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.
Bill Freehan is arguably the greatest catcher Michigan has ever had. Freehan came to Michigan in 1959, choosing the Maize and Blue over then baseball power Western Michigan because UM also offered him a football scholarship. Freehan had actually wanted to go to Notre Dame, but they too wouldn't allow him to be a two sport athlete.
It worked out well for Freehan and Michigan. His sophomore season saw Michigan win the College World Series over Santa Barbara University. In his junior campaign ('61), Freehan hit for a .585 average, which is still the BigTen record for a season. It's such a ridiculous record that the closest anyone has ever gotten was Randy Wolfe (UM '85) at .514. Three other players have finished with .500 averages (including Scott Weaver, UM '95 and Scott Erdmann, UM '85).
I think its safe to assume Freehan's record will probably stay intact for a long, long time. Bill lead the league that year with 18 RBIs as well, winning him All-BigTen honors. That season is the origin of the University of Michigan Bill Freehan Award, given to the team's top hitter each season. One of his mother's favorite facts about Bill was he once caught a triple header against rivals Michigan State. He caught the morning, afternoon, and evening game, but still had the energy to go dancing that night.
That season brought all the teams calling to Bill's father's front door. This being the pre-draft era, teams lined up at the front door and offered signing bonuses of unreal magnitude in the 60s. Bill claimed offers up to $150,000 dollars just to sign with a team. To put that in prospective, minor leaguers only made about $6,000 a year salary. Bill ended up signing with the Tigers, but he did managed to earn his degree from UM by taking classes in the fall. Bill's father made sure the education was the first thing on his son's mind (from a Baseball Digest Interview):
"The deal with my father was I would never see a dime of my bonus money until I got my college degree. That forced me to live in the YMCA with the rest of the guys and live off the meal money they paid all of us. That was motivational."
Now if that was only the case for today's athletes? Freehan went on to play with the Tigers, getting called up almost immediately. He spent the pennant stretch of September that year getting a chance to pinch run or hit here or there. The Tigers were in a battle with the Yankees (this was the season of 61 homers for Maris and 54 for Mantle) for the AL East championship and the management was in no rush to throw a kid out into the fire too soon. Freehan was sent back down to start the '62 season, but was named the Tigers starter in '63. Did he ever start the season hot. During one stretch of fifteen plate appearances, he went 9/9 with 3 homers,a triple, 3 doubles, 2 singles, and a 3 set of walks. While that pace certainly didn't last, but he did solidify his place in Detroit's lineup.
Bill would spend the next 13 seasons as the Tigers' backstop. He made 11 all start teams and won the World Series of 1968. The pitching staff in his early career were all young guys, but all raved about how Freehan gave the them confidence. He called a great game. He was the team leader and the team - the city - knew it. Freehan would go on to play with the Tigers through the 1976 season, posting a career .261 batting average and 200 home runs.
While still playing, Bill would release a book, Behind the mask: An inside baseball diary, offering an in depth look at baseball players lives. Fans didn't like to think about the players in the way he wrote about them and booed Freehan for a few months, but Bill silenced them by having a great 1971.
He would then start working at his own manufacturer's representative agency, acting as a salesman. He took on a new job in 1990, the head coach of the University of Michigan baseball team. He returned to Ann Arbor just as the program was entering probation for NCAA violations under coach Bud Middaugh. The school had banned all scholarships for 2 years, post season play for 3 years, and off campus recruiting for the next school year. The program was crippled.
When I took this job, I was advised to expect the worst, andc this is the worst. I was looking to get in heaven or hell, and I am in hell. At least I'm not in limbo." -Bill Freehan, via Spokane Chronicle February 20, 1990.
