Tyson, Turkey

Position: Pinch hitter
Birthplace: Elm City

First, Middle Names: Cecil Washington        Nicknames: Turkey
Date of Birth: Dec. 6, 1914     Date and Place of Death: Feb. 17, 2000
Burial: Cedar Grove Cemetery, Elm City

High School: Undetermined
College: Oak Ridge Military Institute, Oak Ridge, NC

Bats: L             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-5, 225
Debut Year: 1944       Final Year: 1944          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Phillies, 1944

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
1          1          0          0          0          0        .000     .000     .000     0.0

Turkey Tyson had one day in the big leagues. He pinch hit in the ninth inning of a meaningless game and popped out to third. It was a brief interlude to a 15-year career down on the farms. Tyson bounced around minor-league clubs, from Tallahassee, Florida, to Utica, New York, accumulating a .300 career batting average and acquiring a reputation as a boisterous, fan favorite. After a very public feud with Cuban opponents that had a nasty, racial overtone, Tyson wore out his welcome up North and returned to North Carolina where he became a minor-league legend as a player and manager.

George and Jennie Tyson named the first of their two children Cecil when he was born in December 1914 in Elm City in Wilson County, but everybody called him Turkey most of his adult life. Some said it was because he once visited the country of that name with a baseball team. Others claimed it was the gobbling sound he made whenever he got a hit.[I]

Tyson began playing baseball at an early age on teams representing Elm City. “We would play teams from different communities, and a lot of times the teams would end up fighting among themselves,” he remembered many years later.[II]

The games certainly got more structured and less violent when he entered Oak Ridge Military Institute in Guilford County, North Carolina, in 1932, probably to finish high school and then to enter the junior-college program that the school offered. His real motivation, however, was to play ball. The private school was something of a baseball factory, having sent a number of its students to the major leagues.[1]

A year after graduating in 1936, Tyson was chosen to play and teach baseball in England.[2] The now-defunct U.S. Baseball Congress, which supported amateur baseball, sponsored the trip as a way to lobby for the sport’s addition to the Olympics

Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers when he returned home, Tyson played his first professional ball for Dodgers’ farm teams in Tallahassee and Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1938. They were the first of the nine different minor-league clubs that he would play first base and manage over the coming decade. His solid hitting, all that gobbling as he ran up the first base line, and his full-throated arguments with umpires made him a favorite of hometown fans wherever he went.

Tyson was in Utica in 1944, playing for the Phillies’ Class A Blue Sox, when he was called up to Philadelphia. The 29-year-old rookie had his one at bat on April 23 and was back in a Utica uniform a couple of days later.

The Blue Sox won the Eastern League pennant the following season but not without controversy. Many ballplayers were in military uniforms that year, America’s third in World War II. To fill rosters, the league had encouraged the signing of players from Cuba. Their numbers had increased dramatically since the start of the war, creating tension with some American players and coaches in the league. Resentment toward the Cubans was becoming a major problem, noted Louis Pickelner, the sports’ editor of the newspaper in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a league city. “Abuse of Cuban players is reaching a point which requires drastic action to save the game we reverently call our ‘National Pastime’ from being smeared by unsportsmanship ,” he wrote in July 1945.[III]

If the problem had a face, it would have looked a lot like Turkey Tyson’s. It’s hard to know how it all started and who should shoulder the burden of blame from 70-year-old newspaper accounts. Clearly, though, the Cubans were a bit brash. Maybe they thought they had something to prove to these Yanquis, but they played a brand of ball that Ty Cobb would have found familiar. They slid hard into bases, sometimes with spikes high. They barreled into catchers on plays at home and, when pitching, threw at batters.

Tyson seems to have been a favorite target, probably because he griped and complained to umpires and angrily confronted the offenders. The league’s owners fined and suspended him twice for his public displays. His second and longest suspension of 15 games came after he charged the mound with a bat during a game with Williamsport’s Rebels. Constrained by teammates, Tyson returned to the dugout without inflicting any physical harm, though he may have shouted the “N” word at the Cubans several times during the short journey. At the end of the inning, Dan Parra, a Rebels’ Cuban pitcher, charged across infield with two bats to confront Tyson. Again, teammates interceded and a truce was called with no one getting hurt.

