R.I.P. Tom Burgess, Get Well RidsBy Bob Elliott
Tim Harkness was driving along home from Florida on Monday. After picking up the family dog in Michigan the former major leaguer crossed the border and drove through sloppy weather along highway 401. When he came to the London exits his thought was where many of the Canadian baseball community have been this week. Like Joe Carter ... Thomas Roland Burgess touched them all beginning in 1946 when he turned pro whether it be lives or ball parks. He played, managed and coached in the minors, coached in the majors, coached for Team Canada and never, ever stopped talking hitting. “I was thinking about Tommy Burgess driving past the London exits,” said Harkness when told that Burgess had passed at his Lamebth, Ont. home at age 81 on Monday. “He was 81, that’s pretty young,” said Harkness who turns 71 two days before Christmas. (Read the good read by Jim Cressman -- a rare good umpire sees as well as he writes -- in the London Free Press.) “Tommy was always after me to come up for a game of golf and being a golf nut I was game, but Monday was awful weather to even stop." Harkness played four seasons in the majors two each with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. Burgess played two seasons: 17 games with the 1954, sixth-place St. Louis Cardinals and then eight years -- EIGHT years -- later 87 games with the second-year Los Angles Angels who finished third in the American League under manager Bill Rigney. “I remember Tommy,” said Jim Fregosi, from Tarpon Springs, Fla., the former Jays manager and a rookie second-baseman on the 1962 Angels. “Hell of a guy. We were in communication when I was managing the Philadelphia Phillies. Tommy was either 30 or 40 days short of his major-league pension.” Besides playing with the Cards and the Angels, Burgess coached third base for manager George Frazier and Joe Torre with the 1977 New York Mets, with HOFer Tom Seaver. The next year Burgess was on manager Bobby Cox’s coaching staff with the last-place Atlanta Braves, who had Hall of Famer Phil Nierko in the rotation. “In those days you had to have five years in to get your pension, we tried to hire him for 40 days or whatever it was but the Players Association wouldn’t allow it,” Fregosi said. “He’d call all the time, it was a shame he never got his pension, now one day in the majors and you get a pension. “Tommy was a good defensive player, a dedicated baseball player and a baseball man -- that’s why he stuck around so long. Plus, he was a real good guy.” Burgess played four games in the outfield under manager Eddie Stanky on a team which featured future Hall of Famers second baseman Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial. Also on the team were the likes of Alex Grammas, Rip Repulski, Wally Moon, Solly Hemus, Del Rice, Peanuts Lowrey, Steve Bilko, Dick Schofield (father of the former Blue Jays shortstop by the same name), Harvey Haddix, Vic Raschi Stu Miller and Mel Wright, the former Montreal Expos coach under Bill Virdon. “Back then you had to hit and field, I saw guys with the Dodgers who got buried in the Pacific Coast league for 10 years,” Harkness remembers. “I know it was tough to break into the set lineup the Cardinals had in those days. “Tommy was one of those great hitters who played in the minors for a long time like Lou Morton with the Toronto Maple Leafs real good plate discipline Then came seven seasons in the Triple-A International League, with Rochester Red Wings and the Columbus Jets. After being acquired by the expansion Angels he spent 1961 with the Triple-A Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers of the American Association, His Angels teammates in 1962 included Buck Rodgers, who managed the Montreal Expos, Lee Thomas, who went on to be Phillies GM, Leon (Daddy Wags) Wagner, Albie Pearson, Steve Bilko, Eddie Yost, Frank Leja, Chuck Tanner, who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hollywood playboy Bo Belinsky, Eli Grba, one-time Toronto Maple Leafs pitcher, Ted Bowsfield (Vernon, BC), Ryne Duren and Art Fowler, Billy Martin’s caddy. Harkness remembers Burgess playing in the International League. “The first memories I have of Tommy were when I was a young kid growing up in