Bo chose Freehan for his phenomenal character and hard work to replace Middaugh, and Freehan did fairly well in his first few years given the restrictions. He stayed on at Michigan through the '95 season when the team fell far short of expectations. Despite being picked to finish as high as 2nd in the BigTen, the team finished dead last. Freehan retired with a record of 166-167-1, the first ever Michigan coach to leave with a losing record. Along with this last place finish came the suspicion of more NCAA infractions. Freehan was accused of giving players free pizza as a reward and offering use of his sports car for exceptional performances. Freehan denied the rumor about the sports car (that it was just a joke), but did admit there might have been minor infractions here or there - nothing serious - and that pizza was occasionally provided for the team.
Since then, Bill has also worked with the Tigers organization as a catching instructor from 2002-2005. He now is retired and living in the southern suburbs of Detroit.
Bill Freehan at The Baseball Biography Project
Adam is a very gritty player with great speed and some pop in his bat […] He is a very competitive athlete and we are excited to have him join our family and compete with us.
That's Michigan coach Rich Maloney informing us of a new baseball recruit, Adam Robinson; let the never ending comparisons to David Eckstein begin. GRRIIIITTT.
Jokes aside, Robinson, a left fielder and leadoff hitter for Glenbrook North in
GlenNorthbrook, IL is a very solid pick up for the Wolverines. He's entering his 3rd year on the varsity team on a very good program in the state of Illinois. Last season, his team made it all the way to the 4A Regional Championship.
As far as the scouts are concerned, Prep Baseball Report does it best in Illinois, listing him first in their 2010 top prospects from the state:
A top-level athlete, Robinson is clearly one of the quickest prospects in the Class of 2010. Physically strong and compact, Robinson ran an event-best 6.76 60 and a 4.32 home-to-first time from the right side. At the plate, Robinson has gap-to-gap power, extremely quick hands and a compact swing. His athleticism translates well in the outfield as well, as he moves fluidly and takes excellent routs to the baseball.
Adam has approximately 40 steals in two seasons, which translates to about 1 per game. That's more impressive than it sounds. That speed and athleticism have him as a two sport athlete as he also is the starting running back for the football team, pictured below.
"We've had 25 kids get drafted over the past six years, and we pride ourselves on giving kids an opportunity to play at the next level," said Top Tier 17-U American coach Todd Fine. "But from a team standpoint, the CABA World Series title was the biggest win in the history of the program."
That sounds promising. As far as early playing time, I don't think Robinson makes the starting lineup too quickly. We'll first have to see how much longer Ryan LaMarre is still on campus before we can start projecting the outfield two years down the road.
This makes 5 in the recruiting class already for Coach Maloney. I reviewed the other four early signings previously. The class has two outfielders, so I doubt we see too many more. By the time we get the full list of enrollees, I imagine we'll see a couple more pitchers and another corner infielder.
Good news came out of Indianapolis today as the NCAA will host two votes during their business sessions next week. Both votes are proposed overrides of votes that did not pass during their previous voting in August. The first is non-consequential for Michigan, but a collection of schools is still trying to get sand volleyball instated as a NCAA recognized sport.
The second override is a bigger issue and one that the University of Michigan is directly lobbying for, a change in the baseball schedule. Last year was the first attempt at the NCAA to have a universal starting date across all teams. The season was compacted to 13 weeks, with each team unable to play games until the last weekend of February. This was meant to give a fairer balance between southern and western schools who would start hosting games as early as January and northern schools who couldn't afford several road trips and couldn't host games (and still can't host games for the most part) until mid March.
The 13 week schedule did provide a bit more balance between teams, leading to a few more upsets from northern schools, but many of these were for the wrong reason. Packing 56 games into a 13 week period isn't easy. Teams, including baseball rich southern programs, had trouble finding enough pitching on their rosters to handle the rigorous schedule. With only 11.7 scholarships available, it's hard to get a pitching staff of more than 7-8 quality pitchers.
On top of this, baseball players were also missing quite a bit more class. The compacted schedule lead to many more midweek games. This involved more travel during the class week, and a strain on students' academics.
To fix these problems, the NCAA voted to add a 14th week to the season. There was a debate over where to add the week from the beginning. Southern power schools wanted the games added to the beginning of the season in February. Northern schools wanted the week added to the end of the season when academics wouldn't be affected, and so that they could play more home games and save on travel costs (both academic and financial).
