Pittsburgh Pirates Countdown: Top Five Catchers in History
By David Hill
4. Smoky Burgess (1959-1964)
Smoky Burgess had a long career as both a catcher and as a pinch hitter. Behind the plate, he turned himself into a solid defensive player, and became the primary catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates when he came over, after spending his last three years with the Reds primarily as a pinch hitter. In fact, it is that ability as a pinch hitter that Burgess is best known for, even making the 1964 All-Star Game just to pinch hit.
Yet, to say that being a pinch hitter was Burgess’ one true asset would be a fallacy. That is not to say that Burgess struggled with the bat in Pittsburgh; he was a solid contributor at the plate, producing a .296/.352/.445 bating line with 51 home runs. His three All-Star appearances while a member of the Pirates were certainly deserved.
However, Burgess was also a solid enough defensive player. He was in the top five in range factor twice for the Pirates, and even led the National League with 8 total zone runs saved in 1960. In both 1960 and 1961, Burgess led the National League in fielding percentage as a catcher.
Smoky Burgess ranks fifth all time for the Pittsburgh Pirates for WAR at catcher, but he was better than that number may indicate.
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