Timothy Philip Burke was born on February 19, 1959 in Omaha, Nebraska. The six foot three right hander became a star pitcher at the University of Nebraska where he went on full scholarship. There he was a four year All Big Eight player for the Cornhuskers baseball team, getting signed as a second round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980.
He was shipped around in the minors, first going to the A.L. New York club with three other minor leaguers for former Met Lee Mazzilli in 1982. Burke got married the same year & was then traded to the Montreal Expos organization, where he played for his future MLB manager Buck Rodgers. He went 11-8 with a 3.49 ERA & three saves at AAA Indianapolis in 1984.
The next year he made the Expos staff out of Spring Training & went on to tie a record with 78 appearances in his rookie season. That season he was mainly a set up man to Jeff Reardon, having a 20 2/3 scoreless inning streak going from June to mid July. He went 9-4 with 13 holds a 2.39 ERA & eight saves in 78 games for the 1985 Expos.
When Jeff Reardon went to Minnesota in 1987, Burke took over and became one of the leagues better closers in the late 1980’s. In 1987 he was 7-0 with 18 saves, posting a fantastic 1.19 ERA in 55 appearances. He saved 18 more games the following season, going 3-5 & leading all NL pitchers in fielding%.
He had his best overall year in 1989. coming in fourth in the league with 28 saves, going 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA making his first All Star appearance. 1990 was his last big save season, posting 20 saves going 3-3 with a 2.52 ERA.
During those years he was amongst the league’s top ten in saves four times, but by 1991 Barry Jones took over the closing role. Midway through 1991 he was 3-4 with five saves when he was traded to the New York Mets for Ron Darling. Darling had been struggling & the Mets felt it was time to move on as the final pieces of their 1986 Championship season were going fast.
Burke came to the New York bull pen mostly being used as John Franco’s set up man, and to work as a middle reliever. He debuted at Shea Stadium on July 18th against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The next day he earned his first win pitching two innings in relief of Sid Fernandez also against the Dodgers. The Mets would win the game led by Kevin McReynolds three run 8th inning HR. Burke would blow a save and then lose two games before earning his first Mets save at the end of August.
In September he won two more games, & was credited with three hold but also blew two save opportunities well. Overall In 35 games he went 3-3 with a save, four holds and a 2.75 ERA. In 1992 after 15 games his ERA was up near six & he was traded to the A.L. New York team for Lee Gutterman. After going 2-2 there in 23 appearances he chose to retire from baseball at age 32.
Retirement: Burke is a born again Christian & wanted to get away from a life on the road. He chose to leave the game in order to have a more settled down style of life with his wife & form a family. The Burke’s have four adopted children from different parts of the world, two from Korea, one from Vietnam & one from Guatemala.
He wrote a book in 1994 about his career ending decisions, called Major League Dad: The Moving Story of an All-Star Pitcher Who Gave up Baseball for His Family. In his eight year playing career he was 49-33 record with 102 saves and a 2.72 ERA. He pitched in 498 games, with 444 strikeouts in 699 innings.