Montreal when he came in with Rochester,” Harkness said. “I was about 14-15. I was very much aware that he was a Canadian. I used to study the hitters and he was one fine looking hitter, he could hit to all fields. “Tommy Burgess was a sweet swinger, he was like Matty Alou or Manny Mota. No, a better comparison would be Ron Fairly. He could hit the ball the opposite way. He didn’t have big power, but man did cover the plate so well. He sure knew hitting. Harkness re-told a story of the Cardinals playing Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox. Burgess was in right field. “Tommy said Williams hit the ball so hard the ball went by like a blur, he never even saw it,” Harkness said as Williams wound up with a triple. How sweet was the Burgess swing? After signing with St. Louis in 1946, he made his debut with the Hamilton Red Wings of the Class-D PONY League. He hit .350 in 1947 in the Class C Interstate League, Burgess was retired to get a degree at the University of Western Ontario in London in the day time and hit line drives at night for the London Majors of the Intercounty League. Heading back to pro ball in 1952 in the Class-A South Atlantic League he hit .328, He hit .346 with 22 home runs and 93 RBIs at Rochester in 1953. The next year he broke camp with the Cardinals but collected one hit, a double, in 21 at bats (.048), before being sent back to Rochester. He spent the seven seasons more season in the International League, with Rochester and the Columbus Jets. The Angels added him in 1961 and he was at that Dallas-Fort Worth In 1962 he hit .196. Burgess batted .177 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 104 big-league games. After retiring, he managed the Cardinals, Braves, Mets, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers farm systems in the 1970s and 1980s. He managed in Triple-A Tidewater Tides, Richmond Braves, Oklahoma City ‘89ers and Charleston Charlies. Burgess managed teams to Appalachian League and the California League titles. When he left pro ball he coached with the Team Canada Junior National Team in 1999 and 2000 as well as the Team Canada entry in the Worlds in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Junior Team coach Greg Hamilton remembers a trip to Arizona and the Arizona State campus in 1999 for a visit with head coach Pat Murphy. “We had the whole team standing in a hallway waiting to meet Murphy,” Hamilton said “the ASU offices look onto the football field and it’s quite impressive. The whole team was waiting when Murphy came out.” Before introducing the players, he introduced his coaching staff their background Remo Cardinale, Dave Robb and Burgess, with Hamilton mentioning Burgess pro career. Then, it went like this sort of: Murphy: “You’re tom Burgess?” Burgess: “Yes I am.” Murphy: “No, I mean, you’re the Tom Burgess from pro ball?” Burgess: “Yes.” Murphy: “Now, let me get this straight, you’re the same Tom Burgess who was in the Cardinals’ organization?” Burgess: “Yes.” Murphy: “I don’t know if you remember me, but you released me (and then turning to speak to the players) “you guys don’t understand how lucky you are or who you are dealing with? You have one of the best. Pay attention to what he had to say.” Burgess: “I don’t really remember that day, but thank you for remembering me.” “And that,” said Hamilton, “was kind of like the way it went every where we went.” Former National Team coach Tim Leiper played for Burgess in Detroit: “he taught us baseball and taught us about life.” “I had a lot of respect for him, he was a really good guy,” said Hamilton. “He was an outstanding baseball man with great knowledge and a passion to pass that on to Canadian players. He wanted to pass on his knowledge to Canadian players and coaches He was genuine about that. “He always talked affectionately about how he never left Lambeth.” Burgess son, Tommy Jr. brought his son to Disney when the National Team was training and Burgess’s grand son served as the bat boy. “His career speaks to obvious talents as he coached and played at every level of the game,” Hamilton said. “He was the classic example of a guy who had a lifetime of baseball to convey. He’s that special baseball guy you make think he’s older, a step