Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Cooperstown's Loss

Quote of the Day: "I have a boatload of memories about Lew Burdette. I think what I remember most was that he was a tremendous competitor. He pitched in pain. He pitched to win." - Bud Selig
1957 World series MVP Lew Burdette (a/k/a "Lou" Burdette) pitched a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 18, 1960.

One of the best major league baseball players never elected to the Hall of Fame passed away yesterday (2/6/07). Selva Lewis Burdette, Jr., known by baseball fans as Lew Burdette, was born November 22, 1926, in Nitro WV, and retired to Winter Gardens FL, near Orlando, where he lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 80. Apparently a smoker, Lew Burdette once appeared in an ad for Camel cigarettes.

The 1957 World Series represents one of my fondest childhood memories. I stayed home from school in 4th grade to watch Game 7 as my favorite national league team, the Milwaukee Braves (formerly of Boston), defeated the Yankees for their only championship while in Milwaukee. Lew Burdette pitched three complete games in the series, including a seven-hit shutout in the deciding contest. He finished with 24 consecutive scoreless innings (3-0, 0.67 ERA) and was the Series’ MVP.

Years before Mark Fidrych became famous for talking to the baseball, Lew Burdette used the same antics to psych himself up on the mound. Often accused of throwing a spitball, Burdette never bothered to refute that charge, and used the paranoia to his advantage. In the 1957 World Series, he shut out the New York Yankees twice in four days.

Burdette was 203-144 with a 3.66 earned-run average from 1950 to 1967. Burdette started his career with the Yankees and was traded to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain during the 1951 season. An outstanding control pitcher, his career average of 1.84 walks per nine innings pitched places him behind only Robin Roberts (1.73), Carl Hubbell (1.82) and Juan Marichal (1.82) among pitchers with at least 3000 innings since 1920. He compiled 158 regular season complete games and 33 shutouts. Lew Burdette's career included the following stops:

New York Yankees (1950)
Boston Braves (1951-1952)
Milwaukee Braves (1953-1963)
St. Louis Cardinals (1963-1964)
Chicago Cubs (1964-1965)
Philadelphia Phillies (1965)
California Angels (1966-1967)

The right-hander led the National League with 21 wins in 1959, ERA (2.70) in 1956, and twice led the league in shutouts. Remarkably, he was the winning pitcher in the famous game in which Harvey Haddix lost a perfect game in the 13th inning. Burdette went all 13 innings for the win.

Burdette also cut a record in the 1950s entitled "Three Strikes and Then You're Out". Burdette would sign his name "Lewis" on his contracts, and would alternate between "Lou" and “Lew" for autograph-seekers. He said he really didn't care how his first name (which was actually his middle name) was spelled.
Pictured above is Burdette's 1960 Topps Baseball Card

When he posed for his 1959 Topps baseball card, Lew Burdette grabbed teammate Warren Spahn's glove and pretended to be a lefty. Topps missed the joke and printed the card with the error.
1959 Topps Baseball Card is on <---- the left.
Burdette was involved in at least one racial incident in the minor leagues when in 1949 he hit Jim Pendleton, one of the first black players in the American Association, in the head with a fastball, sending Pendleton to the hospital. He married Mary Ann Shelton on June 30, 1949 in midseason. He played for the Boston Braves in 1951 and 1952. On September 26, 1951, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers stole home against rookie Burdette, infuriating the Braves.

Burdette was not an automatic out at the plate, either. On August 13, 1957 Burdette hit his first two home runs to beat the Cincinnati Redlegs 12-4. On July 10, 1958 Burdette hit two home runs to beat the Dodgers 8-4. During his career he hit 12 home runs and collected 75 runs-batted-in.

Incredibly, Lew Burdette never came close to being enshrined in Cooperstown. He was on the ballot 15 times and was named on as many as 97 ballots (24.1%) in 1984, far short of the amount required for election. Following is a summary of Burdette’s HOF election tallies.

Year- Election- Votes- Pct
1973- BBWAA- 12- 3.2%
1974- BBWAA- 7- 1.9%
1975- BBWAA- 11- 3.0%
1976- BBWAA- 21- 5.4%
1977- BBWAA- 85- 22.2%
1978- BBWAA- 76- 20.1%
1979- BBWAA- 53- 12.3%
1980- BBWAA- 66- 17.1%
1981- BBWAA- 48- 12.0%
1982- BBWAA- 43- 10.4%
1983- BBWAA- 43- 11.5%
1984- BBWAA- 97- 24.1%
1985- BBWAA- 82- 20.8%
1986- BBWAA- 96- 22.6%
1987- BBWAA- 96- 23.2%

Another interesting tidbit for baseball card collectors is that Topps made another significant error in 1959. This one was on the baseball card of Ralph "Lefty" Lumenti, my hometown hero from Milford MA (he is mentioned in my book). The picture on his card is not him. It is his teammate Camilio Pascual.Above is 1959 Topps Error Card #316 Ralph Lumenti

For his fans, it was unfortunate since Lefty Lumenti only appeared on two other Topps cards (1958 & 1961). He also appeared in the relatively rare 1960 Leaf Series. Here is what Lefty Lumenti really looked like:Above: Ralph Lumenti's 1961 Topps Baseball Card #469

Anyway, back to Lew Burdette who, when asked how he knew it was time to retire, said, "They were starting to hit the dry side of the ball." Teammate Gene Conley said, "Lew had ice water in his veins. Nothing bothered him, on or off the mound. He was a chatterbox out there ... he would talk to himself, to the batter, the umpire, and sometimes even to the ball."

May God rest your soul, Lew Burdette. Thank you for the memories.


Changed by His Love said...

Hello - thanks for what you wrote about Lou Burdette - he is my grandfather.

Gerald said...

Ralph "Lefty" lumenti played here in a small fishing village (Blacks Harbour New Brunswick Canada)while he was going to university.I was only about 15 yrs. of age and he asked me if i would catch for him,as he wanted to to throw a few.I was kind of scared,but he said ,don't worry I won't throw hard,and he didn't.He would put the curve ball right where I had my glove,and great curveball.Gerald Mcgarrigle.