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Smoky Burgess

Smoky Burgess

Position(s):
C
Born:
February 6, 1927
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 8"
Weight:
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-19-1949 with CHN

Forrest Harrill "Smoky" Burgess (February 6, 1927 – September 15, 1991) was an American catcher in Major League Baseball who later in his career became known for his ability as a pinch hitter, setting the major league career record for pinch-hits with 145. In his playing days, he stood 5'8" (173 cm), weighed 188 pounds (85 kg), batted left-handed and threw right-handed.

Baseball career

Born in Caroleen, North Carolina, Burgess was signed as an amateur free agent by the Chicago Cubs in 1944. In 1947, he led the Tri-State League with a .387 batting average.He followed that by leading the Southern Association with a .386 average in 1948. He broke into the majors in 1949 with the Cubs. In October 1951, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, who promptly traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Andy Seminick before the start of the 1952 season. With the Phillies, he platooned alongside the right-hand hitting Stan Lopata. He had his best season in 1954, when he had a .368 batting average in 108 games for the Phillies, earning his first All-Star Game selection.

At the beginning of the 1955 season, he was once again traded for Andy Seminick and returned to Cincinnati, where he finally got the chance to play every day. He rose to the occasion, hitting for a .306 batting average for the rest of the season along with 20 home runs and 77 runs batted in, gaining his second consecutive berth on the National League All-Star team. On July 29, 1955, Burgess hit three home runs and had nine runs batted in during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burgess began the 1956 season as the Reds' starting catcher, but when the team faltered early in the season, Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts decided to shake things up and replaced Burgess in favor of a younger Ed Bailey.

In 1959, Burgess was traded along with Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton and John Powers. Burgess was the Pirates catcher on May 26, 1959 when Haddix took a perfect game into the 13th inning against the Milwaukee Braves before losing the game. Burgess also won a World Series with the Pirates in 1960, batting .333 in the seven-game series.

By 1963, Jim Pagliaroni had taken over as the Pirates' starting catcher and in late 1964, Burgess was acquired by the Chicago White Sox, who were in the heat of the pennant race. In his first plate appearance with the White Sox on September 15 against the Detroit Tigers, he hit a game-tying home run off pitcher Dave Wickersham. Over the next three years, he was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, appearing in just 7 games behind the plate. After an 18-year career, Burgess retired at the end of the 1967 season.

Career statistics

Over his career, Burgess played in 1691 games hitting for a .295 career batting average with 126 home runs, 673 RBI and a .362 on base percentage. He accumulated 1318 career hits with 230 doubles and 33 triples. His .295 career batting average ranked him 10th among Major League catchers as of 2006. A six-time All-Star, Burgess led National League catchers in fielding percentage three times, in 1953, 1960 and 1961. His Major League record of 145 career pinch hits was broken by Manny Mota in 1979. Along with Curt Simmons, he was the last player to formally retire who had played in the major leagues in the 1940s (not counting Minnie Miñoso, who un-retired twice).

Post-playing career

When his playing career ended, Burgess spent many years with the Atlanta Braves as a scout and minor league batting coach with the Pulaski Braves in Pulaski, VA. He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1975. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1978. Burgess died at age 64 in Asheville, North Carolina.

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