Lew Burdette

Lew Burdette

Lew Burdette, 1957 world Series MVP

November 22, 1926
6' 2"
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-26-1950 with NYA
Allstar Selections:
1957 BR, 1957 WsMVP

One of baseball's great pitchers of the '50s, Burdette won 15 or more games eight times during his M.L. career including three World Series games in '57. Lew Burdette was a pitcher for 22 years (1946-1967), one in college (1946); 18 in the Majors (1950-1967) and six in the minors (1947-1951; 1967). He graduated from Nitro High School in 1944 at age 17 and entered the Armed Forces for World War II (WK). He was known as a finesse pitcher who did not throw a good fastball or strike out many hitters. Accused frequently of throwing a spitball, he was also known for his constant agitation on the mound.

As a Yankee

He then attended the University of Richmond (1946). Signed by scout Bill McCorry of the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1947, he broke into Organized Baseball in 1947 at age 20 with the Norfolk Tars in the Piedmont League, going 1-1 with a 4.33 ERA. He then pitched for the Amsterdam Rugmakers in the Canadian-American League in the same year, going 9-10 with a 2.82 ERA. Teammates recall that he spent much of his time playing pinball, using much of his expendable income on that hobby. He was with the Quincy Gems in the Three-I League the next year, posting a 16-11 record and 2.02 ERA, tying Art Bohman for the league lead in wins and finishing second to David Thieke in ERA. He then toiled for the 1949 Kansas City Blues of the American Association, going just 6-7 with a 5.26 ERA.

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.

In 1950, Lew went 7-7 with a 4.79 ERA for Kansas City and got a late look with the Yankees.

Sent back down to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1951 ans going 14-12, 3.21 for them, he was traded by the Yankees with $50,000 to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain on August 29, 1951.

As a Brave

He played for the Boston Braves (1951-1952). On September 26, 1951, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers stole home against rookie Burdette, infuriating the Braves.

Moving west with the Braves to Milwaukee in 1953, Burdette stayed with the Braves more than a decade (1953-1963). In 1953, according to Roy Campanella, Burdette knocked him down twice, and then yelled at him, "Nigger, get up and hit." On the other hand, when Campanella lay in his hospital bed after his accident, Burdette was one of the few opposing players who came to see him.

On May 12, 1954, Dodger Gil Hodges' home run in the fifth inning spoiled Burdette's bid for a no-hitter in the Braves 5–1 win. On May 31, 1956, the Chicago Cubs and the Braves kept banging on each other like rented mules, with Milwaukee coming out on top, 15–8. Burdette was the winner, while Paul Minner absorbed his 12th loss in a row to the Braves.

On August 13, 1957 Burdette hit his first two home runs to beat the Cincinnati Redlegs 12-4. On October 3, 1957 in game 2 of the World Series, Burdette defeated Yankee Bobby Shantz 4-2. On October 7, 1957 Burdette won his second against New York--a brilliant 1-0 shutout -- to give Milwaukee a 3-2 Series lead. On October 9, 1957, with Warren Spahn stricken by the flu, Burdette pitched with two days rest, to achieve his third complete game and second shutout to beat New York 5-0. The Braves won their first World Series championship since the "Miracle Braves" of 1914 beat Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics.

On July 10, 1958 Burdette hit two home runs to beat the Dodgers 8-4. On October 2, 1958, the Braves erupted for seven runs in the first inning and went on to defeat the Yankees 13-5 in the World Series. Burdette was shaky but beat New York for the fourth consecutive time. He also chipped in with a 3-run home run. On October 6, 1958, the Yankees finally solved Burdette, scoring six runs in the bottom of the 6th and winning 7-0 behind the 5-hit pitching of Bob Turley. On October 8, 1958, the Yankees won the World Series handily on Bill Skowron's three-run home run off Burdette in the eighth inning that put the game on ice 6-2.

