Ex-Sox starter Burns happy to be teaching Marlins' young pitchers.(Sports)
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
May 19, 1998 | Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Britt Burns can teach young pitchers in the Florida Marlins' organization every aspect of their trade.
As Florida's minor-league pitching coordinator, the 6-foot-5 former White Sox starter can tell them what to throw and when, how to stay focused, how to work between starts, how to recover after one.
Burns knows what they're going through now, during the daily grind that is player development, and what they'll face if and when they reach the major leagues.
Great. A lot of former major-league hurlers are pitching coaches. What makes the left-handed Alabaman so special? A cruel twist of fate.
In 1985, Burns went 18-11. He'll never know what that promise might have lead to.
The White Sox traded Burns to the Yankees in the off-season, but degenerative hip disease forced him to retire. At age 26.
"There's still nothing wrong with my arm," Burns said last week during a week-long visit with the Kane County Cougars, one of Florida's Class A affiliates.
"Other than it's a 38-year-old arm."
Burns' unique message, delivered in a drawl which hasn't lost its edge during his time in Chicago, Colorado and Maine, is this:
"Take advantage of what you've got. Tomorrow's not promised when you're an athlete. I was the same way. You take it for granted, you can't think long-term when you're a kid. They're caught up in today. They don't think that much about tomorrow until it gets here."
Burns was a classic phenom: he debuted with the Sox when he was 19, and two years later won Sporting News' Rookie Pitcher of the Year honor with a 15-13 mark.
He went 10-6 and earned an all-star berth in 1981, and was 13-5 in 1982.
Burns slipped to 10-11 in 1983, but will be remembered by many as the pitcher who shut out Baltimore for 9 1/3 innings in the fourth game of the 1983 American League Championship Series.
Or Burns will be remembered by many as the pitcher who gave up a 10th-inning home run to Tito Landrum in that game, which Baltimore won 3-0 to advance to the World Series.
Either way, Burns said he remembers the Sox fans.
"They were good to me when I wasn't doing so good." Burns said. "I'll always remember that."
Whether it's the effect of time or just his way, Burns isn't bitter about his career's end. He finished at 70-60, with a 3.66 ERA.
"It was a tough transition," he said as the familiar This Week In Baseball theme blared from a press-box TV. "I was only 26, 27, and just really started to mature as a big-league pitcher.
"Gone through some success, some failure, and back to success, and felt like I'd come full circle and was ready to be a consistent big-league pitcher.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity that I had, and I had some success, but I would like to have found out what I could have done if I'd had three or four or five more years to compete."
Burns, who had signed with the Sox out of high school, got into a guide-and-outfitting business in Colorado for a few years, then tried a comeback.
He didn't succeed, but he did discover a knack for giving advice.
"I found myself 10 years older than some guys at the Triple-A level, and they still remembered my career, and were picking my brain," he said. "I found myself enjoying giving it back, you know, teaching.
"Baseball was all I'd known, all I'd done. I just wasn't comfortable outside of baseball."
This is his sixth year with the Marlins, whose minor-league chief is John Boles. This season, Boles promoted Burns from his role as the pitching coach at Class AA Portland (Maine).
Boles managed in the White Sox system in the early 1980s, and recalls Burns' easygoing manner.
He says Burns fits into an organization that prizes communication above all else, especially when dealing with the fragile psyches of young pitchers.
"He's more of a big brother," Boles said. "He's got a very comforting way of speaking. He's got a great demeanor."
Aaron Akin, Florida's No. 1 pick in last year's draft and currently a Cougar, can see that though he has known Burns only since spring training.
"He's one of those guys, he'll always back you if you're working hard and doing what you need to do," the 20-year-old said. "Half the time he doesn't even say much.
"It's just his presence - you know if you're doing good, you know if you're doing bad. He doesn't even have to say much to get that point across."
Burns' point is this: appreciate what you've got, don't look back and do what you love.
"A man has to have something to do that he enjoys doing," Burns said. "So I got back into ball. It's been fantastic."
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