It was in the Army that he became the Smoky Burgess baseball knows. Very round. And when, in 1946, he returned to civilian life, his figure remained Army.
Back in baseball, Smoky hit .387 and .386 in successive seasons in the minors and in 1949 was brought up to the majors, though it wasn't until 1951 that he stuck around for good. Since then he has played for Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and now Pittsburgh. With Philadelphia in 1954, he hit .368, but he lacked the necessary times at bat to qualify for the batting championship. On Cincinnati's powerful 1956 team, Smoky pinch-hit the home run that gave the Reds a new record, 221 in one season. Last winter the Reds acquired Frank Thomas from Pittsburgh. In return, the Pirates got Don Hoak, Harvey Haddix and 187 pounds of Smoky Burgess.
Smoky's weight has never concerned him much, but it has bothered some of his managers. When he was traded to Philadelphia, Steve O'Neill ordered Smoky on a diet. Obediently, Smoky lost weight, down to 171, but he became so weak he could hardly swing the bat. His average looked as though it were on a diet. Reluctantly, the Philadelphia front office let Smoky eat as he pleased. Up went his weight. Up went his average.
When Birdie Tebbetts got his first look at Smoky in a Cincinnati uniform, he was all set to jump on him about his poundage. But every time he saw Burgess, Burgess was working. A week went by with Tebbetts poised, ready to drop the boom. But Smoky was always hustling. One day Smoky came up to Tebbetts after practice.
"Birdie," he said, "I just want to thank you. You're the first manager who didn't try to get me to lose weight."
Last winter when Smoky signed his contract with Pittsburgh, he stipulated that he did not want anyone trying to thin him out.
"I told them I'd give them my all, but that if they made me lose weight, I'd be nothing."
Pittsburgh never said a word. And the way Smoky Burgess is hitting, they probably never will.