It’s every ballplayer’s favorite (I imagine): a day off during a homestand. The Royals got this rare treat as they waited for the Washington Senators to arrive for a three-game series.
Our biographical series continues with a look at relief pitcher and future Royals coach Tom Burgmeier.
Thomas Henry Burgmeier was born on August 2, 1943, in St. Paul, Minnesota. After starring in hockey and wrestling in addition to baseball at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Burgmeier signed with the Houston Colt .45s in the fall of 1961. The Colt .45s, who would be renamed the Astros in 1965, hadn’t even played a major league game yet, as they debuted in 1962.
Burgemeier’s first season as a professional was successful, with a 12-11 mark and 4.34 ERA for Class A Modesto. His second season was less promising, with a 1-4 mark at Class AA San Antonio and a 3-9 mark and 4.74 ERA after being demoted to Class A Durham. So when he pitched sparingly for Modesto in 1964 and was released after 12 games, his career was in jeopardy.
But the California Angels picked him up and worked on him. In 1965, at Class AAA Seattle, he went 8-7 with a 3.21 ERA. His 1966 season was a struggle, with a combined 6-13 record between Class AA and Class AAA. Burgmeier continued his “good every other year” pattern with an 11-14 mark despite a 2.78 ERA for Class AAA Seattle in 1967. That got him to the majors, and he spent all of 1968 with the Angels, adjusting to a relief role and appearing in 56 games with a 1-4 record and 4.33 ERA.
However, California did not protect him in the expansion draft, and the Royals used the 47th pick to select the left-hander. Burgmeier had a good spring and made the Opening Day roster, appearing in the team’s first game. He would spend the entire season with the Royals, pitching 54 innings with a 3-1 record and 4.17 ERA. As a good all-around athlete, he would also be used 16 times as a pinch-runner (the Angels also used him as a pinch-runner 16 times in 1968; as Burgmeier became more valuable as a late-inning reliever, those opportunities disappeared).
That athletic ability actually got the Royals to send Burgmeier to the Florida Instructional League after the season, with thoughts of making him an outfielder. He hit .333/.500/.524 in 28 plate appearances, but the idea was shelved as the Royals must have realized the value of a left-handed relief pitcher (plus, with Amos Otis now in the fold and Lou Piniella established, the team’s need for outfielders had diminished).
Burgmeier started 1970 in Omaha but was soon back in the majors, having an even better season with a 6-6 record and 3.16 ERA in 68 1/3 innings. Now that he was established as a reliever, he began earning more save chances; in 1971, Burgmeier had 17 saves and a sparkling 1.73 ERA in 88 1/3 innings. He and Ted Abernathy teamed up for 40 of the Royals’ league-high 44 saves. For whatever reason, though, the 1972 Royals decided to use a bullpen-by-committee; Burgmeier led the team in saves with a mere nine, and he was one of seven different pitchers to record a save that year.
His ERA suffered that year, bumping up to 4.23 in 55 1/3 innings, but one wonders if there was some animosity from the front office following the strike that delayed the start of the 1972 season, as Burgmeier was the players’ union representative for the Royals. That animosity certainly seemed to surface in 1973, as Burgmeier was banished to Omaha after just six games, to “work on his slider,” as manager Jack McKeon told him. For an established and successful pitcher, that’s obviously a poor excuse.
Whether it was the front office or just new manager McKeon getting rid of a player he didn’t like, the result was the same. Burgmeier was traded after the season to Minnesota for a minor-league pitcher, Ken Gill, who was out of baseball after 1974.
It was a really bad trade, out of character for the Royals of that era. Burgmeier had many productive years left, as he compiled a 24-16 record with 23 saves and a 3.77 ERA over the next four seasons for the Twins, pitching 380 innings in 214 games. From there, he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent. From 1978 through 1982 he was a mainstay in the Boston bullpen, with a 21-12 record, 40 saves (including 24 in 1980, when he was named to the AL All-Star team), and a 2.72 ERA in 411 innings. After 1982, he joined the A’s as a free agent and pitched two solid seasons for Oakland, although his 1984 season was interrupted a couple of times by injuries. At age 41, he retired.
Burgmeier was away from baseball for a few years, but apparently any hard feelings between him and the Royals had vanished. In 1991, he joined the franchise as video coordinator, then shifted to a pitching coach role for the organization at the minor league levels. Eventually he worked at the major-league level for Kansas City as a bullpen coach from 1998-2000. He did endure one unfortunate off-the-field incident in that time period. Burgmeier liked to ride his bicycle to the stadium, a brisk 25-mile ride. In 1999, he was sideswiped by a car and suffered a broken leg. Doctors had to put a screw in his leg, but Burgmeier made a full recovery. After a brief time coaching in the Orioles’ minor leagues, Burgmeier returned to the Royals organization for more minor-league coaching. Now retired, he still lives in the Kansas City area.