One of Wheeling's last, and true, native son-links with baseball of the early big leagues was removed from this early scene last week when Jesse C. (The Crab) Burkett, was stricken with a heart attack at Worcester, Mass.
Burkett, who was born on the Island some 84 years ago, had some things in common with the late Jack W. Glasscock, another octogenarian who succumbed some years ago. The latter, a shortstop, returned to Wheeling to make his home but Burkett settled in Worcester where he had managed clubs in the twilight of his four decades in organized baseball.
Both won National League batting championships although it was Burkett, an outfield star of Cleveland and St. Louis clubs, who three times held the bat crown only to miss a fourth title in 1899 despite a .402 average when Eddie Delehanty, sold to the Philadelphia Nationals by Wheeling, fashioned a .408 mark.
Burkett outstripped his district contemporaries in 1946 when he was voted to a niche in Cooperstown's Hall of Fame. And that includes the late Dick Padden, of Martins Ferry, who joined Burkett and others in jumping from the St. Louis Cardinals to the St. Louis Americans during the winter of 1901-02.
The Island native's nickname of "The Crab" was given him by Cleveland teammates during the eight years (1891-1898) he performed in the Spider's outfield because of his somewhat unsunny disposition. But it was applied without malice for through his years with Cleveland and the later six in St. Louis where he played with the Cardinals and Browns, he was the player youngsters looked up to.
Despite a rough exterior, Burkett was the friendly type, writes a biographer and in St. Louis' happy-go-lucky days just prior to the American League's birth, Cardinals doing the gay spots invariably included three inseparables and smart dressers, Bobby Wallace, Mike Donlin and Emmett Heidrick, with Burkett in the role of chaperone.
Burkett was a leader among the jumpers to the American League when Padden, Wallace, Heidrick and several others joined him in switching from the Cardinals to the new St. Louis Browns. Denton (Cy) Young, the Peoli, O., farmer and winner of more than 500 pitching decisions and Lou Criger deserted to the Boston Plymouth Rocks (Red Sox) and others went elsewhere.
THE ISLAND NATIVE had no more than average speed but had the distinction of twice leading the National League in scoring runs, in 1896, with 159, and in 1901, with 139. Four times he collected most hits, leading the pack in 894, the year Hugh Duffy put together the record average of .438.
Burkett's 1894 safeties totalled 235 and again in 1895 when he took the bat crown from the Boston star and started his own two-year reign as boss stickman, he rapped 240 blows. Yielding the hitting peak to Wee Willie Keeler, Brooklyn's hit scientist in 1897, Jesse was back in the lead with 215 in 1898. Again in 1901, playing with the Cardinals, he equalled his 1899 production of 228 to be first.
He lead the NL with his loftiest figure .423 in 1895 and the next season put together a .410 average. Beaten out of the 1899 honors in spite of his .402 average he finally reigned as top hitsmith in 1901 as a Cardinal, .382. In his first season with the Browns, playing under his old Cleveland roommate, Jim McAleer, he fell off to .306, the last time he was to finish over .300.
Bukette was tapering off over the next two years and the Browns finally traded him to Boston in January of 1905. After a year with Boston, where he became disgusted when his average declined to .257, he asked for and obtained his release. He left behind a .342 major league plate average for the 16-year career.
Buying into the Worcester club of the old New England League, he ran that club through the 1915 season which probably caused him to regard the Massachusetts city as home.
Until he severed his relations with baseball he managed in the old Eastern League, scouted for John McGraw of the Giants and from 1917 to 1920 coached Holy Cross. McGraw took him to the Polo Grounds as an aide in 1921 but in 1923 he was back at Worcester as manager and after a second year he managed clubs in Lewiston, both the New England and Northeastern loops and Lowell in New England.
Burkett made his OB start in 1888 at Scranton of the Central League, as a pitcher, but a year later, with Worcester, then in the Atlantic Association, his natural hitting skill was detected and he was transformed into an outfielder.
He batted .309 for Jim Mutrie's New York Giants in 1890 but the rookie's fielding wasn't consistent and the next year he was shipped to Lincoln of the Western Association from where Cleveland obtained him near mid-season of 1891.
Wheeling News-Register, Sunday, May 31, 1953, pt. 2, p. 2
© Ogden Newspapers; reproduced with permission.
Jesse Burkett was born Dec. 4, 1868 in Wheeling; died May 27, 1953. His parents were Granville (born around 1850) and Ellen (born around 1847) Burkett. Granville worked as a laborer and painter. The city directories after 1892 list his employer as the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Co. and later as Wheeling Traction Co. He died around 1905. From his earliest appearance in the city directories in 1875 until his death Granville Burkett lived at 20 S. Wabash. Jesse lived there most of the time, and listed it as his city address until the turn of the century. In the 1886 and 1888 directories, Jesse Burkett is listed as a gatherer (in a glass house?), and after that is listed as a ball player. See The Baseball Encyclopedia for his stats. --LH
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