BLE Blast from the Past
Baseball Hall of Fame player Tom Burgess
Youth attending Oliver’s baseball camp crowded around Baseball Hall of Fame player Tom Burgess last week after practice, requesting his autograph and, in animated voices, asking, “You didn’t wear helmets back then?”
Burgess, who started his career in 1954 as a right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, smiled at the youngsters, signed their baseballs and answered their questions. Then he added, “You kids did a good job today. You swung at the bat well. You guys listen.” Burgess, one of the coaches at Oliver’s Big League Experience Baseball Camp, brings with him a duffle bag full of credentials. After playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Later, he managed the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves.
Throughout his career, Burgess has seen the game get faster, players younger, salaries bigger and equipment better. But beneath it all, he insists the game is still the same. “The game has not changed,” he said. “The people dictating the way it’s played have changed it. That’s the unfortunate thing in my mind.” In the old days rookies were seen and not heard. In contrast, many of today’s young players receive six-figure signing bonuses. They are confident, sometimes cocky and outspoken. Burgess, explained, “Today the baseball players almost have no accountability. In the days when I played if they asked you to jump you turned around and said how high.”
The huge increases in players’ salaries have also contributed to high ticket prices. “The cost of going to a ball game is astronomical,” said Burgess. “It’s unfortunate to Mr. and Mrs. Public that want to go to see these games. A father trying to bring his son into the game can’t. For an afternoon it costs $100 to travel, get parking, hot dogs and see the ball game.” “We are losing youngsters that should be playing the game of baseball because they are not getting a chance to see their idols like when I was playing,” added Burgess. “A dad used to bring his whole family to see a baseball game. It was a big part of life.” “Baseball was the summer game, football the fall game, basketball the spring game and hockey the winter game.” Burgess, born in London, Ontario, on Sept. 1, 1927, appreciated the sport as a youth and idolized Hall of Fame player and three-time MVP Stan Musial known for his ringing line drives. “He was one of the great great players in my era,” said Burgess. “And eventually I played with him in St. Louis.”
Through the decades, while those in the game had their eye fixed on the ball the world around them changed three-fold making baseball culturally out of step with time. “There are so many distractions now,” said Burgess. Distractions like pop stars, video games and computer technology. And loyal fans, disillusioned with the impending possibility of yet another strike-baseball’s ninth since 1972″,slowly quit packing the stands. But in Oliver, baseball is thriving as the greats like Burgess give back to the game. “I feel that some people spent time with me”,and I don’t even know their names, but I always had it in the back of my mind that I would give something back to the game.”
By Lisa Joy, Oliver Chronicle, Thursday, August 8, 2002