Jon Gilmore went 1-for-4 with an RBI and two strikeouts.
    • Josh Phegley went 1-for-4 with a strikeout in his return to High-A.
    • Kyle Bellamy threw two scoreless innings, with a hit, walk and a strikeout.
  • Augusta 13, Kannapolis 9 (10 innings)
    • Kyle Colligan went 3-for-5 with a solo homer in his return to the lineup.
    • NIck Ciolli (2-for-5) and Brady SHoemaker (1-for-4, walk) each drove in three.
  • Johnson City 6, Bristol 4
    • Rangel Ravelo went 1-for-4 with a strikeout.
    • Dan Black had two singles and two RBI in four ABs.
    • Matthew Heidenreich allowed six runs on nine hits and a walk over 4 1/3 innings, with one walk and three strikeouts.
  • Missoula 10, Great Falls 3
    • Thomas Royse had a rougher time in his second outing: 3 1/3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K.
    • Juan Silverio went 1-for-3 with an RBI.
Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

Articles: 3792
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
jasonc23

Fantastic, Jim. Thanks for this.

knoxfire30

any idea of a sox package for dunn? he could be a Type A free agent so the nats are gonna hold out for a minimum of two top prospects
i would be pushing jordan danks as I have consistently always thought he would never make it as a solid regular but his triple A season so far has alerted a lot of people to that

soxfan1

Kenny, please hold onto Brent Morel. I see him at 3B in Chicago after Teahen flops in his second half return later this year. I’d hate to see Daniel Hudson & Carlos Torres traded, but I would consider it if Dunn would agree to an extension with the Sox.

bigfun

I’d want the opposite if they acquired Dunn. Those Type A picks would help this club more than another veteran with his best years behind him. There will be bargain DHs again this offseason just like there were last offseason, so there’s no need to lock in a guy like Dunn.

blah

To be fair to Dunn, he has never been better than this year and last year. His bat would play real real well in the Cell.

bigfun

Never been better by what measure? 2009-2010 doesn’t really stand out by wOBA, OPS, WAR, etc. 2004 was clearly his best year, but it was only a bit better than what he’s pretty much done every year.
Dunn’s a good player and a good fit for the Sox, I just think considering the market for DH types over the past two winters, the Sox can find a better bargain.
Anyway I don’t think the Nationals will give him up for less than Hudson + somebody pretty good in the low minors, so I don’t think it will happen. Unless the Angels bowl them over the Nats will probably keep him all year and take the draft picks.

blah

I was looking at traditional batting lines. But his wOBA .393 is still really good
He does make a lot for a guy who can do nothing but hit. Though competition for his services would probably drive his price up.
The nice thing about Dunn is that even if his BA goes down, he can compensate by raising his walk % to it’s usual 15-17%.
Bottom line, I like Dunn and ZiPS likes him too. He might not be the same as in ’04, but his more along his traditional lines anyway. What I don’t want is to lose valuable trade chips for 3 months of Dunn though, because bigfun is right, there will plenty of opportunities to get someone in the offseason who can do more or less the same thing.

Shinons

I just think it was really inconsiderate of the Padres to not suck and keep Gonzalez off the market…

ricksch

Sox can not give much away for Dunn, simply because they don’t have much to give. Hudson is off limits unless it’s one up for Adrian Gonzalez. I’d love to get Kotsay out of the line-up (and off the team) immediately, but let’s make the smart deal with a team looking to shed salary. If Dunn’s price is two top prospects, forget it.
How about bringing up De Aza and sending down Jones or Randy? Randy is a wasted roster spot. Jones can still field, but he looks consistently overmmatched at the plate. This is jerk-ass speculation but doesn’t Jones fit the profile of a former juicer? Even though he came into camp in the best shape in the last few years, he’s unable to maintain any presence at the plate.
Need a victory tonight to keep the doubts about the validity of the win streak at bay.

bigfun

I guess it could be steroids. Occam’s razor, he could just be suffering the sort of decline that’s pretty common in outfielders at that age.
And do you mean Hudson for Gonzalez, one-for-one? Because that’s not even remotely close to what Gonzalez is worth. It would be Hudson and Flowers, at the very minimum, to get Gonzalez.

bigfun

And Randy is going to have to be sent down anyway when Jenks comes back, so his roster spot isn’t available. And I doubt Ozzie would be willing to go with six relievers anyway.

blah

I assume 14 years in the bigs would leave Jones with no options left

ricksch

In practice, Ozzie went with five relievers through the entire win streak as Linestink has shown he can be dangerous even in a mop-up role. Anyhow, you can send down pinch-runner Lillibridge for De Aza if that makes more sense to you. There is little or no chance Lillibridge can get on base on his own and we already have several of those types of “hitters” on the roster.
Jones is now 33. He was 30 when he went off the cliff. “that age”. Is 33 “that age?” The fact that Jones has been in pro ball for 14 years might make some sense out of your argument. But 33 can just as often be on or around a player’s peak. My point with Jones is that his precipitous fall at a relatively young age (30) mirrors that of several known juicers.
As usual though, you either seize upon the wrong meaning, nitpick on some meaningless tangent of the argument or try to shit all over people for speculating, even as they openly suggest that’s all they’re doing. I guess I should just leave all the shitbird opinions to you, huh?

fustercluck

well said, jerk-ass

blah

The “nitpick or trying to shit” on you isn’t personal. Your opinion is wrong and it is our duty as anonymous internet contributors to shame, embarrass or insult you towards our own enlightened opinion.
If you have an issue with the way in which strangers on the internet, whom you will never meet, disagree with you and use sarcasm, then you only have two options;
1) Be more clear about what you mean.
2) Tell your mom.
I don’t really have the mom option she hates baseball. But she loves to hear about my day. And Battlestar Galactica