Former Braves 1957 World Series hero Lou Burdette passed away Tuesday morning February 6th at his home in Winter Garden, Fla., after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was 80.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lou's family, friends and many admirers," Braves Executive Vice President and General Manager John Schuerholz said in a statement. "Lou was a true gentleman and one of the greatest pitchers in Braves' history. We will miss him."
The man born as Selva Lewis Burdette in Nitro, West Virginia, put together a solid, 18-year Major League career, the majority of which was played in a Braves uniform. In 2001, Burdette, who also served as the Atlanta pitching coach in 1972 and 1973, was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame. When he came to Atlanta to celebrate the honor, he was reunited with former Milwaukee Braves teammates Warren Spahn and Hank Aaron, who had previously been inducted.
Even with a career characterized by consistency, Burdette is likely most remembered for a four-day span during the 1957 World Series. After earning a win in Game 2 of the Series against the Yankees, Burdette came out in Game 5 and threw a complete-game shutout. With Warren Spahn too sick to take the mound in Game 7, Burdette filled in on two days' rest and proceeded to throw a Series-clinching, complete-game shutout, giving the Braves their only championship while in Milwaukee. Burdette took home the World Series MVP trophy along with his championship ring.
His impressive run made him the first pitcher in 37 years to earn three complete-game victories in a World Series. The previous pitcher to toss two shutouts in the same Fall Classic was Christy Mathewson, who accomplished the feat in 1905.
"I've always admired him," Burdette's former Milwaukee Braves teammate Gene Conley said. "I've told people that him not being in the Hall of Fame doesn't mean he's not better than some of the other pitchers that are in there." Conley played with Burdette in Milwaukee from 1954-58. The two former Braves pitchers remained friends over the past few years while living in the same area of central Florida. "He was tough," Conley said. "I'm sorry to hear of this. This is going to bother me for a while."
Burdette was nicknamed "Fidgety Lou" for his pre-pitch gyrations and seemingly nervous habits on the mound. But whatever the reason for his unusual antics on the field, Burdette finished his 18-year career with some very impressive numbers.
The right-hander amassed 203 career wins, 179 of which came in a Braves uniform. Burdette made his Major League debut in 1950, but it wasn't until 1954 that he was thrust into the starting rotation for an entire season. Burdette posted double-digit wins in all but one season from 1953-64. During one period in that span, Burdette had six straight seasons with 17 or more wins. He led the National League in 1959, when he won a career-high 21 games.
"Lou had ice water in his veins," said Conley, who was a teammate of Burdette's from 1952-58. "Nothing bothered him, on or off the mound. He was a chatterbox out there ... He would talk to himself, to the batter, the umpire, and sometimes even to the ball."
Burdette's catcher during the 1957 World Series was Del Crandall, who joined his former batterymate in the Braves Hall of Fame in 2003. Crandall took time to call the Burdette family Tuesday afternoon to offer his condolences. "I think Lew Burdette had the ability that not a whole lot of people have in the fact that he had fun while pitching and could still be very serious at the same time," Crandall said. "He was just able to refocus so quickly and you don't find too many guys like that."
Crandall will always have fond memories of Game 7 of the 1957 World Series. He homered to account for the final run in the 5-0 win over the Yankees. But more importantly, he had he chance to be behind the plate for each of the three masterful games Burdette pitched in that Series. "It was just unreal," Crandall said of the 1957 World Series. "They just didn't have too many good swings at him. His control was outstanding. He and [Sandy] Koufax were guys who pitched with confidence. I think that had an effect on opponents who could sense that confidence."
The two-time All-Star used the impeccable control he had with his slider and sinker to post a 3.66 career ERA. Burdette led the league in strikeouts for three consecutive years at one point and finished his career with 158 complete games.
"I'd move the ball in and out. I always tried to keep it down," Burdette said in an interview with Sports Collectors Digest in 1998. "I was always being accused of throwing at the hitters. Early Wynn always said that he was the meanest pitcher in the American League, and I was the meanest in the National League."
After being traded by Milwaukee to St. Louis in 1963, Burdette continued an impressive career that concluded with the Angels in 1969. And while Burdette's retirement softened the spitball debate, the questions circling just how his name should be spelled remained.
Most remember Burdette for the pitch that he claims he never threw. Myriad coaches and players argued that Burdette benefited from an illegal spitball, though no one could ever prove that Burdette was indeed wetting up the ball.
Burdette responded to the allegations by actually using them to his advantage. "I wouldn't know how to throw a spitter even if I wanted to," Burdette once said to answer his critics. "But if the hitters have that in their minds that I'm throwing one, then all it does is give them something else to think about."
Lew or Lou? That has been the question that even the man himself never gave a finite answer for. His name appeared both ways in publications, though more frequently the choice was Lew. But the indifference Burdette showed with the spelling of his name was simply another reflection of the way the man lived his life. He ignored the questions and the criticisms. The one thing he knew for sure was that he was a pitcher -- and a good one at that.
He just left the talking to everyone else.
Burdette's family said Tuesday that "Lou" was the spelling of choice and would be placed that way on his gravesite. Burdette is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and their three children.