Parra’s more lenient sentence from the league – a three-day suspension – triggered even more resentment among some of the league’s American players, coaches, and sportswriters who publicly proclaimed their support for Tyson, one of their own, while ridiculing the foreigners’ faulty English and even their food preferences. Pickelner, however, wasn’t among them. “A guy like Turkey Tyson, a double offender of the code of fair play, can very well wreck the entire structure of the Eastern League if not put in his place once and for all,” he wrote.[IV]

Little wonder, then, that Tyson expressed relief when he signed with the Durham, North Carolina, Bulls in 1947. The Class C club was a couple of steps down from the Blue Sox, but he was home again. “I didn’t like it up there, and I wanted to get back down home,” he said.[V]

He had his best year with the Bulls that season, hitting .349 and driving in 105 runs. He also set a Carolina League record with 74 assists at first base. It formed the foundation of a reputation Tyson would build over the next five years playing or managing four different minor-league clubs in North Carolina. He was colorful, quotable and considered a smart baseball man. At the end of his career when he was old enough to be the father of many of the youngsters he managed, Tyson was the wizened sage of the diamond.

He returned to Elm City in the offseasons where he was the most-famous man in the town of 800. He hawked tobacco as an auctioneer and swapped mules. “I’m a mule trader in the winter months,” he said in 1948. “I’ll buy mules and I’ll trade mules.” Most farmers around Elm City told reporters that Turkey could drive a hard bargain.[VI]

There was no reason to leave town after 1952, the year Tyson quit as manager of the local Leafs in Rocky Mount, a Class D team that occupied the lowest rung in the minor-league hierarchy. The team wasn’t very good and was going nowhere and the old mule trader couldn’t inspire them to do better. He abruptly quit in the middle of the season.

Tyson settled in with Hester, whom he had married in 1950, as Elm City’s famous son. He was elected as a town alderman in 1963 and served five terms. His brother, George, was mayor for much of that time.

He died in 2000 at age 85.


Footnotes
[1] What’s now called Oak Ridge Academy occupies an important place in the history of baseball in North Carolina.  The school, which traces its roots to the 1850s, was considered one of the best prep schools in the state in the late 19th century. Under coach Earl Holt, the school’s baseball program during the first decades of the 20th century developed more than a dozen major-league players, including Jackie Mayo, Dick Burrus, Al Evans, Pete Shields, Chubby Dean, Max Wilson, and the Hayworth brothers (Red and Ray).
[2] Pitcher Max Wilson of Haw River, North Carolina, also made the trip. He made brief appearances in the major leagues in 1940 and 1946. See his profile for a more information.

References
[I] Temple, Bob. “Elm City, 1,000 in Population, has many Distinguishing Features.” Sunday Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC), February 12, 1950.
[II] Cockrell, Bennett. “Cecil ‘Turkey’ Tyson Has Fond Memories.” Nashville (NC) Graphic, November 16, 1990.
[III] Pickelner, Louis, “A Little Extra.” Williamsport (PA) Sun-Gazette, July 20, 1945.
[IV] Ibid.
[V] Quincy, Bob. “Leafs’ New Pilot Stopped Show at Coronation of Britain’s King.” Evening Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC), January 30, 1948.
[VI] Ibid.

 

Wilson, Max

Position: Starting pitcher, relief pitcher
Birthplace: Haw River

Date of Birth:  June 3, 1916    Date and Place of Death: Jan. 2, 1977, Greensboro
Burial: Pine Hill Cemetery, Burlington

High School: Burlington High School 
College: Oak Ridge Military Institute, Oak Ridge, N.C.

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-7, 160
Debut Year: 1940       Final Year: 1946          Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Phillies, 1940; Washington Senators, 1946

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
12        0          1          0          9.15     19.2     11        -1.1

 Max Wilson was a star in high school and a statewide sensation by the time he graduated from college. He was the “famous” Max Wilson in newspapers by then. Because shameless excess was the hallmark of good sports writing at a time when the reading public wasn’t so easily insulted, “marvelous Max” was also the “midget,” the “half pint,” the “tiny tosser.” Writers marveled that such a little guy – young Max was 5-7 and maybe 155 pounds soaking wet – could throw so hard.

Regardless of his size, there was no denying Wilson’s talent. The boy could pitch. In high school, in college, for the mill teams that flourished around his home in Burlington, among the hand-picked amateurs sent to England to showcase the American sport, even for the Navy during World War II, Wilson was always the best pitcher on the squad, usually leading his teams to championships.

Where it counted though, in the big leagues, Max Wilson was a dud. He made two trips to the majors, six years apart. In a dozen games and almost 20 innings, Wilson compiled an embarrassing 9.15 earned-run average, walking as many as he struck out. See, said the doubting scouts at the time, the “tiny southpaw” is just too small. Maybe. More likely, like so many promising kids before him and since, Max Wilson for the first time faced the best hitters on the planet. Johnny Mize or Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams didn’t play on the Tower mill team or make the trip to England.

Born in 1916, Max was the eldest of Earl and Veta Wilson’s three boys. They grew up in Haw River in Alamance County where Earl was a superintendent in a knitting mill.

Wilson pitched his Burlington High School team to consecutive state championships in 1934-35. He struck out 20 batters in a game his senior year, starting a streak of 66 Ks in 38 innings.