When Burdette posed for his 1959 Topps baseball card, Lew grabbed teammate Warren Spahn's glove and pretended to be a lefty. Topps missed the joke and printed the card with the error. On April 16, 1959 Philadelphia Phillies Dave Philley, who had ended 1958 with eight consecutive pinch hits, started 1959 with a pinch-hit double in his first pinch at bat to extend his MLB record. Despite Philley's new mark, Burdette and the Braves won 7–3. Burdette allowed just six hits in beating Russ Meyer. On April 26, 1959 Cincinnati Reds pitcher Willard Schmidt is twice hit by pitches in the third inning in an 11–10 win over the Braves. Braves pitchers Bob Rush and Burdette do the plunking. It is a first in the major leagues, but the MLB mark will be tied in three years by Frank Thomas. On May 12, 1959 at Wrigley Field, Burdette lost a 3–2 lead in the ninth inning when he served up a gopher to Walt Moryn. After loading the bases, Burdette fired what he thought was strike three to pinch hitter Earl Averill. His next pitch is grand slammed by Averill for a 7–3 Cubs win. On May 26, 1959 in a singular performance, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched a perfect game against Milwaukee for 12 innings, only to lose in the 13th. Burdette went all 13 innings for his eighth win, scattering 12 hits.

On August 18, 1960, facing just 27 batters, Burdette pitched a 1–0 no-hitter against the Phillies. Tony Gonzalez, the only Phil to reach base, was hit by a Burdette pitch in the fifth inning but erased on a double play. Burdette also scored the only run of the game. On August 23, 1960 following up his no hitter, Burdette fired his third shutout in a row, pitching the Braves to a 7–0 win over the Dodgers. On August 27, 1960 after pitching 32⅔ innings without allowing a run, Burdette gave up a Felipe Alou home run as the San Francisco Giants defeated Milwaukee 3–1. On September 6, 1960 Pittsburgh's All-Star shortstop Dick Groat suffered a broken wrist when hit by a Burdette pitch.

In 1961 Sammy White was catching for Milwaukee when Orlando Cepeda came to the plate (he led the league in HR & RBI that year). White went to the mound to consult with Burdette about how to pitch to Cepeda and they both agreed that whatever they had tried had been unsuccessful. White came up with the idea that they should tell Cepeda what was coming because "nothing else had worked". Burdette agreed. White crouched behind the plate and told Cepeda what was coming. Cepeda protested to the umpire that this was illegal and was told it was not. From that point on, in that game, White told Cepeda every pitch that he signalled to Burdette and he was retired easily each time.

After the Braves

On June 15, 1963 he was traded by the Braves to the St. Louis Cardinals for Gene Oliver and Bob Sadowski. On June 2, 1964 he was traded by the Cardinals to the Cubs for Glen Hobbie and on May 30, 1965 he was purchased by the Phillies from the Cubs. Released by the Phillies on October 13, 1965, he was signed as a Free Agent with the California Angels on November 29, 1965.

On July 22, 1966, pitching in relief for the Angels, Burdette earned his 200th career victory. The Angels scored two runs in the top of the ninth to defeat the Yankees 6-4. Burdette hurled the final two innings in Yankee Stadium, allowing just one hit.

He played his final MLB game on July 16, 1967 at age 40 and on September 23, 1967 he was released by the Angels. He returned to the minors with the Seattle Rainiers (PCL) (1967); ending his baseball playing career at age 40. He then was a scout for the southeastern area, Central Scouting Bureau (1968) and a coach for the Atlanta Braves (1972-1973), ending his baseball career at age 46.


The Hero of the 1957 World Series with three complete game victories for the Milwaukee Braves, he was a two-time 20-game winner and a National League All-Star twice. Frequently accused of throwing a spitter, he threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 18, 1960. He was the winning pitcher against Harvey Haddix in the "Greatest game ever lost".

Years before Mark Fidrych became famous for talking to the baseball, Burdette used the same antics to psych himself up on the mound. In the 1957 World Series, he shut out the New York Yankees twice in four days to give the Milwaukee Brewers their only World Championship. He was the first pitcher in 37 years to win three complete games in a single World Series and the first since Christy Mathewson (1905) to throw two shutouts in a single Series. The win gave Milwaukee the world championship and earned Burdette Series MVP honors.

