Burns, John (2006)
John “Tardy” Burns
“I’ve often wondered about that myself,” said “Tardy” Burns in response to a question concerning the origin of his nickname.
“I was born John, Jr.,” said Burns. “I had a cousin who was 6 or 8 months older who was learning to talk and that is what he called me.”
When the topic turns baseball, it’s clear that “Tardy” Burns was anything but a later bloomer. A 6 foot, 3 inch left-handed pitched at Cony High School, he blossomed early.
Among the first to notice was Donald Brennen, a friend of the family. He placed some bottles on a fence and watched the lefty pick them off.
“I amazed him,” said Burns. “He died before I graduated. But his wife, Dorothy, kept in touch with the scouts.”
One of the major league scouts, Jeff Jones, was in the stands the night that Burns pitched a 1-hitter. Not long after, Burns signed a contract with the Milwaukee Braves.
Sent to Waycross, Georgie, Burns was scheduled for a minor league assignment, but developed back trouble and was released. He tried again the following year to no avail.
“It just wouldn’t work,” said Burns. “I had no feeling in my legs. I was released and wore a back brace for four years.”
Burns remembers some of the good times in the Braves’ camp. Assigned to the “Orange” team, Burns worked with a catcher from Texas who professed good-natured amusement at the style of his Maine friend.
“How did you get here,” the backstop drawled after catching Burns for 3 innings. “You don’t have a clue on how to pitch.”
That night he took Burns out on the practice field, a policy strictly against team rules. Interrupted by some coaches, Burns laughs at the memory. “We almost got a bus ticket home right there,” he said.
Some of the Milwaukee coaches Burns members include Charlie Root. He’s the Cubs’ right-hander who served up a home run to Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series on an 0-2 pitch. Baseball folklore records the drive Ruth’s “called shot” Root went to his grave denying Ruth ever called it.
Another coach was Billy Southworth who later manage the New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Braves.
It wasn’t the fist time Burns had rubbed shoulders with baseball legends. As a young boy, he played for the Augusta Millionaires. Burn’s teammates included Harry Agganis “The golden Greek” who played for the Red Sox in 1954-55 and Ted Lepcio (Boston 1952-59 and later with Tigers, Phillies, White Sox and Twins).
Burns’ performance at Cony High made him an attractive addition to the Millionaires. He lettered for four years and pitched the Rams to the Eastern championship in 1952. A game in 1953, his senior season, stands out.
“I struck out 19, including four in one inning,” Burns said. That same inning extended by errors and passed balls, three runs scored. “I think I allowed 1 or 2 hits,” he said.
“The catcher had some trouble hanging on to the ball. His hands looked like they had been run over by a truck”
Burns is humble about his baseball accomplishments deflecting credit to his teammates. “The team made me look better than I was,” he said. “I was just part of the team and never did anything famous. When I screwed up, they covered me.”
Today Burns joins his brother, Gary P. Burns, as a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. 2001.