1910: Sleepy Bill Burns


Bill Burns

Today, June 7, marks the 100th Anniversary of the Chicago White Sox sending Sleepy Bill Burns to Cincinnati for $4000. Now some of you are asking yourself why you know that name. He’s a fairly obscure pitcher but the name rings a bell. That’s because Burns was a key figure in trying to fix the 1919 World Series. In the movie Eight Men Out he is played by Christopher Lloyd.

Christopher Lloyd

Burns wasn’t much of a pitcher. He came up with Washington in 1908 as a left-handed hurler, went 6-11 (which actually wasn’t bad at Washington) and got traded in 1909 to Chicago. He went 7-13 then was sent to Cincinnati after pitching a third of an inning in 1910. He managed to go 9-14 with the Reds before going to the Phillies in 1911. At Philadelphia he got to 6-10, then finished his big league career with Detroit in 1912 going 1-4. His overall record was 30-52 with a 2.72 ERA (which sounds better now than it did 100 years ago), 705 hits in 718 innings, and 233 strikeouts to go with 147 walks. Not terrible numbers, but nothing to get excited about.

Today he’s noted for helping fix the 1919 World Series. He’s one of the first to approach the players and worked for a while independent of Arnold Rothstein and Abe Atell. He ended up in court and, like the rest of them, got off.

What I find interesting about the deal that sent him to Cincinnati is the amount of cash involved. At the time $4000 was a pretty good amount of money for a player. Remember Joe Jackson, one of the players Burns tried to recruit for the fix was only making $6000 a year in 1919. It’s also true that Jackson was underpaid, but the closeness of the amounts is staggering to me. Charlie Comiskey could receive $4000 for what was at best a mediocre pitcher, but he couldn’t pay his best hitter more than $6000. When I read numbers like that I get less astounded at the Black Sox scandal.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to exonerate Jackson or his cronies. I think there’s a special place in hell for guys like that, but I do find it more understandable when I read that Comiskey got a bunch of money for a bum pitcher and Jackson could hit .350 and just barely make more than that pitcher. Are you telling me that Shoeless Joe Jackson was worth only $2000 more than Sleepy Bill Burns? Incredible.


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