Hall of Fame lefty Warren Spahn and righthander Burdette gave the Braves a formidable one-two punch, with 443 victories between them in 13 seasons. A slider and sinkerball pitcher, Burdette was widely accused of throwing a spitball as well. Burdette never bothered to refute that charge, and used the paranoia to his advantage. His constant fidgeting on the mound fed that suspicion; it didn't indicate nervousness. Besides winning 20 games in 1958 and 21 in 1959, Burdette won 19 twice and 18 once. His 2.70 ERA topped the National League in 1956. In two All-Star Games, he allowed only one run in seven innings. He no-hit the Phillies on August 18, 1960, facing only 27 batters. On May 26, 1959, he was the winning pitcher when Pittsburgh's Harvey Haddix hurled 12 perfect innings against the Braves, only to lose in the 13th. (TJ)

Burdette had excellent control. Over a four-year stretch in which he averaged 20 wins and 280 innings per season, he walked a total of 156 batters, or 39 per year. 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. On the other hand, in part because he pitched in Milwaukee most of his career, and in part because he was always around the plate, Burdette gave up his share of home runs. In 1959, he led the National League when he surrendered 38 homers.

Best Years and Career Totals

In 1959, his best year in MLB, he was (21-15) with 20 complete games in 39 games started, 105 strikeouts, 38 walks and 4 shutouts in 289⅔ innings pitched with an ERA of 4.07 and a WHIP of 1.208 in 41 games In 1948, his best year in the minors, he was (16-11) with 19 complete games, 185 strikeouts, 72 walks and 6 shutouts in 214 innings pitched with an ERA of 2.02 and a WHIP of 1.103 in 31 games

Overall in MLB, he had 185 hits, 101 runs, 27 doubles, 4 triples, 12 home runs, 75 RBI and 2 stolen bases at (.183/.216/.253) in 666 games and was (203-144) with 158 complete games in 373 games started, 1074 strikeouts, 628 walks and 33 shutouts in 3067⅓ innings pitched with an ERA of 3.66 and a WHIP of 1.243 in 626 games Overall in the minors, he had 36 hits, 22 runs, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 18 RBI and 0 stolen bases at (.128/.209/.163) in 173 games and was (53-49) with 55 complete games, 528 strikeouts, 353 walks and 8 shutouts in 877 innings pitched with an ERA of 3.44 and a WHIP of 1.348 in 167 games.

Overall in the World Series, he was (4-2) with 25 strikeouts, 8 walks and 2 shutouts in 49⅓ innings pitched with an ERA of 2.92 and a WHIP of 1.0338 in 6 games and hit a homerun in the process. Overall in the All-Star games, he was (0-0) with 2 strikeouts and 1 walk in 7 innings pitched with an ERA of 1.29 and a WHIP of 1.0000 in 2 games.

After Baseball

After his baseball career was over, he became a public relations specialist for an Athens, GA cable television company. Burdette also cut a record in the 1950s entitled "Three Strikes and Then You're Out". He had brown hair and blue eyes, his ancestry was French-German and his principal hobbies were hunting and fishing. He died in 2007 of lung cancer at age 80.
[edit] Records Held

    * Tied National League record for pitchers for most times hitting two home runs in a game (2)
    * Established World Series record for most shutouts pitched in seven-game series (2), 1957
    * Tied World Series mark for most complete games, Series (3), 1957
    * Hold Series record for most home runs allowed, Series (5), 1958
    * Tied World Series record for most home runs allowed, inning (2), October 2, 1958
    * Tied record for most games lost in a World Series (2), 1958
    * Most appearances in a season without surrendering a walk (19), 1967


    * That winter (1959), the puckish Burdette asked for a $10,000 raise, explaining: "I'm the greatest pitcher that ever lived. The greatest game that was ever pitched in baseball wasn't good enough to beat me, so I've got to be the greatest!"
    * "I exploit the greed of all hitters"
    * "Let them think I throw it [the spitball]. That gives me an edge because it is another pitch they have to worry about."
    * "My best pitches were a sinker and slider," Burdette said. "I'd move the ball in and out. I always tried to keep it down. I was always being accused of throwing at the hitters. Early Wynn always said that he was the meanest pitcher in the American League, and I was the meanest in the National League." — Sports Collectors Digest, September 4, 1998
    * I think it was 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."
    * Bob Prince, the former Pittsburgh Pirates announcer, would refer to him as "Nitro Lew".

1957 World Series, 1958 World Series, Atlanta Braves, Lew Burdette, Milwaukee Braves, Spitball
Share |