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Smoky Burgess

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Forrest Harrill Burgess
(Shake, Rattle and Roll)

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[edit] Biographical Information

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Smoky Burgess is considered by many to be the greatest pinch hitter of all time, even if most of his pinch hitting records have since been broken. A six-time All-Star, he was a top-flight catcher earlier in his playing days but kept his uncanny ability to hit fastballs even when all his other skills - and especially his foot speed - were long gone. As deft with the leather as with the bat, Burgess led NL backstops in fielding percentage three times, and placed 3rd, 4th, and 5th other seasons.

Originally signed by the Chicago Cubs, Burgess began his pro career with the Lockport Cubs of the PONY League in 1944. After missing most of the next two years due to military service, he led the Tri-State League with a .387 average for the Fayetteville Cubs in 1947. After winning the Southern League batting crown the next year, he earned cups of coffee in the majors with the Cubs in 1949 and 1951.

Following the 1951 season, Burgess was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, who then sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies two months later. He was the Phillies' starting catcher for the next three years, hitting .368 in 345 at-bats and making the All-Star team in 1954. Early in the 1955 campaign, he was traded back to the now Redlegs. That season, he hit a career-best 21 homers, including 3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 29th. However, during the next three years with the Redlegs, he began seeing less time behind the plate and more appearances as a pinch hitter.

Prior to the 1959 season, Burgess was acquired by Pittsburgh. He was the team's primary catcher for four seasons and hit .333 in the 1960 World Series, which the Pirates won. By 1963, Jim Pagliaroni took over as the club's backstop, but the next year Burgess became the only player to ever make the All-Star team primarily because of his ability as a pinch hitter.

Late in the 1964 campaign, Burgess was acquired by the Chicago White Sox, who were in the heat of the pennant race. In his first plate appearance with the Sox on September 15th against the Detroit Tigers, he hit a game-tying homer off pitcher Dave Wickersham. Over the next three years, he was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, appearing in just 7 times behind the plate in 236 games. He led the American League in pinch hits in 1965 and 1966. Portly, slow, and too valuable to get injured on the base paths, he was routinely pinch run for. In 1966, he set the record for most at-bats in a season (67) without scoring a run as well as the marks for most hits in a season (21) and most RBI (15) without scoring. After posting excellent (for a pinch-hitter) .286 and .313 averages at 38 and 39 in 1965 and 1966 the bell tolled in 1967, and he retired on the heels of a dismal .133 campaign.

Over 18 years in the majors Burgess topped .300 in batting average six times, en route to a career .295. He was consistent, four times hitting within three points of his career mark, bracketing it with .292, .294, .296, and .297 seasons. When he retired, he was the runaway major league leader in pinch hits, his 145 (since broken by several players) far outpacing then #2 Jerry Lynch's 116. During the course of his big league career, the only defensive position Burgess played was catcher.

Following his playing career, Burgess returned to North Carolina and ran a car dealership. He later returned to baseball as a coach in the Atlanta Braves organization.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 6-time NL All-Star (1954, 1955, 1959-1961 & 1964)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1955)
  • Won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960

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