Tim Birtsas

This article was written by Steve Friedman

Tim Birtsas (TRADING CARD DATABASE)Timothy Dean Birtsas, a pitcher whose only major-league hit was a home run, spent five years pitching for Oakland and Cincinnati. He was born on September 5, 1960, in Pontiac, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. He grew up in nearby Clarkston, where, outside of his baseball career, he has spent most of his life. He attended elementary through high school in Clarkston, then came back home after his baseball career to work in business, founding a construction management company and remodeling a motel into a lakefront retreat. In his return to Clarkston, he lived within a mile of where he grew up.1

Besides his time in the major leagues, Birtsas also played professional baseball in Japan and Italy. He experienced the joy of being a World Series champion as well as on the winning team in the Italian Baseball League.

The Birtsas family arrived in the Clarkston area in in the fall of 1952, when his father, Gus, became a teacher in the Clarkston School District. Gus Birtsas spent 30 years teaching English and physical education and coaching baseball at Clarkston High School. He eventually became the principal at the local junior high school.2

Gus Birtsas coached baseball for many years, until Tim entered high school. At one point, when Tim’s career hit a steak of bad luck, Gus flew to Las Vegas, received special permission to go onto the ballfield and, at 61 years old, squatted behind the plate to help coach his son.3 “There was no limitation to the sacrifices he would make for us,” said Tim. “I became a professional baseball player because of him. He put as much work into it as I did.”4 His mother, Carolyn, worked as a registered nurse until she and Gus retired in 1987.

Tim grew to 6-feet-7-inches, weighed 240 pounds, and was a dominating left-handed pitcher who also played basketball for. Clarkston High School. After graduating in 1978 he entered Michigan State University on a baseball scholarship. He played baseball for three years at Michigan State, from 1980 through 1982. While the Spartans did not have a winning record during those years, Birtsas was a second team Big 10 selection in 1982 when he started 10 games and compiled a 6-4 record, striking out 68 batters in 64⅓ innings.5 His eight complete games that season tied for the second most in a Spartan season.6

Birtsas’s imposing height and live arm made him a good draft prospect. A scouting report submitted by a White Sox scout in May 1982 described him as having a good fastball (87 to 90 mph) and good mechanics, but suggested that he needed to learn a curveball and a changeup. The scout commented, “great poise, good kid.”7

In June 1982 the New York Yankees selected Birtsas in the second round of the free-agent draft. Birtsas immediately began his minor-league career with Oneonta of the New York-Penn League. Through the next two seasons, 1983 and 1984, he continued his development in Fort Lauderdale of the Florida State League. During this period, he started 32 games and logged 225⅓ innings. He was out of action much of 1984 with a leg injury, but came back late in the season to make 10 starts as the team won the league championship.

After the 1984 season, Birtsas was packaged with outfielder Stan Javier and pitchers Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, and Eric Plunk in a trade with Oakland that brought Rickey Henderson, pitcher Bert Bradley, and cash to the Yankees.8 It was the first of two trades in which Birtsas was bundled with Rijo.

Birtsas began the 1985 season in the minor leagues, playing in the Pacific Coast League for Tacoma, the A’s Triple-A farm club. After making four starts, he was called up to Oakland and made his major-league debut on May 3, in a relief appearance late in the game when the A’s were losing to the Boston Red Sox in Oakland. After two more relief appearances, he made his first major-league start on May 23 in Oakland, throwing six innings to earn a 4-2 win against the Baltimore Orioles and was soon added to the starting rotation.

On May 30 Birtsas made his second start, in Detroit against the Tigers. “From the time when I was seven years old, I used to dream of playing with the Tigers,” Birtsas said after the game, in which he gave up three runs in five innings and took the loss. “It was a neat experience today. I always wanted to play in Tiger Stadium for many years. I just always thought it’d be in the other uniform.”9 In the third inning, Birtsas hit local star Kirk Gibson, a hometown friend and fellow Michigan State Spartan, in the mouth with a pitch that sent Gibson to the hospital for 17 stitches on his upper and lower lips. “I just missed with the pitch,” Birtsas said. “I was trying to bust him inside and the ball took off. It was not meant to happen, but it did. The bases were loaded and the last thing I wanted to do was walk him. I can understand everyone being upset. He’s their hero.”10

