Todd Burns 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day For August 15, 2017

IMG_1686I may have mentioned this in one of my previous Card of the Day posts. Forgive me, I have written hundreds of them so far, so a detail or two might have slipped through the cracks. But during the post season, I keep track of which players have played and which players haven’t.

I guess it stems from my own lack of playing time in high school that I want everyone to get it. I personally find it sad if someone plays for a team in the World Series and you see their entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia or and see no games played in the post season.

There is a little thrill I get when the last player on the bench or in the bullpen get into the game. There was a moment in the 1988 World Series where Tony LaRussa thought similar to me regarding getting the players in. And that moment turned out to be the last observation one of the great voices in baseball history made in a World Series telecast. And it involved Todd Burns.

The 1988 A’s had an embarrassment of riches. They had a deep outfield, more infielders than they can start, their bullpen was legendary and the rotation, led by Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, was solid.

On June 18, the A’s were 42-34, already 5 games ahead of the defending World Champion Twins and 11 ahead of the Rangers, who were coming into Oakland.

That day, the A’s had recalled Todd Burns from Triple A. The former 7th round pick from Oral Roberts University had made one relief appearance earlier in the year and was basically an unknown quantity for a spot start.

He went 8 innings against a solid hitting Rangers team, allowing 1 run. He didn’t get the decision as the game went into extra innings. (Gene Nelson, who I wrote about a few days ago threw 3 1/3 shutout innings for the walk off win.) But it was quite an impression for Burns.

His next appearance he threw 10 innings. Once again did not get the decision but set up another walk off win.

A week later, after getting no decisions on extra inning wins, karma helped him. HE came into a game in the 12th, threw 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief and got the win.

July also saw him threw a complete game victory against Cleveland followed up by a 7 inning scoreless start for another win over the Tigers.

By August 12, he was 5-0 with a solid 2.71 ERA. The deep A’s had stumbled across an innings eating stud who could do it all. He followed up a September 15 complete game win with a September 23rd save.

As the A’s swept my Red Sox in the ALCS, Burns didn’t get into a game. LaRussa opted to start Dave Stewart twice, Storm Davis once and Bob Welch once. Hard to argue with the results.

His fate was similar in the stunning World Series against the Dodgers. If any game looked like a possibility for him to get in, it would have been game 2. Storm Davis was hit hard and lifted in the 4th. But Gene Nelson, Curt Young, Eric Plunk and Rick Honeycutt got the call, not Burns.

As the A’s were losing Game 5, Hershiser was dominating and it was clear one of the biggest upsets in baseball history was about to be complete, Eric Plunk was pitching in the top of the 9th and Oakland was down 5-2.

With 2 outs and nobody on and light hitting Alfredo Griffin coming to the plate, LaRussa went to the pen. Todd Burns came in to face Griffin.

It was clear that it would be the only chance for Burns to pitch in the 1988 World Series and who knows? Maybe would be his lone chance in his career. He had been a valuable pitcher for the second half of the year and now he got to at least be in a box score.

I remember watching that game and putting a check mark next to Burns. I hated that A’s team. They beat my Red Sox. But I was thrilled for Burns.

Griffin grounded out and the A’s went quietly in the 9th and the Dodgers were champs.

As announcers Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola were signing off, they were making their final thoughts.

The combination of Scully and Garagiola was in retrospect a great one. But at the time I found Scully to be grating. Mainly because his voice reminded me of the 1986 World Series.

Garagiola was leaving NBC. (Was he being pushed out? Remember this was the same time they were trying to get rid of Johnny Carson. Out with the old in with the new.)

As he said good bye, he made time in his final sentence to make an observation. It wasn’t about Kirk Gibson’s homer in Game 1 still fresh in everyone’s mind. It wasn’t about the masterful performance by Hershiser.

He brought up LaRussa’s “touch of class” for bringing Todd Burns into the game in the 9th.

Joe got it. He always did.

Well LaRussa’s fears of Burns not getting into another World Series game were unfounded. He pitched in the 1989 and 1990 World Series with the A’s, earning a ring in the Earthquake Series.

