By Dan Schlossberg
The New Jersey chapter of SABR [Society for American Baseball Research] held an open forum on possible Cooperstown candidates during a Zoom meeting Monday night. I happened to drop a name nobody ever considers: Lew Burdette.
A 6’2” right-hander from Nitro, West Virginia, Burdette burst onto the big-league scene after the New York Yankees traded him to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain in a waiver deal late in the 1952 season.
Burdette went 179-120 with a 3.53 ERA over 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, where he was also a three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.
He led the National League in wins, winning percentage, ERA, starts, complete games, and innings pitched once each while forming a powerful right-left tandem with Warren Spahn.
Like Spahn, Burdette helped himself with his bat, clubbing a dozen regular-season homers — three of them against Sandy Koufax — and another in the 1958 World Series.
Burdette finished his 18-year career with 203 wins — the same number as Hall of Famer Roy Halladay — against 144 defeats. Known as Fidgety Lew because of his constant gyrations on the mound, he was often suspected of throwing a spitball but never caught.
His best game came on May 26, 1959, when he pitched 13 scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Milwaukee County Stadium. He yielded 12 hits but no runs, matching zeroes with lefty Harvey Haddix until the Braves pushed across the only run of the night on a Joe Adcock homer that turned out to be a double (Adcock passed Hank Aaron on the basepaths).
Two years earlier, Burdette personally secured the only world championship in the history of Milwaukee baseball. He went 3-0 with an 0.67 earned run average, allowing 21 hits in 27 innings and striking out 13 Yankees. Burdette won Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, 5-0, after being pressed into service when Spahn caught the flu.
Burdette had only two days of rest but was more than willing to take the ball; he threw 158 complete games during his star-studded career.
In addition to the Braves, Burdette also pitched for the Cardinals, Angels, Cubs, Phillies, and Yankees. Figuring he was past his peak, those teams used him mostly in relief, depriving Burdette of the chance to add many more wins to his ledger.
His tenure with the Braves coincided with the team’s stay in Milwaukee (1953-65) and enabled him to forge a firm friendship with Spahn both on and off the mound.
A practical joker long before Sparky Lyle, Burdette was once in the back seat of a car with Spahn and Hollywood pals Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis. Davis got pulled over for speeding and was attempting to plead his case. Finally, Burdette piped up, “Officer, this man has one eye. Do you want him to keep it on the road or the speedometer?”
The policeman laughed and put his ticket book away. But the Hall of Fame would be remiss if it did the same.
Lew Burdette belongs.
Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has covered baseball since 1969 and written 39 books on the game. E.mail him at email@example.com.