Lew Burdette was MVP, 1957 World Series; 1956 National League (NL) ERA leader; 2x NL All-Star (1957, 1959); 1959 NL wins leader; with an August 18, 1960 no-hitter to his credit. This blog highlights his 1950-51 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) season—one that helped the Boston Braves acquire him from the NY Yankees, on August 29, 1951, as a “throw-in” in the deal in which the Yankees paid the Braves $50,000 for Johnny Sain. For other details, please see Burdette’s fine SABR bio by Alex Kupfer: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/lew-burdette/. (Kupfer did not mention Burdette’s stint with Mayagüez.) Some pivotal items for Burdette were:
- 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA in the 1957 World Series, for Milwaukee, versus the NY Yankees.
- His first pro season, at 20, began with the 1947 Norfolk Tars, the same club where Hiram Bithorn—Puerto Rico’s first big-league pitcher (1942 Chicago Cubs), but not the Island’s first big-leaguer, also made his pro debut at 20.
- Nervous mannerisms such as fixing his jersey and hat, wiping his forehead, touching his lips, and talking to himself could, in the words of one of his managers, Fred Haney, “make coffee nervous.” Burdette was rumored to throw a spitball.
Part II picks up with Burdette’s legacy via 1957 World Series pitching for Milwaukee versus the NY Yankees. It also includes two Tables on AL and NL 20-game winners who pitched in the Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL), including Burdette.
Burdette’s Big-League Highlights
Twelve hurlers won three games in an AL-NL World Series, including Burnette, per Table I.
Table I: Twelve Hurlers with Three Wins—One AL-NL World Series
Source: Baseball Reference.
Tables II-III compare Burdette to Johnny Sain, acquired by the Yankees for $50,000, with Burdette going to the Boston Braves, on August 29, 1951. Table IV lists World Series stats for five Braves’ hurlers, including Burnette.
Source: Baseball Reference.
#1948 Boston Braves; 1951, 1952, 1953 NY Yankees. Source: Baseball Almanac.
Table IV: Burdette’s World Series Stats Versus Four Cooperstown Hall of Famers#
#Atlanta Braves 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series stats for Tom Glavine and John Smoltz; 1995, 1996, and 1999 stats for Greg Maddux; 1948 Boston Braves, and 1957 and 1958 Milwaukee Braves stats for Warren Spahn. Source: Baseball Almanac.
Dr. Jeffery Hartsog, the author’s former dentist in Jackson, Mississippi, was originally from West Virginia (WV). “I fell in love with the Braves and Lew Burdette in the 1957 World Series when I was 10 years old,” recalled Hartsog via e-mail on January 7, 2023. Burdette was from WV, as I was and he won 3 games which helped the Braves beat the Yankees. Warren Spahn was the Ace but Burdette showed him up and won the Corvette!”
Haddix and Burdette were the first two 20-game winners in the NL, who pitched in the PRWL, per Table V. Bob Turley, 1958 NY Yankees, was the first AL 20-game winner who pitched in the PRWL, per Table VI.
|Pitcher||Team||Season||W-L||PRWL Teams||PRWL Seasons|
|Sam Jones||SFG||1959||21-15||SJ, Santurce||1951-52, 54-55|
|Phil Niekro||ATL||1969||23-13||Arecibo, Mayagüez||1961-62, 63-64|
|Tommy John||LAD||1977||20-7||Ponce, SJ||1963-64, 65-66|
|David Cone||NYM||1988||20-3||Arecibo, Ponce||1985-87|
Source: Baseball Almanac.
Table VI: AL 20-Game Winners with PRWL Experience
|Pitcher||Team||Season||W-L||PRWL Teams||PRWL Seasons|
|Jim Bunning||DET||1957||20-8||Caguas MGR||1974-76|
|Bob Turley||NYY||1958||21-7||SJ||1953-54, 62-63|
|Gary Peters||CWS||1964||20-8||Ponce, Mayagüez||1962-63|
|Earl Wilson||DET||1967||22-11||Caguas||1959-60, 61-63|
|Luis Tiant||CLE||1968||21-9||Caguas, Ponce, Santurce||1961-62, 64-65, 1982-83|
|Miguel Cuéllar||BAL||1969||23-11||Arecibo, SJ, Santurce, Caguas, Bayamón||1963-67, 1968-72, 73-74, 76-77, 1979-83.|
|Vida Blue||OAK||1971||24-8||Ponce, Arecibo||1984-85|
|Pat Dobson||BAL||1971||20-8||Arecibo, SJ, Mayagüez||1965-66, 67-68, 69-70|
|Eduardo Figueroa||NYY||1978||20-9||Caguas, Arecibo, Santurce||1966-1977, 1980-84|
|David Cone||NYY||1997||20-7||Arecibo, Ponce||1985-87|
#Osteen was pitching coach, 1991-92 SJ Metros. Source: Baseball Almanac.
