September 21, 2019

Former Pitcher Larry Burchart Reminisces

October 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Dodgers really, really wanted collegiate star right-handed pitcher Larry Burchart. In 1967 they took him in the first round of the June phase of the amateur draft. Since he was enrolled at Oklahoma State, he did not sign. This did not deter the Dodgers, who took him again in the third round of the June phase of the draft that year. Burchart finally relented and signed, thus launching his professional career.

Burchart immediately rewarded the Dodgers for their persistence. In his first professional season with Ogden in 1967, he posted a 9-1 record with a 1.95 ERA. He was the veteran presence on a team of players mainly just out of high school that went 41-25. The team was led my Tommy Lasorda who eventually became the long term beloved manager of the Dodgers.

Unfortunately, Burchart was not able to sustain his success in the minors in 1968, when he pitched for Albuquerque. Injuries relegated him to appearing in just 21 games, with only 5 starts, and he did not win a game. However his prospect status was still prominent enough that he was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 1968 Rule 5 Draft, which meant he would have to spend the entire 1969 season on their major league roster or be offered back to Los Angeles.

The 1969 Indians were not very good, going 62-99, making it easier for them to test unproven rookies like Burchart. He pitched exclusively for them out of the bullpen, appearing in 29 games. He would have pitched in even more games, except he missed two months towards the beginning of the season due to injury.

As it was, Burchart pitched well for the last place Indians. He went 0-2 with a 4.25 ERA, allowing 42 hits in 42.1 innings. Because of his relative inexperience, the Indians were reluctant to put him in close games. The team was 0-29 in games that Burchart appeared in that season, never giving him the chance to experience a win in a game in which he pitched at the major league level.

Burchart was returned by Cleveland to the minors and Wichita in 1970, but was unable to build on his experience in the major leagues. He finished his career by pitching in 1971 again for Wichita, but retired without making it back with Cleveland. More information about Burchart’s career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/burchla01.shtml.

I was recently able to have Burchart expand on his experiences in baseball, and came away with a wealth of information on his career.

Larry Burchart Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I grew up in an era where all the kids in the neighborhood played baseball games in the summer. One of my neighbors had made a baseball field with a backstop on part of his land behind his house. All the neighborhood kids would gather and play games. I had two older brothers, who would take me to the games, because they needed me to make two teams. Since I was the youngest (8 -9), I was always picked last. Kid’s ages were from 12-17 so you can see why they picked me last. I held my own with them and that started a love affair with baseball that has lasted a lifetime!

What was the draft process like when you got picked by the Dodgers in 1967?: I played for Oklahoma State University from ’65-’67 and signed at the end of my junior year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Originally, I was drafted by the Kansas City A’s in the 20th round, but didn’t sign. That was the same year Reggie Jackson was the # 1 pick from Arizona State and received all the bucks.

The Dodgers drafted me in December, ’67 and had to sign me before the college season started.  The Dodgers backed off as they had signed one of Henry Iba’s best basketball players the year before & the baseball coach and Mr. Iba hid me out for the whole semester so I wouldn’t sign so I could play my Junior year.

The Dodgers redrafted me in June, ’67 in the supplemental draft as # 1.  I signed after playing in the College World Series. We finished second in the College World Series, getting beat by Ohio State in the finals my sophomore year, and we finished 5th my junior Year.

Who was the biggest character you ever played with or against?:  There were several - I enjoyed Art Fowler (Major Leaguer in the 50’s) , who at 47 years old, was the pitching coach for the Denver Bears and was an active player!!!  He was from the old school. He would knock you down in a second and would fight at the drop of the hat. He later became Billy Martin’s pitching coach.

Art was the catalyst in the worst baseball brawl that I was ever in. The fight lasted over one hour; both managers of both teams had black eyes the next day; one player ended his career with a knee injury as a result, and several players were black and blue the next day. The Denver Police Department was called in to separate the teams after the game.

The fight was started when Pedro Gonzalez bunted on Art, who had told Pedro the previous at-bat not to bunt on him anymore.  He met Pedro at first base and hit him in the side of the head with his fist.  Both benches emptied, and there was 20,000 fans at the game.  It was wild and crazy.

Joe Pepitone, Yankees- Wore a hair piece and had a volatile personality.

Hawk Harrelson- Made more money in my era with very little talent, due to him marketing himself.  He was one of the first players to flash the peace sign to young people during the Vietnam era. Great guy, who is now the Chicago White Sox announcer.

Richie Schienblum- First roommate. He was one of the wittiest and funniest ball players that I played with.  He has great stories and was an All-Star for Kansas City Royals in the early ’70’s. I still converse with him through e-mail.

Ed Farmer - Former White Sox pitcher, who played with me in the minors. He ate 50 White Castle hamburgers in one setting.  Took him home for dinner in Oklahoma City and he ate my mother’s whole Roast that she cooked for him and me.  He was married at home plate in Wichita.

Bo Belinsky- Ran like a girl and was linked to Mamie Van Doren, when he played for the Angels. He pitched no-hitter. He always looked like he belonged on the beach, and not the ball diamond.

Duke Sims- Big burly catcher with California blond hair who would climb your butt if you didn’t focus.  He was very colorful, and lives in Las Vegas promoting charities.

Sam McDowell- ”Sudden Sam” could throw with the best of them, 100+ with a wicked curve ball. He was a character off the field and never quite reached his potential. A great guy who is involved with Major League Baseball in their drug and alcohol program for players, managers, etc.

