Brooklyn Boro

Old timer’s birthday

September 9, 2022 William A. Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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Mea culpa. I’m late on the date for this, but we’ll still get it into the right month. For September Dodger birthdays I had several interesting choices. Three were Charley Dressen Andy Pafko and Eddie Miksis. Then I came across Thomas P. Burns, born September 6, 1864. He intrigued me. He was a fabulous talent, but he was a pariah. Why?—Answer is…this quote from a teammate. “He was a disturber and one of the worst that ever played ball. His disposition was very bad, and he made it unpleasant  for any of  the boys that crested him. He is what you would call a bulldozer.” I’ve not come across such a lengthy zinger by one ballplayer about another. That was enough to bring him to light. Thanks must go to Pinterest, who put his baseball card on the screen, and the wundermenchen at Wiki for helping me research him.

There was much more to Thomas P. Burns, son of Irish immigrants. He didn’t start off to be anything memorable. He played outfield and pitched. He began with the Wilmington Quicksteps (gotta love that name) and then joined the Baltimore Orioles. Coming from the minors with a .220 average over 69 games and a 20-game ERA of 2.20, not much was expected. Though there was a glimmer. He had good enough stuff, the ERA showed promise, and he was a starter for 15 of his 20 games.

He was the youngest player on the Orioles and the seventh youngest in the league. He came out swinging and raised his .230 minor league average over 60 points to .298. He led the Orioles in home runs. The following year he had a sophomore slump, dropping back to .231. He did knock in 37 RBI. Still a two-position player, he went 7-4. Unfortunately, Burns couldn’t catch a fly with a jar of honey. His fielding got him demoted in ’86. He tore up the league with a .352 batting average and a .558 slugging percentage. Within a year, he was top-side and with the Orioles again. He became team captain until a “would the real Thomas P. Burns please stand up” moment occurred. He threw a baseball at an opposing pitcher following a groundout. He was fined $25, which today would be $754, a tidy sum when you realize the paltry sums men were paid in those days.

Also of interest was that Burns hit nine home runs. That was third in the league! Ah, the days of the dead ball. He tied for the league lead in triples, and he tied for the most games played that season—140.

Mid-season in ’88, he was traded to Brooklyn, then known as the Bridegrooms, owned by the same man who owned the Orioles. He recorded team highs in on-base percentage, batting average, and home runs and led the Bridegrooms to the championship. On the other hand, a sports writer had these comments: “…the noisiest man that ever played on the Brooklyn team. His voice reminds one of a buzz-saw.” Yet noisy or not in the World Series of ‘89, Burns hit a three-run home run winning the fourth game and giving the ’grooms a 3-1 lead, which they blew by losing five in a row.

Came 1890, and the Bridegrooms were now a national league team. The 26-year-old Burns led the league in home runs, now up to 13, and RBI’s with 128. He became the first ever for the franchise to hit for the cycle. Again they won the pennant. Again weirdness. The Series was against the Louisville Colonels. It ended in a 3-3-1 tie and went into the books that way due to awful weather.

The following year Burns was third in the league in RBI’s, and hits.In 1892 he was third on the teams in  hits, in singles, doubles, and triples as well. Then came another Burns moment. They were playing a doubleheader. He noticed that the center fielder had fallen asleep. Enraged, Burns ran over and stabbed him with a pen knife. His teammate rolled over on the knife and severed a tendon. Most amazing? He wasn’t arrested nor suspended. He went on to bat a career high of .355. His hits and run totals were also the second highest in this career. He lasted with Brooklyn until 1895. 

Traded to the Giants, for whom he played for a year, did a sparkling stint back in the minors batting .378, and then went to manage in 1901. Can you imagine playing for a manager who threw balls at players and knifing one of them? Best not be and making any mistakes…? Mercy!

Burns retired. He lived out his life in Brooklyn. The Lord came a-callin’ in 1928.

Happy Birthday, Tommy.

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