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A MEAN HAND WITH A ROCK
Roy Terrell
October 21, 1957
Lew Burdette, who came out of the West Virginia hills to tame the dread Yankees in the World Series, is baseball's biggest paradox: killer and clown, with a touch of genius on the side
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October 21, 1957

A Mean Hand With A Rock

Lew Burdette, who came out of the West Virginia hills to tame the dread Yankees in the World Series, is baseball's biggest paradox: killer and clown, with a touch of genius on the side

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The other two Burdette children, Lewis Kent, now 6, and Mary Lou, now a little over three weeks, arrived in a less spectacular manner, although the baby was born the day after Lew pitched 10 innings in Milwaukee's pennant-clinching victory over the Cards.

Another thing Burdette may become quite soon is a very wealthy young man. After the longest holdout in the history of Milwaukee, Lew signed last spring for $28,000. His World Series share will be $9,000 and personal appearances and testimonials could add $20,000 more. Next year his contract will undoubtedly become fatter—and next year there will almost certainly be another World Series.

The Braves are a young team and a very good team, a fact suddenly more important than in the past because the Braves themselves also believe it now. They became world champions by surmounting a large number of difficulties, not the least of which was winning their own National League pennant in the first place. Whether the Braves of 1956 choked up or lacked the spark of greatness is now academic. In the World Series of 1957 they lacked nothing, and the way they beat the Yankees—after their best pitcher lost the first game, after being humiliated in the third, after losing the vital sixth by one run—was perhaps more important than that they did beat the Yankees.

The man who did most, of course, was Burdette. The defense functioned far better than anyone had expected but the hitters hardly functioned at all. The Braves batted only .209, a figure which stands unchallenged as quite easily the worst team average a seven-game Series winner ever compiled, and only young Henry Aaron, who is known for that sort of thing, emerged with his prowess at the plate undimmed. Among the pitchers, Bob Buhl, who won 36 regular-season games in two years, couldn't come close to winning even one Series game in two starts, and the legendary Spahn, who won and lost in two tries, was something less than his usual legendary self.

But Burdette, facing some of the most dangerous hitters in baseball and throwing an object which now goes "yipe!" when it is bashed with a bat instead of "ugh!" as in the days of Christy Mathewson, performed a feat unmatched since the great Matty's three Series shutouts of 1905. In the first three innings of the second game, the Yankees got to Burdette for two runs. After that, through 24 consecutive innings of tremendous pressure, they didn't score off him once. He beat them 4-2 (second game), 1-0 (fifth game) and 5-0 (seventh game).

In recent years only Harry Brecheen of the 1946 Cardinals has won three games in one World Series and the last of those was in relief. Before that, Stan Coveleskie of Cleveland (1920) started and won three Series games, and any reader who knowingly insists that there is more than slight coincidence between Burdette and this grand old spit-ball pitcher will only be referred back to Mr. Stengel.

"Oh, maybe he spits on the ball once in a while," says Casey, "but what the heck. If a man beats me three times I am not going to comment on him because he did a good job."

Whether Burdette actually threw the Yankees any spit balls or not, he certainly showed them an assortment of other things. In the three games Lew threw sliders, sinkers, fast balls, several varieties of plain and ordinary curves and even an occasional screwball, all backed up by a rather awe-inspiring display of control which found him walking only four Yankees, one of those intentionally, in the 27 innings he was at work.

Some of the Yankees, who had been worried most about Spahn, were surprised. Others, like Jerry Coleman, were not. "I knew he could pitch," said the Yankee second baseman. "I had seen him in the All-Star Game. He's tough and he keeps everything low and he's out there to beat you. He won 17 games, I think it was, and missed almost a month with a sore arm. You must be pretty good if you do that."

Said his catcher, Del Crandall: "Lew wasn't any better than he has been for the last two years."

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