(KPIX) — John Burkett was surprised to hear that his 22 wins from the 1993 season is still the most by any one pitcher in San Francisco Giants history since 1973.
“I would have bet a lot of money that Lincecum or Cain won 20 games,” Burkett said. The former Giants sinkerball specialist admittedly has lost some touch with the game after he retired in 2003.
Burkett’s signature pre-delivery pose on the mound was reminiscent of a bowler’s stance moments before spinning it down an oily lane. Back then, Burkett hunched over as he peered in at the catcher — his glove obstructing his face. Today it looks similar, only now he wields a 16 pound ball.
Five years ago Burkett turned pro for the second time in his life. He’s a member of the PBA50 which is the senior arm of the legendary Pro Bowlers Association that garnered huge TV ratings over 30 years ago.
The fanfare for bowling has subsided over the decades, but Burkett’s passion for the game is alive and well in the basement of his home.
“My dream was to always have bowling lanes put in my house,” said Burkett with a wry smile.
He recently moved into a new custom pad in Fort Worth, Texas with his wife. On the blueprints: a mini bowling alley that has two regulation lanes complete with the pinsetter mechanism, oil machine, ball rack and drill. The setup is impressive to say the least.
But Burkett didn’t build his field of dreams simply to have something to do while he sips a Lone Star. Within the year, Burkett rolled his first 300 game and won his first professional tournament — the latter never accomplished by a professional baseball player.
The competitive juices still flow 27 years after he pitched the Giants to a 103 game season that did not result in a playoff berth. San Francisco needed to beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles on the final day of the 1993 season, but the pitching staff gave up 12 runs and the Giants were sent home for the winter. The Atlanta Braves backed into the NL West crown, and later won the pennant.
The fatal 162 game will always be known as the one that was started by rookie pitcher Salomon Torres. Then-manager Dusty Baker was forced to choose between Torres and journeyman lefty Scott Sanderson to face a struggling Dodgers lineup.
Torres didn’t make it out of the 4th inning and allowed three runs. Nearly 30 years later, he remains the whipping boy for Giants fans, but many tend to forget relievers Dave Burba and Dave Righetti allowed four runs each in the 12-1 onslaught.
Looking back, Burkett doesn’t fault anyone for what happened that day.
“It was a really tough decision for Dusty Baker and [pitching coach] Dick Pole to start Torres,” he said. “I would have picked Torres too.”
When the Giants returned home from LA that October night, hundreds of fans packed SFO to welcome the team home. They cheered for a dominant club that didn’t get rewarded with a playoff berth, but in reality they would have cheered for the Bad News Bears that night.
The year prior, MLB commissioner Bud Selig blocked an agreement that would have sent the Giants to Tampa Bay and left San Francisco without a team.
“I was looking for places to live in Tampa,” Burkett recalled. The move was imminent for everyone in the organization.
In the months following, Peter Magowan purchased the team, signed Barry Bonds and hired Dusty Baker to complete a stunning resurrection.
The franchise went from a 72 win team in 1992 to a 103 win team in 1993. Burkett and teammate Bill Swift won over 40 percent of the games that year which ultimately paved the way for baseball’s future in San Francisco.
“The ’93 season brought excitement back to San Francisco,” Burkett said. “It jump started the opportunity to get that new stadium.”
When the Giants constructed their Wall of Fame in 2008 on the King Street side of Oracle Park, Burkett’s plaque was one of the first to be riveted to the brick facade. Figuratively speaking, however, he made his mark on the place in 1993.