Birtsas’s initial performances cemented his role in the A’s rotation. After the game, manager Jackie Moore announced that he would join the starting rotation permanently. “We felt from the first day he showed up at spring training that the kid had a lot of ability,” said Moore. “We just didn’t know when he was going to produce. He’s a youngster that has a great feel for pitching.”11

Birtsas went on to post a 10-6 record in 1985, making 25 starts. After an August 25 victory over the Orioles that improved his record to 10-4, there was talk about him being selected as Rookie of the Year, but he failed to win another game the rest of the season, making six more starts but throwing only 25 innings and accumulating an ERA of 6.12.

The 1986 season was a difficult one for Birtsas. Slated to be one of the left-handers in the A’s bullpen, he started the major-league season by appearing in two games, pitching just two innings and yielding five earned runs. He was sent to Tacoma, where he spent the rest of the season, compiling a 3-7 record with an ERA of 5.07. Knee problems may have been a cause of his ineffectiveness.

Birtsas remained in the minors again in 1987, splitting his season between Tacoma and Huntsville of the Double-A Southern League. After the season he was packaged again with Jose Rijo and traded to the Cincinnati Reds for slugger Dave Parker.

Birtsas hoped to land a spot on the major-league roster as a long reliever. At the start of the 1988 season, he was optioned to Nashville of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. After eight starts, he was recalled. For the Reds he appeared in 36 games (four starts), compiling a 1-3 record. At the end of August, he was again optioned to Nashville, but was recalled three days later to spend the rest of the season with the Reds after Rijo landed on the disabled list with a sore elbow.12

The 1989 campaign was Birtsas’s only full season in the majors. Except for one start, he appeared in relief in 42 games. On July 2, he achieved his first major-league hit, a home run, off Sid Fernandez of the New York Mets in a game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. He hit it to right field on a 1-and-2 pitch in the bottom of the third inning. He had entered the game in the top of that inning in relief of starter Scott Scudder. On August 7 he earned the only save of his career, a four-inning effort against the San Francisco Giants in a 10-2 victory. It was his longest outing of the season.

On November 3, 1990, the Reds named Lou Piniella as their new manager. He replaced interim manager Tommy Helms, who ran the team during the latter days of the 1989 season after the suspension of Pete Rose.13 Piniella took over leadership of a team that had lost 87 games in 1989 and guided them to become World Series champions.

Birtsas began the 1990 season on the Reds’ roster as the Reds raced out of the box, opening the season with a nine-game winning streak and never falling out of first place in the National League West. The drivers for the team were the Reds’ outstanding relief core, known as the “Nasty Boys,” Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, Tim Layana, and Birtsas. “We come after teams,” said Myers. “And we do a lot of talking.”14 In their season-opening nine-game winning streak, the Nasties had four wins and five saves.15

Their bullpen depth took pressure off the starting pitchers, who needed to go only five, six, or seven innings before the game was turned over to the bullpen. The middle innings were the domain of right-handed pitcher Layana, known for his knuckle curve, and the left-handed Birtsas, who relied on his fastball. The late innings brought on Charlton, Myers, and Dibble.16 Birtsas finished April without surrendering an earned run, appearing in four games and earning a victory.

On June 4 Birtsas struck out four batters in the seventh inning of a 10-1 loss to the Giants. In that inning, in which he also surrendered one run and two hits, he struck out Greg Litton, Will Clark, Matt Williams, and Gary Carter. The Williams strikeout was on a wild pitch on which he reached first base.

Birtsas’s performance faded after April. By late June, with his ERA now over 4.00, it was apparent that Piniella had lost faith in him, and Piniella reduced his use to mopping up late innings during losses. On July 26 he was optioned to Nashville.17 He was recalled in September and made the postseason roster, but did not pitch in either the National League Championship Series or the World Series.

