Abernathy, Ted

Primary Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Stanley

First, Last Names: Theodore Wade
Date of Birth:  March 6, 1933   Date and Place of Death: Dec. 16, 2004, Gastonia
Burial: Gaston Memorial Park, Gastonia

High School: Stanley High School
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-5, 215
Debut Year: 1955       Final Year: 1972          Years Played: 14
Teams and Years: Washington Senators, 1955-57; Senators, 1960; Cleveland Indians, 1963-64; Chicago Cubs, 1965-66; Atlanta Braves, 1966; Cincinnati Reds, 1967-68; Cubs, 1969-70; St. Louis Cardinals, 1970; Kansas City Royals, 1970-72

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
681    63      69       149      3.46   1148.1 765      16.0

Awards/Honors: Fireman of the Year, 1965, 1967; Boys of Summer Top 100

One of the best relief pitchers to come out of North Carolina, Ted Abernathy occupies a special niche in the evolution to the modern major-league bullpen. He and a few of his contemporaries — Clay Carroll, Stu Miller, Don McMahon and Hoyt Wilhelm of Huntersville – are the first links in a decades’ long chain that ended with Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith and the other great closers of the modern era.

When Abernathy debuted in 1955, pitchers who started games were expected to finish them, as it had been since the days of Cy Young and Kid Nichols. Relief pitchers were either sore-armed veterans trying to hang on or inexperienced kids hoping to impress. Managers turned to them only in dire emergencies, usually with the game’s outcome already determined. None would think of bringing one in at an important juncture late in a game to preserve a lead.

Fourteen years later, when the well-traveled Abernathy was done scrapping his knuckles in the dirt of every big-league pitching mound with his unusual submarine delivery, managers viewed their bullpens differently. They still expected their starters to go the distance, but the good pens had a quality reliever who could take over if the starter faltered and who could pitch well enough to hold on to the lead. There was, by that time, even a statistical category to quantify what that pitcher did. The “save” didn’t exist as an official stat when Abernathy was a rookie.

He accumulated 149 of those new-fangled saves. While that’s good enough for third place among N.C. pitchers, the total isn’t much by modern standards – Rivera and Hoffman, for instance, have more than 600 career saves. But those numbers helped spark a profound strategic change in the game and they marked a pretty good finish for a pitcher who re-invented himself at least twice to become one of the most effective relievers of his era.

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Burgess, Smoky

Primary Position: Catcher
Birthplace: Caroleen

First, Last Names: Forrest Harrill       Nicknames: Smoky

Date of Birth:  Feb. 6, 1927    Date and Place of Death: Sept. 15, 1991, Asheville, NC
Burial: Sunset Memorial Park, Forest City, NC

High School: Henrietta-Caroleen High School

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-8, 187
Debut Year: 1949       Final Year: 1967          Years Played: 18
Team(s) and Years: Chicago Cubs, 1949, 1951; Philadelphia Phillies, 1952-55; Cincinnati Redlegs, 1955-58; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1959-1964; Chicago White Sox, 1964-67

Career Summary
G            AB       H          R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1691    4471   1318   485   673      126     .295     .362     .446     +33.4

Awards/Honors: All-Star, 1954-55, 1959-61, 1964; N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, 1978; Boys of Summer Top 100

A six-time All Star, Smoky Burgess is among North Carolina’s baseball royalty, ranking 14th on the list of the state’s Top 100 players. He played 18 years in the major leagues – only five North Carolinians have played longer – and is second to Rick Ferrell as the top catcher produced by the state. He was also considered one of the best hitters of his generation.

“Smoky could fall out of bed on New Year’s Day and get a hit off Sandy Koufax,” said Joe Nuxhall, a teammate on the Cincinnati Redlegs.[I]

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Benson, Vern

Primary Positions: Third base, left field
Birthplace: Granite Quarry

Full Name: Vernon Adair

Date of Birth:  Sept. 19, 1924         Date and Place of Death: Jan. 20, 2014, Granite Quarry
Burial: Rowan Memorial Park, Rowan

High School: Granite Quarry High School
College: Catawba College, Salisbury

Bats: L Throws: R        Height and Weight: 5-11, 180
Debut Year: 1943       Final Year: 1953          Years Played: 5
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1943, 1946; St. Louis Cardinals, 1951-53

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
55     104      21       17        12        3          .202     .291     .356     +0.1

Vern Benson was a baseball lifer. Though he only appeared in 55 games over a sporadic five-year career in the major leagues, Benson devoted his life to the sport, spending more than half a century as a player, coach, scout, and minor-league manager. He was also perfect during his short but odd tenure as a big-league skipper.

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