Tom Berg was the first Seattle area player to be scouted and signed by the Seattle Pilots. A right-hander who pitched for Franklin High School and later the University of Puget Sound, Berg used a blazing fastball and knuckle change to dominate hitters. Despite going 7-1, with a 0.56 earned run average in his junior year at U.P.S., Berg was not drafted. After being discovered, he played for Newark in 1968 and Billings in 1969. In June of 2001, I talked to Tom Berg about his experiences as a Pilots farmhand.
Q: How did you get your tryout with the Pilots?
A: I was dating the daughter of Frank Sugia, a musician and nightclub owner in Seattle. He was personal friends with Edo Vanni and told him about me. I was invited to work out at Sick's Stadium in June of 1968. I pitched full-speed batting practice against the Seattle Angels and did really well. The manager was really surprised and the Pilots scout said he wanted to sign me right now. I went home, changed into my suit and brought my dad back for the signing. Then, I went to Newark that week and ended up in the starting rotation. I was a little surprised that I didn't get drafted, but scouting in the Northwest wasn't as advanced back then. One scout would work for several teams and might come around once a year.
Tom Berg (center) is congratulated after signing with the Pilots. Berg's father is to the left, scout Bill Marshall on the right.
Q: What was it like playing for Sibby Sisti?
A: He was a classic old-time manager, the 'get your ass out there and play' type. Not the most demonstrative guy and I was a little more sensitive and needed more one-on-one. When he spoke, it was to address the team, not individuals. He was a very knowledgable baseball man, though, and had groomed us into a winning team by mid-season.
Q: Do you have a special memories from either season?
A: Several. About a third of the way into the season at Newark, I had just beaten the Oneonta Yankees. Three days later, before my next turn in the rotation, the manager came to the back of the bus and said, 'I didn't want to tell you this before, but you're pitching tonight, because the front office is coming." My hands still get sweaty thinking about it, because it was against the league-leading Auburn Twins. But I had my best pro game. We won and I struck out 10 and went two-for-three at the plate. Sal Maglie came up to me and said, 'I'm so proud, that I'd like to buy you a beer,' and he bought me a beer. Also, I hit over .300 that season. I was kind of hoping that I might catch on with someone as a first baseman if the pitching didn't pan out.
I worked out and pitched batting practice for the Pilots at Sick's Stadium on my birthday, April 14. It was incredible playing catch with Diego Segui. He was showing me how to hold certain pitches. Since they seemed to see me as a reliever, I was thinking about developing some specialty pitches and he and Jim Bouton showed me the knuckleball. Then there was throwing batting practice to Tommy Harper. It was like fantasyland. The Pilots had a lot of big name players. Some of them were near the end of their career, but they were still well known.
It was exciting to see my name in Ball Four, about shaving my sideburns off, except that they spelled my name "Byrd." I called Jim Bouton up and he said he would get it fixed, but when the next version came out, it wasn't fixed.
[NOTE FROM MIKE: Tom was pleased to hear that it is corrected in the latest version.]
Q: So, why didn't your career last longer?
A: After my first pro season, I went back to finish my senior year at college. Someone came into the fraternity house and said there was a snowball fight outside and Rich Hand was creaming our guys and I had to go defend the honor of our house. Rich Hand later pitched for the Texas Rangers and he was my big rival, although we were teammates. I went out there, throwing full speed, when something tore in my shoulder. I still have a tweak in that shoulder. I didn't tell anyone about it, because in those days, if you said you were injured, you were gone. I couldn't work out through the winter and arrived in Billings out of shape. I still had good control, but didn't have the same power. I limited my own career with that stupid fight. I was used more as long reliever in Billings and had a good enough year to be invited back for a third season.
Q: Were any of the players upset when the Pilots moved?
A: Oh yeah. I was crushed. A lot of people were caught off-guard and 20 or 30 guys just got dumped. I was one of the last to go, because I just got out of six months in the military and they couldn't release me. They pulled me aside and told me I could pitch next season in Clinton, but they made it clear that there was no future for me after the team was sold. I had a degree, so I decided not to go back, but it was unfortunate that it had to happen like that, because a lot of young guys never got a chance to show what they could do. A couple of those 18 year-olds went back home to work at the gas station. I was just turned off by cold-bloodedness of it all.
Q: What did you do after baseball?
A: After Bobby Kennedy was killed in 1968, the Secret Service decided to beef up for the 1972 election. I saw an ad that they were recruiting and in July of 1970, interviewed at the Seattle field office. I was hired and spent the next six years as a special agent in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. In 1977, I went to work for the Mariners, selling season tickets. After two months, I was made assistant director of ticket services. After the first year, though, they let us go when the executive director was fired and the new management told us to re-apply for our jobs. I had put in about 500 hours of uncompensated overtime and when my wife heard what happened, she said, "Are you nuts? Get a real job." So, I got a job selling pharmaceuticals and now I'm general manager of a company that does home I-V therapy.
Q: Do you stay in touch with your old teammates?
A: I roomed with Steve Williams in Newark and Steve Harvey in billings. They were both great guys and we became good friends. I also became close friends with Bill Parsons and Jim Slaton. Unfortunately, when the sale happened, we all went our own way.
Q: Any final impressions?
A: The whole time was like an extension of the fraternity house..guys from all races getting along like brothers. We used to listen to the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles all of the time at the back of the bus. They were our soundtrack to that first season.