Glancing Back, and Remembering Smoky Burgess
Smoky Burgess was one of the best hitting catchers in the history of baseball. He retired as one of the most prolific pinch hitters in the history of the game.
Burgess was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1944 and made his debut with the team in 1949. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in October of 1951, and two months later was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .296 in his first full season with the Phillies, and then batted .292 in 1953 and .368 in 1954.
At the start of the 1955 season, Burgess was traded back to the Reds. As the Reds’ starting catcher, Burgess had one of his best all-around offensive campaigns in 1955, batting .301 with 21 home runs and 78 RBIs. He hit for a combined batting average of .280 over the next three seasons, though he would never again match the power numbers he put up in 1955.
Just prior to the 1959 season, Burgess was traded again by the Reds with Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton, John Powers and Frank Thomas. It was a deal that would be critical to the Pirates’ success in 1960, as all three players acquired from the Reds contributed significantly in helping Pittsburgh win its first National League pennant in 44 years. Burgess hit .297 for the Pirates in 1959 and .294 in 1960. His best season in Pittsburgh was 1962, when he hit .328 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs.
In 1964, Burgess was acquired by the Chicago White Sox. While he served as a backup catcher for the White Sox, he was primarily a pinch hitter in his last three seasons, and was one of that era’s best. He hit a game-tying pinch home run in his first plate appearance for the White Sox, and hit .286 in 1965 and .313 in 1966. He retired after the 1967 season with a career batting average of .295.
Though never considered one of the game’s elite defensive catchers, Burgess did lead National League catchers in fielding percentage three times. He was a six-time All-Star.