slower or he might be missing something, but he’s not missing a thing. “He saw the game as well as anyone. He had that older guy sitting on the bucket, he was not asleep, he was observing more than anyone else in the park. We were very fortunate to gave him. I learned a lot for him.” Burgess is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, the London Sports Hall of Fame and the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame. “Tom had the best baseball drill book that I’ve seen,” said Marc Picard, of Team Ontario, a two-time Baseball Canada coach of the year. “Early on in my career I got a lot of mileage out of that book.” The book was entitled Coaches Guide to Championship Baseball Drills and Fundamentals by Dr. Bob McBee and Tom Burgess. Burgess gave Picard an autographed copy once when he did a clinic for Team Ontario. Dan Mendham (London, Ont.) is a hard-working scout for the Major League Scouting Bureau. "I was lucky enough to be able to spend countless hours with Tommy," Mendham said. "We often drove together on trips to Welland, Courtright, Brantford and other places. We talked ball the whole time "Tommy was an outstanding teacher. He had a simplified approach to the game. He made it easy to understand. Tommy worked with my nine-year old son this summer. He set up a little drill to help David hit through the ball better. It worked. I feel blessed to have had Tommy as a friend. "He was proud to be a Canadian in an American's game. I will miss Tommy." Farewell ... Letters of Intent: For both the spring of 2009 -- our In College list will be coming soon -- and the fall of 2010. Say a little prayer: Jim Ridley (Burlington, Ont.) who scouts for the Minnesota Twins is in Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington fighting the good fight. With the Twins, Ridley signed UBC OF Mark Zamojc (Burlington, Ont.), OF Rene Tosoni (Port Cotquilam B.C.) and INF Jonathan Waltenbury (Whitby, Ont.). Ridley took over scouting Canada and the eastern US for Howie Norsetter, who signed 3B Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.) and 1B Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C) along others. With the Jays he and Bob Nelson signed LHP Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.). Ridley also signed Clint Lawrence (Oakville, Ont.), John Ogiltree (Mississauga, Ont.), LHP Sean Grimes (London, Ont.) C David Corrente Chatham, Ont.) and C Alex Blackburn (London. Ont.) Ridley was an outfielder in the Milwaukee Braves system and played in the minors with future Jays manager Cito Gaston. After he was released he returned home to play the Quebec Provincial league and later the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Inter county League. Ridley ran the Jays’ first tryout camp in Utica, N.Y. in 1976 the first of many open camps he ran across the country as he became the face of the organization in Canada along with the late Bobby Prentice. And when the final call came in 2002 that he was no longer in the Jays plans he was scouting an American Legion tourney at Utica. He was a coach under future Seattle Mariners manager John McLaren at Rookie-Class Medicine Hat in 1978-80. He was a scout with the Jays until August of 2002 and now scouts for the Minnesota Twins. The athletic roots of the baseball lifer go back to the Faustina Sports Club in the Lakeshore-Mimico area in Etobicoke. Ridley coached the Team Canada National Junior Team from 1983-88 winning bronze medals at the Worlds in 1983 at Johnstown, Pa. and in 1987 at Windsor, Ont. He managed Team Canada at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and the 1991 Pan-Am Games in Mexico, He also coached the Canada in the 1989 Pacific Cup, the 1989 World Student Games and the 1989 Worlds. He coached the 1992 Canadian champion Brampton bantams, the 2007 Canadian Georgetown peewees or the 1996 Prentice Cup winning Milton High School Mustangs in 1996. His twin sons attended Ball State University before signing, Shayne with the Baltimore Orioles and Jeremy with the Jays. No. 61: The Ontario Blue Jays, coached by Danny Bleiwas, are ranked 61st in North America amongst Team Under 18, according to the Perfect Game web site. The Langley Blaze, coached by Doug Mathieson (Langley, BC), are