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?:  Several -  Playing in the College World Series, playing in the major leagues, pitching a no-hitter in the Puerto Rican Winter season for Arecibo Lobos del Norte against Santurce Crabbers, who had Tony Perez, Ellie Rodriquez, and several other major leaguers.

Playing for Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues. Tommy could motivate his players, and when I played for him in the minors and winter ball, my record was 12-1.  I still talk to him, and he is the same Tommy that I played for in 1967. He didn’t let success go to his head, and he deserves the accolades that he has received. The Dodgers need another manager like him today.

Did you have a favorite stadium or city to play in?:  Fenway Park. I loved the closeness of the fans, and they were very knowledgeable about the game. The Green Monster was awesome. I lost my first game at Fenway Park, when Dick Schofield hit a bloop single in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat us.

What was the strangest play you ever saw as a professional player?: Watching the Clown Prince- Al Patkin- work during a game. He was a former player!

Who was the toughest hitter that you faced?: I faced Reggie Jackson, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Frank Howard, and Carl Yastrzemski, but the toughest player to pitch to was a guy by the name of Ron Clark.

Ron was in the major leagues for a cup of coffee with the Oakland A’s. He was a utility infielder. I faced him six times, and he hit a home run, triple, double, two singles, and walked once. He hit every pitch that I had in my arsenal (fastball, slider, curve, & change-up). The last time that I faced him, I threw my glove and him and said, ‘Here, hit this. You’ve hit everything else that I’ve thrown at you.’

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would’ve worked harder.

Are you surprised you did not get more opportunity at the major league level?:  No. Unfortunately, I went on the disabled list in ’69 when Big George Thomas of the Red Sox ran up my back while I was covering first, and he tore off all the muscles on my rib cage.

When I came back off the disabled list, Alvin Dark had gone with the old veterans as we were fighting for last place and his job. The youth movement came to an end in ’69. Alvin did get fired after the season.  In ’70, I was sent down to Triple-A in Wichita, and started out 6-1, and I felt that I was headed back to the majors.

My next start came against the Iowa Oaks in Des Moines, with a starting time at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Des Moines’ ballpark was on the Iowa River, and the temperature at game time was 105 degrees, with humidity at 100%.

Iowa went through four pitchers that day and I pitched the whole game, losing in the bottom of the 9th when I threw away a one-out bunt that allowed two runs to score, and I lost 4-3. I had to change undershirts every inning, and they gave me ice cold towels soaked in ammonia water every inning that I came in, to revive me to go out for another inning.

Also, I had hit a double and walked that day so I had to run the bases. My manager, Ken Aspromonte, should have brought a fresh reliever in the 9th to finish the game.  I was extremely dehydrated after the game, and lost over 15 pounds during the game.  I never fully recovered from that game the rest of the season, and finished the season 8-7.

In ’71, I had severe arm problems and was relegated to relief. I finished 6-7, and the Indians pretty much gave up on me and cut my salary in half. I asked for my release but the Indians waited until the season had started to give me my release.

I had received my degree in ’72, and decided to start my next career in the business world.  I never look back and say ‘what if?’

I dreamed as a child of being in the major leagues as so many do. My favorite team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I still remember 1955 like it was yesterday, when Johnny Podres beat the Yankees 2-0 to win the “Bums'” first World Series.

I met Johnny Podres in the winter instructional league making a comeback at 41 with the Padres expansion team.  We became good friends. I realize how lucky that I am to have had made the major leagues and wore the uniform. It is said one out of every 100,000 that big league clubs sign make it to the major leagues.

My son Kyle signed with Toronto and made it to Double-A. He had better stuff than me, so it depends a lot on what organization you sign with, and you need persistence, talent, sponsor, and a little luck to make it.

My entire family’s successes have either been directly or indirectly related to baseball and college education.  I met my wife of 40 years playing in Minneapolis, and have two great sons and four great grandchildren. Life is good!

What have you been up to since you stopped playing?:  I went into Banking in 1972, and have worked for the following Banks- Sooner Federal; Bank of Tulsa; Bank of Oklahoma; Wells Fargo Bank; Mid-America Bank; Local America Bank; Superior Bank’ and Arvest Bank.

I am currently with Arvest Bank as a Senior Vice-President, Commercial Lending.  I have been very blessed and haven’t missed a day’s work since leaving baseball. I am still active in fund raising functions for local schools and college baseball programs. I am a member of the Major League Alumni Association and participate in their functions.

 What one player in today’s game reminds you the most of players from your era?: Jim Thome.

Is there anything you would like to see changed in baseball to make the game better?: I wish there was more parity in the payrolls for major market teams versus the smaller market teams.  I wish that they stayed with teams longer instead of being hired gunslingers going to the team that offers the most money to them. You can’t blame the players, but sometimes I think that some of the sports agents are the greediest, and give some bad advice to their clients.

Major market owners don’t care since their franchise value has risen substantially every year for the last 30 years, and they get the TV money to pay the players those phenomenal salaries.  Nobody is worth 10-15 million a year.

Fans don’t have the access that they had when I played. I have talked to the players today, who tell me that they go their separate ways after a game and there is no camaraderie.  When on the road, we went out together and became family.  Baseball needs to keep prices down so the family can attend so kids can fall in love with the game as I did in my youth. Baseball is a game that mirrors life, and taught me several lessons that I have carried into my business career.

How many autograph requests do you typically get and what do you think of collectors?:  Approximately 10-15 per month. I like collectors, as I was one of them when I was a kid.  I still have a 1959 Topps set from my younger days. I know several collectors in the area, and go to functions with them. They are very professional and considerate of the individual’s time when it comes to signing, etc.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @RedSoxFanNum1.

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