Smokey Burgess-Last Hurrah in Pittsburgh I

In 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies had a 6 1/2 game lead over the second place Cincinnati Redlegs with 13 games to go. The team then lost 10 consecutive games and finished in a second place tie with Reds.  St. Louis won the National Leauge Pennant and defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.  There was one critical game in 1964 on August 28th,  at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.  It was tight crisp and well played that Friday night.   Pirate Pitcher Joe Gibbon was matching Phillies’ ace Jim Bunting with a scoreless tie through seven innings.

Philadelphia scored two runs in the top of the eighth and for a 2 to 0 lead going into the last of the ninth.  Then things came apart for the Phillies:

–Jerry Lynch and Bill Virdon hit singles,

–Willie Stargell looped a well place single and a run scored cutting Philadelphia’s lead to  2 to 1 ;

Up to the plate stepped  Smokey Burgess, a player on the down side of a great career.   Sportcasters called him the rolly polly batting prodigy.  Burgess had a unique ability to adapt himself to evey pitch.  He almost never went into a slump and was a great clutch hitter.  Finally in 1959, after eight years in the major leauges, Burgess got credit for being  good defensively.  He had only been first string catcher in one year-1955.  It was amazing how a man, bordering on being rotund,  could hit so well.  When not in the starting line up, Burgess was a dependable pinch hitter.

Smokey’s only drawback was  that, even for catcher, he was very slow.  Being pulled out of game for pinch runner was quite common for Burgess. Smokey rarely stole a base or beat out an infield hit.  Even so, Burgess had a lifetime batting average of .296 with 126 home runs and 673 runs batted in.  Now back to the game.  Burgess had in late August only one home run and a meager .240 batting average. This was  88 points below his average two years before.  In 1963, the Pittsburgh Pirates obtained Jim Pagliaroni from Boston and JP became the first string catchcer. More Later.


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