amongst the honourable mention teams. Signing: The Milwaukee Brewers -- Canada’s team, or so says the draft each June and the front office: Doug Melvin (Chatham, Ont.) assistant GM Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.) signed LHP R.J. Swindle (Vancouver, BC) to a one-year contract.. Swindle, 25, made his major league debut in 2008, appearing in three games with the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies and for that 4 2/3 innings he will get a World Series ring. The Phillies demoted Swindle so he could pitch for Team Canada in the Bejing Olympics. Swindle, who pitched at Charleston Southern, began the season at Double-A Reading where he was 1-0 with an 0.54 ERA. He walked one man and struck out 16 in 16 2/3 inning. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he was 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA and one save. Swindle walked seven and fanned 51 in 36 1/3 innings. Trivia: Who had the first ever hit at Shea Stadium? Home again: Former Blue Jays farmhand Greg Morrison (Medicine Hat, Alta.) has bought the Medicine Hat Mavericks — a wood bat college summer league team in his home town. Morrison won the 1997 Rookie-Class Pioneer League triple crown with a .448 average, 23 homers and 88 RBIs. After two years in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, Morrison played three seasons in the Jays system before moving on to play Independent ball at New Jersey, Duluth-Superior, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. WBC-seeing u soon: Once again the World Baseball Classic dates at the Rogers Centre Game 1, Saturday, March 7 -- Team Canada vs. Team USA, 2 p.m. Game 2, Saturday, March 7 -- Italy vs. Venezuela, 8 p.m. Game 3, Sunday, March 8 -- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m. Game 4, Monday, March 9 -- Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6:30 p.m. Game 5, Tuesday, March 10 -- Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 5 p.m. Game 6, Wednesday, March 11 -- Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5 6:30 p.m. (Losers of Game 4 and Game 5 are eliminated.) (Game 6 will decide first and second-place placings for the second round.) Triva Answer: Harkness had the first ever hit at Shea Stadium. With two out in the bottom of the third, Harkness hit a line drive single to right off Pittsburgh Pirates starter Bob Friend. Harkness hit lead-off that day as the Mets opened in front of 50,312 in a 4-3 loss to the Pirates on April 17, 1964. Harkness was invited back for ceremonies this summer at Shea, along with Ron Hunt who doubled and scored the first run for the Mets at Shea. While there Harkness saw the Washington Nationals and RHP Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.) whom Harkness drafted in the 33rd round 1999 when he was scouting for the San Diego Padres. Hill was chosen by the Montreal Expos in the sixth round of the 2000 draft and signed by scout Alex Agostino (Montreal, Que.). Quotable: “I think the best hitter on the Cincinnati Reds is Joey Votto? Why because as a left-handed he doesn’t mind hitting the ball the other way.” _ Former scout Harkness. Trivia Time II: Who used to say, long before Toby Kieth sang it, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was!” Posting: Want to post a favorite memory of Tommy Burgess or send get-well wishes to Jim Ridley send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org BOB:
IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE IN TOUCH WITH JIM PLSE SAY HELLO FOR ME---ONE OF MY FAVORITE SCOUTS OUT IN THE FIELD.
Scout, Detroit Tigers
Thank you so much for your article on Jim Ridley. He is a great man and definitely a battler.
I played baseball for Oakville growing up, with Clint Lawrence one of the players Jim signed. I also played on some travelling teams with his twin boys Jeremy and Shane.
I have lost touch with all of them over the last 15 years. If you know of a way to get in touch with the family, I would appreciate it, if not please send my best wishes to the Ridley family if you speak with them.
Jason Lee Catcher, Oakville A's, COBA All-stars, Ontario Travelling team, and the Hamilton Red Birds Junior Team.
Jason J. Lee, Account Executive Zerofootprint Software Inc.
