Two years later, Burns was in the majors to stay, to the special delight of his biggest fan, his dad. But on July 16, 1981 Charlie Burns was struck by a car while picking up the mail outside the family's summer home. He fell into a coma for several days and suffered brain damage. He died on Sept. 9. When the strike-interrupted baseball season resumed on Aug. 10, Britt spent one day in five pitching for the White Sox and the rest of the time with his father. His pitching actually flourished during the ordeal.
"Britt's career had always been uppermost in our minds," says his mother, Nancy, a retired secretary. "We'd given it a preeminence it didn't necessarily deserve. As a result of the accident, we put Britt's pitching in proper perspective. He felt less pressure. On the other hand, Britt says he pitched more intently. After all, he was pitching for his father."
"His eyes were usually open," says Britt. "We had no way of knowing whether he could hear us, but there was no way I was going to go down there to tell him, 'Well, I lost one for you, Dad.' It wasn't all that hard to pitch. The pitching helped me take my mind off the accident. I found strength and determination I never knew I had." At one point Burns threw 30 consecutive scoreless innings.
"It was one of the most courageous performances I've ever seen by an athlete," says LaRussa. The White Sox owners thought so, too: After the season Burns signed a three-year contract calling for $350,000 in 1982, $550,000 in 1983 and $750,000 in 1984. If money can guarantee a rosy future, the Sox appear to have made at least one very good investment.