display | more...

Jesse Burkett's claim to fame in baseball is as the finest bunter of all-time; this, along with his ability to foul off pitches with amazing consistency, was one of the major reasons fouls began to be counted as strikes. He used his speed as a weapon on the field, and his mouth as one off of it. Along with Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb, he was only the third player in history to bat .400 in 3 different seasons. Despite his generally repugnant behavior, Burkett's status as a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame can never be questioned.

Baseball Town

Jesse Cail Burkett was born December 4, 1868 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Taking advantage of the strong baseball connections in the town, Burkett began playing professional ball while still in his teens. After spending 2 years with the Scranton team in the Central League, he was called up to join the Worcester team in the New England League. He led the league in wins and ERA as a pitcher, and was finally called up to the big leagues in 1890.

When One Door Closes...

Burkett began play in the majors as a pitcher with the New York Giants, where he went 3-10 with a dismal 5.57 ERA. However, he showed much more prowess as a batter, hitting .301 in 101 games, while also connecting for 13 triples. He hit 10 triples or more in a season 11 times, although he never led the league. He was sold to the Cleveland Spiders the following year and moved into the outfield.

Speed Kills

Burkett broke his right leg in 1892 and only returned to half-form in 1893, but by 1894, he had emerged as the star on the Spiders team. He led the league in both 1894 and 1895 in batting average and hits, reaching over .400 both times. One interesting note is that he hit 33 home runs with the Spiders, and 31 of them were inside-the-park dingers.

New Team, Same Old Jesse

In 1900, when the National League reorganized itself, the Cleveland team was disbanded and Burkett jumped to play with St. Louis Cardinals. The change of scenery had virtually no effect on Burkett's on the field play: he batted .363 in 1900, and led the league again in hits and batting average in 1901, batting a scorching .376.

Touchy, Touchy

Burkett's talent couldn't be denied, but his etiquette left much to be desired. He constantly got into arguments with teammates, fans, and umpires. One unfounded rumor was that he was the son of Cleveland manager Jack Glasscock. Whenever anyone mentioned this, Burkett would fly into a rage and attack the offending speaker. So disliked by his teammates that they gave him the nickname "The Crab" for his surly demeanor.

Even after his league-leading 1901 season, Burkett was traded across town to the American League St. Louis Browns. Here the competition was much stiffer, and Burkett's numbers suffered: his average sank from .306 in 1902 to a dismal .257 in 1905.

Be Prepared

By this time, Burkett had already prepared for his eventual retirement: he had purchased the appropriately named Worcester Busters of the New England League in 1904, and in 1906 he took over as manager. He continued to play in the outfield sporadically until 1913, when he retired from the field.

After Baseball

Burkett moved around from minor league club to minor league club, coaching and managing. He spent a short while coaching at Holy Cross and at Assumption College. In 1921 he returned to the majors to coach his first team, the New York Giants. The team won the World Series, though apparently Burkett's tongue had not tempered with age: manager John McGraw had to pay Burkett a bonus from his own pocket because the players refused to vote him a share.

The End Of A Legend

Burkett continued to coach for minor league teams through the 1920s and into the 1930s, when he retired to Worcester to see over his team. Jesse "The Crab" Burkett passed away May 27, 1953, just 7 years after he was selected to join the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Lifetime Statistics

 YEAR    TEAM    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB CS   BB  SO   BA
 1890 NYG NL  101  401   67  124  23  13   4   60  14  0   33  52  .309
 1891 CLV NL   40  167   29   45   7   4   0   13   1  0   23  19  .269
 1892 CLV NL  145  608  119  167  15  14   6   66  36  0   67  59  .275
 1893 CLV NL  125  511  145  178  25  15   6   82  39  0   98  23  .348
 1894 CLV NL  125  523  138  187  27  14   8   94  28  0   84  27  .358
 1895 CLV NL  131  550  153  225  22  13   5   83  41  0   74  31  .409
 1896 CLV NL  133  586  160  240  27  16   6   72  34  0   49  19  .410
 1897 CLV NL  127  517  129  198  28   7   2   60  28  0   76   ?  .383
 1898 CLV NL  150  624  114  213  18   9   0   42  19  0   69   ?  .341
 1899 STL NL  141  558  116  221  21   8   7   71  25  0   67   ?  .402
 1900 STL NL  141  559   88  203  11  15   7   68  32  0   62   ?  .363
 1901 STL NL  142  601  142  226  20  15  10   75  27  0   59   ?  .376
 1902 SLB AL  138  553   97  169  29   9   5   52  23  0   71   ?  .306
 1903 SLB AL  132  515   73  151  20   7   3   40  17  0   52   ?  .293
 1904 SLB AL  147  575   72  156  15  10   2   27  12  0   78   ?  .271
 1905 BOS AL  148  573   78  147  12  13   4   47  13  0   67   ?  .257
 CAREER      2066 8421 1720 2850 320 182  75  952 389  0 1029 230  .338
 * Bold denotes led league.

Sources

  • http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/B/Burkett_Jesse.stm
  • http://www.thebaseballpage.com/past/pp/burkettjesse/default.htm
  • http://wheeling.weirton.lib.wv.us/people/hallfame/1982burk.htm
  • http://www.baseball-reference.com/b/burkeje01.shtml

Hall of Fame Index
Jim Bunning | Roy Campanella

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.