Rid and I did a llot of camps together - especially after Bobby Prentice got sick. I'll never forget when he called me from Utica in 2002 to pass along the news the Richardi decided to discontinue Canadian scouting. I think he was in shock that the team did nixed him by phone.
tx Duncan MacDonald
Of the many anecdotes I recall from spending quality time with both Tom Burgess and Jim Ridley, these two will always stand out in my mind:
Tommy Burgess At a fundraiser banquet in Hamilton in the fall of 2004, Burgess and myself and a handful of others were the head table guests. Joey Votto, the 2008 runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year Award, was in attendance because he had played in the baseball program being honoured that night. Joey Votto was not famous at that time, but rather, a good looking prospect who had a chance. When the banquet concluded, I was visiting with Tommy, and Votto respectfully approached us wanting to ask a question. Ever the gentleman, of course, Burgess replied "What is on your mind, young man?" Votto proceeded to ask about Burgess's approach at the plate on certain counts. Tommy gave Votto a clinic on what to look for depending on the count, and didn't hold anything back. All of Tommy's years in baseball, all of the experience he had compiled, was all of the sudden being shared with one very lucky young man. The more Tommy gave, the more Joey wanted. By the time the conversation ended, the banquet hall was empty, the tables had been cleared, and there were no guests or even staff remaining. That was the kind of guy Tommy Burgess was - anybody who had the opportunity to ask Tommy or anybody who had the desire to work with him benefitted greatly from a man who never hesitated to pass on what he had learned. His ceaseless desire to give back and his willingness to work with any player, high profile or not, will be the Tommy Burgess that I remember - class to the end.
In the 1986 World Junior Baseball Championship, being hosted in Windsor, Ridley was Team Canada's Field Manager. The tournament was very well-attended, Canada was drawing 7,000-8,000 per game, and the baseball was very competitive and intense. I don't recall what country we were playing against, but I do remember that it was a powerhouse and Canada was the underdog. It may even have been the game when Mike Mussina was Team USA's starting pitcher against Canada's Denis Boucher, but I can't say for sure. Anyway, Canada matched them pitch for pitch, hit for hit and run for run, as Ridley was his vintage self getting the maximum out of his roster. Mic Mac Park was absolutely electrified as the game headed into the bottom of the ninth inning. Canada found itself in a bases-loaded jam and Ridley brought in the youngest player on the team, right-hander Danny Kasperski, from Weyburn, Sask. Kasperski hadn't yet thrown a pitch in the event, but everything Ridley was touching that night was turning into gold, and you somehow expected this naive, nervous youngster to put out the fire and send Canada into extra innings. Kasperski proceeded to walk in the winning run. The huge crowd collectively sighed and some booed, while the opponents celebrated. Many of the Team Canada players and coaches dropped their heads in disappointment and disbelief. Before anyone could notice, and I'm talking maybe seven total seconds after Kasperski threw the game's last pitch, Ridley would be found on the pitching mound hugging and comforting his pitcher, encouraging him, telling him it was okay and that the sun was still going to rise tomorrow. Instead of even taking a moment to second-guess himself or react to the varying emotions all over the ballpark, I will never, ever forget, and nor will Danny Kasperski I bet, Jim Ridley darting out to the mound and caring about his player before anything else. For me, that moment defined the man.
Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
St. Marys, Ont.
I was at that game that you were referring to regarding Jim Ridley. I believe it was Chinese Taipai. You're right. What a class act!!
Steve Vorkapich Greater Essex County District School Board
When you are visiting Rids the next time can you please say hello for me and give him my best. Thanks
Jim Baba Director General Baseball Canada
It has come to my attention that Coach Ridley has taken very ill and is not faring well. His prognosis is very grim. He is currently at Joseph Brant hospital in Burlington. Please think of Jim in your prayers in his time of need. Coach Ridley has been such a big part of our Georgetown team and the baseball atmosphere that is so special and somewhat magical around the team. He was the heart of our team success. Coach Ridley has always been there for the kids. He is looked up to as a baseball icon by the kids and parents alike. Coach Ridley brought the legends of baseball to the field with him. He always had a story whether it was of working out with Ted Williams in 1965 or talking about the latest young buck he had been scouting. Constantly on the road and at a ball park he could not be held back. I am grateful that my son had the opportunity to get to know Coach Ridley and to have been around one of the great coaches in Ontario and Canada. The game of baseball is forever grateful as we all are. Coach Ridley is baseball and baseball is Coach Ridley.