Smoky Burgess was a 5'8" catcher from Caroleen, NC. Born February 26th, 1927, the left-handed backstop signed his first professional contract with the Chicago Cubs in 1944. As a 17-year old rookie with the Lockport Cubs in the "D" level Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, he hit .325 in 54 games.
For the next two seasons, Burgess appeared sparingly (13 games) at two minor league levels. In 1947, he split his time between the "B" level Tri-State League Fayetteville Cubs (99 games, .387 average) and the "A" level Macon Peaches, in the South Atlantic League (16 games, .289 average). With the "AA" level Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association in 1948, he hit a blistering .386 through 116 contests. In 1949, Burgess got his first shot in the big show, appearing in 46 games with the Chicago Cubs (.268 in 56 at bats, 12 RBI). He would spend another season in the minors, with the Triple A level Springfield Cubs of the International League in 1950 (88 games, .327).
1951 would see Burgess join the Major League for good, hitting .251 in 94 games with the Cubs. He spent the next three and a half seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 139 RBI over 327 games. He also made his first all-star appearance in 1954. Just into the 1955 season, the Phillies sent him to play for the Cincinnati Redlegs. He would play parts of four seasons there, hitting .290 over 395 contests, hitting 52 home runs with 186 RBI. He would make a second all-star appearance in 1955.
Prior to the 1959 season, Burgess was traded along with Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak for Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton, John Powers and Frank Thomas. His first season with the Bucs saw him return to all-star calibre play, making his third all-star team. In 114 games, he hit .297 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI. He walked 31 times, only striking out 16 times in 418 plate appearances. He usually batted either third, fifth, or eighth in the order as Pittsburgh's number one option behind the plate. On May 10th, he went 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, and four RBI as the Pirates defeated the Phillies, 7-6. Pittsburgh finished fourth in the standings, at 78-76.
In 1960, Burgess held onto his all-star form with his fourth invitation producing performance. He also earned enough NL MVP votes to finish 20th in the year end balloting. Over 110 games, he hit .294 with seven home runs and 39 RBI. He caught 22-of-44 would-be base stealers, finishing fourth in the NL with a 50% success rate. He batted mostly sixth in the order for the Bucs. He also found unusual success as a pinch hitter. On April 23rd, he went 3-for-4 with two runs and a two run shot in a 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Braves. The Pirates won the NL pennant at 95-59, taking out the AL Champion New York Yankees in seven games. For his part, Burgess went 6-of-18 with two walks, two runs and a double, catching five games.
1961 would see Burgess improve his batting average to .303 and earn his fifth all-star invitation. He hit 12 home runs with 52 RBI over 100 games. He batted between fourth and eighth in the lineup, usually in the sixth spot. On August 8th, in the first game of a doubleheader, he went 5-for-5 with a home run and four RBI in a 10-2 win over the Phillies. Pittsburgh regressed to the second division, at 75-79 well out of pennant consideration.
In 1962, Burgess put up his best average as a member of the Pirates, hitting .328 over 103 games, with 13 home runs and 61 RBI. He also walked 31 times against only 19 strikeouts. Despite this above average (even for him) performance, he was not named to the all-star team, the first time that had happened in his four seasons as a Buc. On June 30th, he went 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs, and seven RBI as the Bucs pasted the St. Louis Cardinals, 17-7. Less than a week later on July 3rd, he went 4-for-4 with a triple, a run and three RBI in a 5-2 win over the Houston Colt .45's. He batted between fourth and seventh in the lineup, collecting 31 multi-hit games over the course of the season, including 13 in which he had at least three hits. The Pirates went 93-68, finishing fourth in an unusually strong National League, eight games behind the San Francisco Giants.
Burgess continued to put the work in in 1963, catching or pinch hitting in 91 games for the Pirates. He hit .280, striking out 14 times in 293 plate appearances. As in seasons past, he batted between fourth and seventh, mostly in sixth. On September 8th, he hit two doubles with a run and an RBI, going 3-for-4 as his Pirates dropped a 3-2 decision to the Cardinals. Pittsburgh finished near the bottom of the NL, in eighth place with a 74-88 record.
1964 would be Burgess' last season in gold and black. He appeared in 68 contests and hit a then-career low .246. In spite of this, he was selected to play in his sixth all-star game. Late in the season, the Pirates waived him, where he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. The law of diminishing returns provided no exception for the now 37-year-old catcher, who collected a .249 average in 243 games over parts of the next four seasons.
Burgess was remarkably composed in the batters box, striking out only 92 times in over 2000 plate appearances in Pittsburgh. He fell off the Hall-of-Fame ballot after receiving only perfunctionary mention for his first two seasons of eligibility, in 1973 and 1974. All-Time Statline: Six seasons, 586 games, .296/.352/.445, 543-for-1832, 178 runs, 92 doubles, 14 triples, 51 home runs, 265 RBI, three stolen bases, 164 walks, 92 strikeouts, 13.5 wins above replacement.