In the end, the southern powers won. This season will start a week earlier, pushing the what-was season opening Big East-Big Ten Challenge into week two and leaving many northern schools scrambling to schedule trips to the south in February. Most schools that is.
The January 15th vote will need a 5/8th majority in order to override the rule. From the NCAA:
The Championships/Sport Management Cabinet opposed the legislation because it detracted from the competitive equity between northern and southern institutions.
The institutions that requested the override are all located in the North, including all 11 institutions in the Big Ten Conference. The institutions cited concerns about having to travel South to begin their seasons and incurring increased expenses for the programs and additional missed class time for student-athletes.
Many of the institutions calling for the override indicated they would an additional week at the end of the season, when spring classes are complete for many student-athletes.
The Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is split on the issue. Some members agree that the weather could put Northern schools at a disadvantage, but others believe that spreading the same number of contests over a shorter time (13 weeks) would likely mean more midweek contests and more missed class time. Others noted that a longer season, potentially including more travel, could take a physical toll on student-athletes. The SAAC will revisit the issue at its meeting next week before the override vote.
I find it weird that the SAAC is talking as if it a week at the front of the season or no week added at all. The statement about adding a week adding a physical toll on students also seems like a loaded statement. The southern schools have long had seasons over 14 weeks long and is it better to have students traveling more in a shorter period and missing classes than it is adding one extra weekend? I can't see that argument standing up so well.
It's only 48 days until the baseball season kicks off. I have about 10 posts about Michigan baseball alumni or events of various importance that I've had stored away for a while, and thought that I would share this off season. I previously released one of these on my own site, A Tragedy: Steve Howe. I'll start the mgoblog series with perhaps the greatest Wolverine, George Sisler.
Probably the most successful professional player ever to hail from Michigan, George Sisler was a do it all kind of player. The hard throwing lefty pitched plenty for the Wolverines, but also kept up a batting average around .445. Sisler chose Michigan almost on a whim; his parents had demanded he put off his big league aspirations for a while and get a college education. Bypassing the two primary teams recruiting him (Western Reserve and Penn), George came to Michigan following his high school catcher Russ Baer.
While at Michigan, Sisler played for the first-year engineering school team as a freshman in the intramural league. At the time, freshmen couldn't play for the varsity squad. His MVP performance over the juniors of the law school in the championship was enough to catch the eye of Professional&College Hall of Fame coach Branch Rickey. Sisler became an immediate starter in his sophomore season of 1913. The 1913 season was a big break through for the Wolverines who posted a 21-4-1 record, their first 20 win season in history. Sisler was a big part of that, both pitching and playing the field. While overall stats aren't easily available (yet), the one game that stood out in Sisler's career at Michigan was the 1915 start against the Michigan Agricultural College Aggies (now MSU Spartans). Sisler threw a complete game 2 hitter. He struck out 10 batters that day, but also went 4 for 5 with a pair of triples, 2 steals, 3 runs, and 5 fielding assists (one started a double play). How's that for domination? Sisler would finish the year with a .445 batting average and win All-American honors for his pitching and outfield play.
In 1914, Sisler battled some arm trouble but still managed a batting average around .500. After seeing a doctor about the arm in the off season, Sisler returned for the 1915 season and was an All-American again. By this time, he had earned his degree and was ready for the big leagues. After some battles in court over an illegal contract he signed as a minor, former Michigan coach Branch Rickey helped Sisler put the lawsuit to rest and sign Sisler as a free agent. Rickey was then with the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals) baseball club of the American League. Sisler left Ann Arbor and was pitching for St. Louis that summer, throwing 6 complete games in 8 starts. Sisler also started playing first base and the outfield during his days off from pitching, hitting a modest .285 for the season, a career low for a full season.