When school ended for the summers, Wilson worked in the mills and pitched for their very competitive baseball teams.

The summer of 1937 was the exception. The now-defunct U.S. Baseball Congress invited Wilson and about 100 other amateurs to Miami that spring to try out for teams that it would send to England to promote the sport. The organization, which supported amateur baseball, was lobbying for baseball to be added to the Olympics. Wilson made the cut and went 13-0 in England that summer.

His fame was solidified back home in Guilford County, at what is now Oak Ridge Academy.[1] After returning from England, Wilson enrolled in the private military school’s junior-college program. By then, the school had acquired a reputation as a baseball incubator, having graduated a number of major leaguers. Wilson threw a perfect game against Wingate Junior College in 1938, striking out 25 of the 27 batters. Only one hitter managed to put the ball in play. Nine days later, he pitched a no-hitter, striking out 18. Wilson yielded just four hits in a 10-1 win in his next outing, fanning another 18. He led Oak Ridge that year to the state junior college baseball title.

He became the “famous one” in newspaper accounts, and major-league teams considered signing him despite the misgivings about his size. Connie Mack, a shrewd judge of baseball talent as the longtime manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, wrote to a friend in North Carolina who knew Wilson that he “would like to take a chance with this youngster and am wondering if you could see him and have him get in touch with me pertaining his joining our club.”[I]

A cocky Wilson told a sportswriter in 1938 that he intended to play major-league ball after graduating from Oak Ridge in the spring. “It just wouldn’t be worth my time to fool with the minor class of ball,” he said, “but I fully realize that my size is a handicap if I do get in the majors.”[II]

Wilson, of course, had no say in the matter. The Cleveland Indians beat Mack and signed Wilson after graduation,  assigning him to their farm team in Springfield, Ohio. Though it was a Class C league, the lowest in the minors, Wilson didn’t gripe and considered his 8-4 record a success. “And the other reason is that I proved to myself and a lot of other guys that a little fella can stay in there with the rest of ‘em,” he said.[III]

The Indians, though, apparently had second thoughts. They traded Wilson to the Philadelphia Phillies after the season. He won 35 games over the next two years in the minors and was called up to Philadelphia at the end of the 1940 season. In three games that September, the 24-year-old lefty gave up 10 runs in seven innings.

It was back to the minors. Wilson had his best season in 1941, going 19-9 with a 2.39 ERA in a Class B league. Who knows what would have happened if Japan hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor that December.

Wilson enlisted in the Navy soon after the attack. As a petty officer third class, he pitched spectacularly during the 1943 Norfolk Navy World Series, winning three games, two by 1-0 shutouts. Wilson pitched again in the service’s World Series two years later while stationed in Honolulu, throwing a 4-0 one-hitter in the second game.

He was 30 when the war ended, and his best pitching days were behind him. Wilson fared just slightly better in his second call up to the majors, this time with the Washington Senators in 1946. He gave up another 10 runs in almost 13 innings of relief. His career was over.

Wilson and his wife, Emogene, moved to Greensboro in the 1950s where they raised their two sons and Wilson worked for S&W Distributors. The boys, Robbie and Max, would later pitch for N.C. State University. Their dad never missed a home game.

Wilson died in 1977. He was only 60.

Footnote
[1] Oak Ridge Academy occupies an important place in the history of baseball in North Carolina.  The school, which traces its roots to the 1850s, was considered one of the best prep schools in the state in the late 19th century. Under coach Earl Holt, the school’s baseball program during the first decades of the 20th century developed more than a dozen major-league players, including Jackie Mayo, Dick Burrus, Al Evans, Pete Shields, Chubby Dean, the Ferrell brothers (Wes and Rick), and the Hayworth brothers (Red and Ray).

References
[I] Hayden, Wesley. “They’re Taking Notice.” Daily Times-News (Burlington, NC), May 13, 1938.
[
II] Beerman, William L. “Pardon Me, But…” Daily Tar Heel (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC), May 13, 1938.
[
III] Bedingfield, Gary. “Max Wilson.” Baseball in Wartime, April 24, 24 2008. http://baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/wilson_max.htm

 

 

Anderson, Fred

Position: Starting pitcher, relief pitcher
Birthplace: Calahaln

Full Name: John Frederick
Date of Birth:  Dec. 11, 1885  Date and Place of Death: Nov. 8, 1957, Winston-Salem
Burial: Salem Cemetery, Winston-Salem

High School: Oak Ridge Academy, Oak Ridge, NC
College: Davidson College, Davidson, NC; University of Maryland-Baltimore

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 180
Debut Year: 1909       Final Year: 1918          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1909, 1913; Buffalo Buffeds, 1914-15; N.Y. Giants, 1916-18

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
178      53        57        8        2.86     986.1   514      3.4

Dr. Fred Anderson was a spit-balling dentist, certainly the only one in the history of baseball. For parts of seven seasons during the second decade of the 20th century, Anderson made baseballs do funny things by legally lathering them with his saliva. In the off season, he reached into patients’ mouths to practice his other craft.  

