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Less than an hour after the best rock thrower ever to come out of Nitro, West Virginia had intimidated the New York Yankees for the third time in seven days, Casey Stengel was doing his best to forget all about it. Sitting half-undressed in his office under the vast old Stadium and sounding a little as if he expected George Weiss to be hiding under the couch, Stengel talked about next year.
"Now I got to build another team for New York," he said, "and I'll build it. I got some pretty good ideas. There's that Denver farm club, it had a pretty good season. There must be some men there to disturb somebody."
"Maybe they cannot hit that pitcher we saw today, either, but then maybe he will not live long."
If this is the premise upon which Stengel hopes to recapture his westerly-flown world championship, it would be wise if Casey should prepare himself for disappointment. That pitcher, an erstwhile taxi driver, pool shark, amateur obstetrician and right-handed raconteur of renown named Lew Burdette, is singularly well equipped to survive the rigors attendant with becoming a World Series hero. Unlike Stengel's own Don Larsen, another man who pitched very well one October but failed to remember how he did it when April rolled around, Burdette will probably show up for the 1958 season better than ever.
For one thing, he is a better pitcher than Larsen, a fact frequently overlooked in the past by those citizens so concerned with the function of Burdette's salivary glands that they forgot he also had a rather remarkable right arm. But perhaps even more important, not the glaring television lights he will face in the next few weeks nor the cramped and unfamiliar stance required to sign some $10,000 worth of endorsements nor even the long winter of adulation and mashed potatoes which await him on the banquet circuit stand much chance of upsetting Lew Burdette's mountain-grown sang-froid.
From the November day in 1926 when he was born in a West Virginia ghost town until the October day not quite 31 years later when he became Milwaukee's No. 1 candidate for president of the world, Selva Lewis Burdette Jr. has been much more than just a pitcher. He is, in fact, baseball's No. 1 paradox.
A big (6 feet 2 inches, 190 pounds), square-shouldered man with a ruggedly handsome face, close-cropped sandy hair and a strange, floppy walk, Burdette is considered by National League hitters—and now the Yankees—to be meaner than an acre of snakes. Despite his nervous, fidgety mannerisms on the mound, he works with a vast confidence and determination. That is when he is pitching. When he is not pitching he becomes baseball's No. 1 screwball. "Burdette," they say, "is a real squirrel."
An interviewer capable of getting anything but a wisecrack out of Burdette is a fortunate man indeed. For that matter, his teammates are in the same boat. When Lew and Warren Spahn, the great left-hander who also happens to be one of the game's biggest clowns, get together, dignity deserts the Milwaukee clubhouse. It can also happen in hotel lobbies or on trains or even on the field before a game. Vaudeville would never have died if Spahn and Burdette had been around with their routine of crooked caps, absurd faces, ridiculous pepper games and jockeying antics from the bench.
Burdette's imitation of a drunk, only one of half a dozen impersonations he practices upon the long-suffering Braves, still brings down the house. But Lew feels cheated since he had to abandon his favorite performance, an almost perfect reproduction of a policeman's whistle. One night in Chicago he leaned out of a taxicab window, gave a blast—and snarled traffic for half an hour.