Part I cited Burdette’s 13-inning 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, on May 26, 1959. Harvey Haddix retired 36 straight Braves before Félix Mantilla broke the spell by reaching 1B on an error. Hank Aaron was intentionally walked after a sacrifice bunt. Joe Adcock was credited with a game-winning double, for the 1-0 Milwaukee win but according to Dr. Jeffery Hartsog, who was listening to it via transistor radio but fell asleep sometime in extra innings: “Haddix pitched a perfect game for 12 innings. After Félix Mantilla got on, Eddie Mathews sacrificed him to second. They then [intentionally] walked Hank Aaron. Joe Adcock, my favorite player who was from Shreveport, LA, hit a home run. Aaron, thinking the game was over, cut across the mound after touching 2nd and Adcock passed in front of him. He was out, which is the reason the game ended 1-0 instead of 3-0. I lived just outside Philadelphia and usually couldn’t pick up the Pirates games, but somehow that night the atmospheric conditions enabled me to pick it up on my portable radio. Found out the score the next day.”
Roberto Clemente wasn’t in Pittsburgh’s line-up that night. As the story goes, Burdette later phoned Haddix, to congratulate him but Haddix hung up on him. Burdette’s outstanding control—he did not walk any Pirates in 13 innings on May 26, 1959—showcased his big-league career average of 1.84 walks/nine innings. It places him fifth—from 1920 forward—behind Robin Robers (1.73), Greg Maddux (1.8), Carl Hubbell (1.82), and Juan Marichal (1.82) for hurlers with 3,000+ career IP. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/bases_on_balls_per_nine_career.shtml
On February 17, 1951, the Santurce Crabbers won Game 7 of their finals versus Caguas Criollos, on Pepe Lucas’s walk-off HR, off Mike Clark. Burdette had completed his third day of spring training with the Yankees in Phoenix, Arizona, the only year the Yankees trained there. The NY Giants facilitated this as a goodwill gesture to Del Webb, a Phoenix native, the Yankees co-owner, and VP. http://www.sportsology.com/the-yankees-and-spring-training/ Burdette faced Lucas (José St. Claire), in the 1950-51 regular season, but recalled Santurce’s two best hitters were Willard Brown and Bob Thurman, when he corresponded with the author.
Santurce hero: 1B José St. Claire (Pepe Lucas). Photo credit: winterballdata.com.
Santurce’s 1950-51 owner was Manatí native Pedrín Zorrilla. Manatí is the“Athens” of Puerto Rico. The last MLB 20-game winner who pitched in the PRWL was Russ Ortiz, 2003 Atlanta Braves and 2006-07 Manatí Athenians. Ortiz’s 31 innings for 2006-07 Manatí, reflected 2-1 W-L, 3.19 ERA, with 23 K’s. He signed a one-year deal with SF on January 9, 2007, for $380,000, to compete for a fifth-starter slot. Brian Sabean, SF GM, noted: Ortiz’s PRWL pitching showed “both increased velocity and renewed movement in his pitches and was signed on that basis.” He pitched 49 innings for SF; had Tommy John surgery; and, retired in 2010. On January 3, 2023, Sabean—architect of 2010, 2012, and 2014 SF World Series crowns—became Executive Advisor to NY Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
Wayne Blackburn returned to manage Mayagüez (42-28) to the 1965-66 PRWL title, toward the end of Burdette’s career. Luis R. Olmo managed last-place 1965-66 Santurce Crabbers (29-41). In 1972 and 1973, Burdette was the Atlanta Braves pitching coach under skipper Eddie Mathews. Several years later (1975-76 school year), the author met Eddie Mathews Jr., during an evening event at the University of Georgia (UGA), when both were UGA students.
Joey Black, a tourism research colleague of the author, 2000-2022, grew up in Hurricane, West Virginia, about 10 miles west of Nitro. Joey was a teenager in the late 1980s when he met Lew Burdette at Burdette Camping Center in Winfield, 13 miles north of Nitro. In 2001, Burdette was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame, https://www.mlb.com/braves/history/braves-hall-of-famers, and in 2008, into the Richmond Athletics Hall of Fame.
Burdette passed away in Winter Gardens, Florida, of lung cancer, on February 6, 2007. He was 80. Red Smith of the New York Times summarized Burdette’s three pitching stats: wins, losses, and relative humidity.
Grateful acknowledgment to Lew Burdette for written responses to the author’s questions, in 1992. Thanks to Joey Black, Wayne Blackburn, Harvey Haddix, Dr. Jeffery Hartsog, George Lerchen, Lou Limmer, Luis R. Olmo, and Luis “King Kong” Villodas. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, of the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, and Coordinator, of the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, did the editing-photo placements, and proofing.