As the years went by, Sisler pitched less and less due to his value at the plate. He became the full time first baseman for the Browns in 1916 and became know as "the next Ty Cobb." He didn't disappoint either. In 1920, he won the batting title with a .407 average with a record setting 257 hits in a season. That record stood until 2004 when Ichiro finally broke it (they only played 154 games in Sisler's time, but Ichiro had 162 games to break the record). Sisler also had a career high 122 RBIs that season. Sisler won the first ever AL MVP award for his 1922 season, batting .420 with 105 RBIs. His hitting streak of 41 games was a record (not broken until Joe DiMaggio overtook him in 1941), and his 51 stolen bases were a career high.
Sisler would miss the 1923 season in its entirety due to a massive sinus infection that plagued him with severe headaches and double vision. Upon his return in 1924, Sisler never had that same edge he had before the infection. Before, he could place a hit anywhere he wanted. Afterward, he still hit for a good average (.290-.340), but never at the near .400 levels he was accustomed to. Sisler also took over managerial duties for the Browns. That job didn't last too long, ending in 1926. Sisler admitted he never felt that he was ready to take over as a manager.
Sisler was traded to the Washington Senators (who would become the Minnesota Twins) in 1928, but would only be there a few weeks before being traded to the Boston Braves (to become the Milwaukee then Atlanta Braves). Sisler did well with his first year with the Braves, but tailed off the following two seasons before being demoted to the minors. He played a season with Rochester in the International League and one with Shreveport-Tyler in the Texas League. He would retire from the game in 1932.
After retiring, Sisler opened a sporting good store and started the American Softball Association (the biggest name in softball today). Sisler engineered the first lighted softball field, leading to an explosion in the sport in the 1930s. In 1939, George was also inducted into the first ever class to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1942, he was reunited with Branch Rickey and offered a position in the Cardinals' organization as a scout. He would later work for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a scout and player developer. Sisler was one of Jackie Robinson's coaches, teaching how to play first base to ease his transition into the major leagues. Sisler would follow Rickey one more time to Pittsburgh where he continued as a scout and player developer where he coached Roberto Clemente on hitting. He would stick with the Pirates for the remainder of his career as a hitting coach at various levels.
George Sisler died on March 26, 1973.
George Sisler, The Baseball Biography Project
Two announcements have come out today regarding Michigan baseball with the announcement of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America's Preseason All-American list and the location of the BigTen Tournament.
Picture by Chris Dzombak
As far as the Preseason All-Americans, Michigan centerfielder Ryan LaMarre was named to the 3rd team of the All-American list. Last season, LaMarre his .344 with 55 runs, 11 doubles, 12 home runs, and 62 RBIs. LaMarre also performed well in the Cape Cod League, college baseball's most prestigious summer league, to help bolster his resume.
"This is a great honor for Ryan with the success he has had in his first two seasons," commented head coach Rich Maloney. "He is a very gifted athlete who we are looking toward for big things this season in helping our team win and reach our goals."
Congratulations to Ryan and good luck next season.
In other news, the BigTen announced today that they will indeed play the next three BigTen Conference Baseball Tournaments in Columbus. This year's game will be held at Bill Davis Stadium, on the campus of Ohio State, and the 2011 and 2012 tournaments will be held at Huntington Park, home to the Columbus Clippers and site of last year's conference tournament, located just 3 miles from the OSU campus.
This is disappointing from a Michigan fan's perspective, but I'm sure it makes the most monetary sense. The BigTen tried to solicit bids from different communities with ballparks that would be suitable to host the tournament, and I can't imagine they received too many bids.
That's 3.6 miles for those counting.
Columbus is the only BigTen team that is both in contention to play in the conference tournament year-in-and-year-out and has a ballpark that could offer a sizeable bid. East Lansing and Penn State aren't quite consistent enough to be guaranteed a spot in the tournament, which means they could end up hosting a tournament without any local support. The rest of the BigTen teams would have to host the tournament at their own facility, something that doesn't always mean profit.
So we're stuck with Columbus for the next three years.
Sigh… 65 days until baseball season.