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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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Last week, after watching Lew against the Yankees on TV, Snyder admitted that he was quite surprised by the improvement. "Looks good now," he conceded.

But if no one else was impressed by Burdette's potential in those days, a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Alfred Montgomery, was. He recommended Lew to the University of Richmond and helped him get a scholarship.

He won 10 and lost two and a Braves' scout took a look at him. Like Mr. Snyder, the scout wasn't impressed. But the Yankees were and signed him in the spring of 1947 to a contract with Norfolk of the Piedmont League for a salary of $200 a month.

"I was a real bonus baby," says Burdette. "They offered me $175 but I told 'em my daddy wouldn't let me sign unless I got $25 more."

He moved up on through the Yankee chain, playing at Norfolk and Amsterdam of the Canadian-American League in '47, Quincy of the Three-Eye League in '48 and Kansas City in '49-50. After his season at Quincy he met a cute brunette telephone operator named Mary Ann Shelton at a Charleston bowling alley one night, dated her that winter and the two planned to get married after the 1949 season. Instead they got married on June 30.

"I kept going home every chance I got," Lew says, "so we finally decided we might just as well get married and live on that money I was spending on plane fares and telephone calls." They were married at Charleston despite an offer from the Kansas City ball club to have the nuptials perpetrated one night at home plate. "Heavens no," said Mary Ann, and that was that.

Burdette made it to the Yankees at the tail end of the 1950 season, pitched one inning, gave up a run on three hits and the next year found himself back down in the minors at San Francisco. It was then, in late August of 1951, that Burdette got his biggest break.

The Yankees, battling for a pennant, needed pitching help and they needed it quick. In the devious way of the waiver, they maneuvered around the rest of the league to get sore-armed Johnny Sain, nearing the end of a great career, from the Boston Braves for $50,000 and a minor league player. The player was Lew Burdette.

"Some people say he was just a throw-in," says Milwaukee General Manager John Quinn, "but we really had our eye on him. The Yankees wanted to give us Wally Hood, but our West Coast scout, Johnny Moore, insisted that we get Burdette."

It appeared for a while as if the Braves had indeed been fleeced. Working in relief against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Lew bounced his first National League pitch into the dirt three feet in front of home plate, and only unusual agility on the part of his catcher saved the second from going into the stands. "My God," groaned a Boston writer, "is that what we got for Johnny Sain?"

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