With the addition of Mike Moore in 1989, Burns was no longer needed in the rotation so be became an effective long reliever and picked up 8 saves when Eckersley was hurt for a stretch in 1989.

In the end, Burns made 5 World Series appearance. Oddly never once appeared in the ALCS. But appearing in the World Series is cooler.

TODD BURNS – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero for October 28



OCTOBER 28, 1989 – World Series Game 4

The Bay Area had been wanting to see an Oakland A’s versus San Francisco Giants World Series since the Athletics arrived in the East Bay in 1968. When they finally faced off in 1989, the region was buzzing. I was a senior in High School living in Palo Alto and witnessed the palpable excitement for the match up nicknamed “The Bay Bridge Series.”

Little did any of us know that the Bay Bridge would become the symbol of the 1989 World Series for reasons nobody wanted. The earthquake hit the region moments before the first pitch of Game 3. By the time the World Series resumed 10 days later, there was little enthusiasm for it and virtually compelling or exciting played on the field.

The one time the Giants put up a fight against the mighty A’s, relatively unknown reliever Todd Burns put an end to it.

The series began in Oakland where Dave Stewart tossed a complete game in Game 1. Mike Moore was solid in Game 2 and the A’s held the mighty Giants attack to a single run.

When the series crossed the Bay Bridge to Candlestick Park, the Giants had their best shot to tie the series. Bob Welch and Storm Davis could be hit and there was no way Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell and company could be shutout for much longer.

But the earthquake wiped out the third game and destroyed the upper level of the Bay Bridge. 10 days later play resumed. Dave Stewart pitched game 3 and once again beat the Giants.

Game 4 seemed like the joyless grind to the inevitable. The A’s hadn’t trailed for a single inning and when Rickey Henderson led off the game with a homer, the whole affair felt like a formality.

San Francisco starter Don Robinson got shelled. Reliever Mike LaCoss did not fare much better. By the 6th, the A’s were up 8-0 and the Giants were not even putting up a fight in their first World Series appearance since 1962.

In the 6th, however, the Giants got off of the matt. Kevin Mitchell homered off of Mike Moore. Then in the 7th, San Francisco’s long dormant offense woke up. With Mike Moore out of the game, the usually steady Oakland bullpen became vulnerable. Greg Litton smacked a 2 run homer. Candy Maldonado then tripled. Brett Butler doubled and Robby Thompson singled him home.

Suddenly the tying run was at the plate in the form of Will Clark. While a Giants comeback in the series might have been far fetched, the possibility of the A’s blowing an 8-0 lead was very real.

And with Welch and Davis scheduled to pitch a potential Games 5 and 6, the Giants making the series competitive was stirring in the imagination of the fans at the Stick.

Rick Honeycutt got Will Clark out, but up stepped Kevin Mitchell, the man who would go on to win the 1989 NL MVP.

Oakland A’s manager Tony LaRussa was not about to bring in closer Dennis Eckersley in the 7th. So he turned to Todd Burns.

The 25 year old reliever and spot starter did a little bit of everything for LaRussa. This point he was asked to stuff out any potential San Francisco spark.

With the count 2-2, Mitchell hit a deep drive that for a moment looked like it was about to tie the game. But Rickey Henderson camped right in front of the wall and the rally was stopped.

After the A’s picked up an insurance run in the 8th, Burns came out and threw a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 8th. Burns did not get the honor of closing out the series. Eckersley pitches a scoreless 9th and the A’s won their title with a muted celebration.

But Game 4 had the lone moment of drama. It was a glimmer of hope that was stopped short, not by one of the team’s many Cy Young contenders but by a pitching Jack of all Trades. That makes Todd Burns the unsung post season hero of October 28.


Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – January 18, 2014

Photo: Focus On Sport, File Photos

Photo: Focus On Sport, File Photos

Rewatching Game 4 of the 1989 World Series made me realize how influential Tony LaRussa was.

Whether it was the bullpen, the steroid era or waiver wire deals, LaRussa’s paths can be felt to this very day.

Sounds like a topic for The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast to me!

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – January 18, 2014