Burris, Paul

Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Hickory

First, Middle Names: Paul Robert

Date of Birth:  July 21, 1923   Date and Place of Death: Oct. 3, 1999, Charlotte, NC
Burial: Williams Memorial Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Charlotte

High School: Central, Derita high schools, Charlotte

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-0, 190
Debut Year: 1948       Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 4
Teams and Years: Boston Braves, 1948, 1950, 1952; Milwaukee Braves, 1953

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
69     196      43      15        24        2        .219       .254     .276     -0.8

Paul Burris crouched behind the plate in the fourth inning of a meaningless game between his Milwaukee Braves and its Wisconsin farm club in Eau Claire. It was an off day in the middle of the 1953 season and it’s likely that the Braves’ owners were using the exhibition game to promote the team’s recent relocation from Boston.

After years of bouncing up and down to and from the minors, Burris thought he had finally latched on for good as the team’s backup catcher. He had been playing professional baseball for more than a decade, ever since his father, Clarence, a postal clerk, wrote his hometown Hickory Rebels back in 1942 suggesting they take a look at his talented son, who had pitched a no-hitter for Charlotte’s Derita High School against Cornelius High and its star pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm. Burris signed a few days later. The only things anyone might remember about that Hickory team was its awful record – it won 18 games while losing 80 – and its zany manager, Struttin’ Bud Shaney.[1]

Burris survived almost three years fighting in the jungles of Guadalcanal and Luzon with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division and endured the long bus rides, the cheap motels, and the yo-yo existence of the minors. He got his first taste of the big time when the Braves, then still in Boston, called him up at the end the 1948 season after the team had already clinched the National League pennant. Burris made his major-league debut on Oct. 2, catching the great Warren Spahn in the first game of a doubleheader. He caught again the next day in the final game of the season. Though Burris was ineligible for the World Series, his teammates voted him a one-eighth share, or $571.34.

He got another brief taste in 1950 and a longer sip last year when he appeared in 55 games. There was that one glorious afternoon on June 12, 1952, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burris drove in six runs with a homer, a double and two singles.

Always a solid defensive catcher with a strong, accurate arm, Burris had worked diligently on hitting a major-league curve ball so that he was no longer a liability when he had a bat in his hands. When the 1953 season began, Braves’ Manager Bob Grimm had penciled the 29-year-old Burris in as a capable backup for his two aging, frontline catchers.

Almost 8,000 fans filled the Bears’ ballpark in Eau Claire that June 22 night in 1953. It was later said to be the largest crowd in the team’s history. Mickey McGuire, the Bears’ pitcher, stood at third with two outs as Burris settled back down behind the plate. The batter laced a liner through the hole at short. McGuire broke for home. The throw from the left fielder reached home plate just as he did. A violent collision was the result. Burris and McGuire ended up piled in the dirt. Safe, ruled the umpire as fire raced up Burris’ left arm. Doctors would later diagnose a dislocated elbow and broken humerus. Surgery would be required. Burris’ season was over, his career in jeopardy. McGuire brushed himself off and pitched the next inning.

“Burris going out is a definite blow to our pennant hopes,” Grimm said.[I]

Cathey, the oldest of Burris’ three siblings, took a longer, personal view. She recalled for a sportswriter all those rainy days growing up in northern Mecklenburg County when young Paul would practice pitching, hour after hour, by throwing balls into pillows propped up on a bed. She remembered his “cow-pasture” teams during the Depression that scrounged for balls and bats and the glories of his high-school days when he pitched one game and caught the next. “When I hear of any sports figure getting hurt, I hurt deep inside,” Cathey told the reporter. “I know that regardless of who he is, someone’s hopes and dreams may be shattered.”[II]

Dreams don’t often figure in the calculus used by baseball general managers, however. Burris was demoted to the Braves’ Triple A affiliate when he returned in 1954. His major-league career was also a casualty of that collision. As it turned out, that meaningless game meant a lot to Paul Burris, who bounced around the minors for two more years, seeing less and less playing time.

Burris retired with his wife, Bette, and their two children to Huntersville near Charlotte in 1956. He worked at the old Douglas Aircraft Co. plant in Charlotte making rockets and then for Duff-Norton Co., which made industrial equipment, until he retired for good in 1985.[III]

Bette, a native of Mecklenburg County, began working for the local Alcohol Beverage Control Board in 1966 as an administrative assistant. She became its general manager in 1990.

Burrus died in 1999 at age 76. He’s buried in the graveyard at Williams Memorial Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Charlotte where he got married in 1952 and worshipped for almost 50 years.

Footnote
[1] Charles “Struttin’ Bud” Shaney began his legendary career as a minor-league pitcher in 1920 for the Asheville, NC, Tourists. He won 230 games with a 3.70 ERA over the next 16 years. Shaney was notorious for such antics as knawing and eating baseballs and inserting phonographic needles in the balls he pitched. After his playing days, Shaney managed in the minor leagues and was later the groundskeeper at Asheville’s McCormick Field for many years. Shaney is fondly remembered for his sheer love of the game. (“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. https://www.cmstory.org/exhibits/outlaw-carolina-baseball-league-1936-1938-player-information/charles-mars-%E2%80%9Cstruttin%E2%80%99-bud%E2%80%9D).

References
[I] Quincy, Bob. “Burris Didn’t Make the Major Leagues By Sitting Around.” Charlotte (NC) News, July 1, 1953.
[II] Ibid.
[III] Hurd, Jay. “Paul Burris.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/79ae0e54.