On December 11, 1990, the Reds released Birtsas.18 He continued his professional career in Japan, signing for the 1991 season with the Yakult Swallows of the Central League of Nippon Professional Baseball. He pitched in 18 games, starting 16, and ended the season with a 3-5 record. During a game in mid-April, Birtsas was ejected for fighting after a brushback pitch to Yoshihisha Komatsuzaki, who then rushed the mound. Birtsas received a warning, but Komatsuzaki was fined $1,500.19

After that one season in Japan, Birtsas signed to play for Rimini of the Italian Baseball League. In limited action during the regular season, he was 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA. In the league playoffs, however, he led the team to a three-game sweep in the championship finals. He won two of the three games, throwing a pair of complete games and surrendering only one earned run. Although Birtsas flirted with a return to the major leagues when he signed a minor-league contract with the Detroit Tigers in early 1993,20 hip problems forced to him retire from baseball and he eventually had hip replacements in 2003.21

Birtsas has suggested that one reason he played internationally was to accumulate money to go into business.22 After he retired, he founded RBI Inc., a construction and development company that specialized in real estate investments, management, and historical preservation.23 Over time, he developed numerous local projects, often with his business partner Kirk Gibson. For example, in 2001, he purchased the land that contained Ellis Barn, an 1884 building that represented a significant period of Michigan’s agricultural history. He began a five-year fight to rehabilitate the building, and in 2005 he and Gibson donated the barn to Springfield Township, adding a cash donation to support its rehabilitation.24

Birtsas told an interviewer in 2009 that he had grown to like the development business. “It was tough for me in the beginning (to leave baseball), but now that I’ve moved into business, I get the same rush as I did pitching a two-hit shutout,” he said.25



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, and Baseball-Almanac.com.



1 Heather Clement, “Clarkston Loses Beloved Mentor,” Clarkston (Michigan) News, July 27, 2005.

2 Clement.

3 Clement.

4 Clement.

5 https://web1.ncaa.org/app_data/statsPDFArchive/MBA1/Baseball_Men’s_Division%20I_1982_416_Michigan%20State%20University.pdf Accessed October 5, 2020.

6 “Final 1982 Men’s Baseball Statistics Report,” https://web1.ncaa.org/app_data/statsPDFArchive/MBA1/Baseball_Men’s_Division%20I_1982_416_Michigan%20State%20University.pdf Accessed April 23, 2021.

7 “Tim Birtsas Scouting Report, 1982 May 09,” National Baseball Hall of Fame. https://collection.baseballhall.org/PASTIME/tim-birtsas-scouting-report-1982-may-09 Accessed April 23, 2021.

8 Murray Chass, “Yanks and A’s Complete Deal for Henderson,” New York Times, December 6, 1984.

9 Bob Tripi, “Tim Birtsas Grew Up with Dream of Playing,” UPI Archives, May 30, 1985. upi.com/Archives/1985/05/30/Tim-Birtsas-grew-up-with-a-dream-of-playing/3426486273600/.

10 Tripi.

11 Tripi.

12 Associated Press, “Rijo Placed on 21-Day Disabled List,” New London (Connecticut) Day, August 28, 1988.

13 Associated Press, “Helms Managing Reds,” New York Times, August 25, 1989.

14 Claire Smith, “Reds Find Relief with ‘Nasty” Bunch on and off Mound,” New York Times, April 23, 1990.

15 Smith.

16 Smith.

17 Charles F. Faber and Zacharia Webb, The Hunt for Reds October: Cincinnati in 1990 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016), 145.

18 Faber and Webb, 156.

19 Associated Press, “Perfect Parks Have Best of Old, New,” Bowling Green (Kentuckey) Daily News, April 19, 1991.

20 “Birtsas Signs with Tigers,” Clarkston News, February 17, 1993.

21 “Birtsas Signs with Tigers.”

22 “Birtsas Signs with Tigers.”

23 Carol Hopkins, “Oakland County Cruisers hire former MLB player,” Oakland Press, March 9, 2009.

24 https://www.oakgov.com/parks/parksandtrails/Springfield-Oaks/ellis-barn/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed April 23, 2021.

25 Hopkins.

Full Name

Timothy Dean Birtsas


September 5, 1960 at Pontiac, MI (USA)

If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.