That made Anderson unusual in another way. Unlike most players of his era, he wasn’t a slave to autocratic team owners wielding contracts that gave them complete control over their hires’ careers. He could afford to be independent. If he didn’t like the money an owner offered for his services, Anderson had the option of being a fulltime dentist or a collegiate baseball manager instead or even jumping to another major league.

He actually did all of those things before retiring from baseball with a 2.86 earned-run average, or ERA, third-best among North Carolina pitchers with more than 500 major-league innings. Anderson settled in Winston-Salem, not too far from his ancestral home, where he practiced dentistry for almost 30 years.

Andersons’ ancestors had helped found Calahaln, a small community in western Davie County. John Frederick was born there in 1885, the youngest of four siblings. Their father, John, was a pioneering physician in the area who died when little Freddy was less than a year old. He and the rest of the family lived with an older sister, first in Mocksville, the county seat, and then in Statesville in Iredell County.

Fred attended a private school in Boone, North Carolina, and then Oak Ridge Military Institute east of Greensboro, North Carolina, where he started pitching for the school team. It was at Davidson College, in the town of the same name near Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1906 that Anderson began lubricating the ball. Many young pitchers at the time were experimenting with spitballs in the hopes of imitating “Big Ed” Walsh, a Pennsylvania coal miner who would dominate the American League for the next seven seasons by throwing spitters.[1]

After graduating from Davidson in 1907, Anderson played for semipro teams. That May, he married Mary Coiner of Statesville. They would have a daughter, Elsie, born in 1909, but the couple broke up three years later. Mary married another ballplayer and moved to Tennessee, taking Elsie with her. Anderson would marry Clementine Tise in 1921. They would have no children.

Anderson finished dental school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 1909 and then signed his first professional contract with the Wilson, North Carolina, Tobacconists of the Eastern Carolina League. Though it occupied the lowest rung of the ladder to the majors, the Class D league would become famous because on the nearby Rocky Mount team that season was Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. His two seasons with the Railroaders would exact a heavy toll after Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games. He was stripped of the medals because his time in Class D baseball violated amateur rules. The medals would be restored to the Thorpe family in 1983.

Though no Jim Thorpe, Anderson was a pretty good specimen himself at 6-2 and 180 pounds. He won 10 games by July for Wilson when the Boston Red Sox signed him. Anderson made his major-league debut on Sept. 25, 1909 in the second game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns. He yielded just three singles but left in the eighth inning trailing 3-1 because of two costly errors. The Sox would come back and win the game in extra innings.

The Red Sox likely didn’t expect a guy who pitched in just one major-league game to be so demanding, but Anderson wouldn’t accept the contract that the team sent him for the 1910 season. He wanted more money. Ballplayers then rarely won such disputes. Their first contracts legally tethered players to their teams for life and they couldn’t offer their services to other major-league clubs. Without that freedom, players had little leverage in contract negotiations. All they could do was hold out, usually for a few weeks. Most eventually signed on the owners’ terms. Dr. Anderson, however, had other, equally lucrative, skills. He hung up his shingle in Statesville, started seeing patients and sat out the year. In retribution, the Red Sox sold his contract to minor-league Sacramento for the 1911 season. Anderson didn’t show up in California when the season started and spent another year as a fulltime dentist.

Finally, in 1912, the Red Sox and their independent-minded pitcher agreed on a contract, and Anderson reported to the team’s training camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas., that spring. He didn’t make the team, however, and spent two seasons in the minors. The Red Sox gave him another look in August 1913, but Anderson was awful, losing six games while giving up almost six runs a game.

With his future as a ballplayer looking bleak, Anderson took a job after the season as the baseball manager at what is now North Carolina State University. He would direct the team for the next three seasons. Anderson hinted to the newspapers when he took the job that his playing days were over.[I]

If he was seriously thinking about quitting, Anderson changed his mind in 1914 when the Buffalo Buffeds of the renegade Federal League made him an offer. He said the money was too good to turn down. [II] The league had started as a minor league but declared war on baseball in 1913 by actively recruiting players from the two established major leagues by offering higher salaries and the freedom to move from team to team.  Many made the switch. [2]

Anderson pitched well for Buffalo, winning 19 games during the league’s last season in 1915, but he had his best years when he rejoined established baseball with the New York Giants. Anderson had a great first half for the Giants in 1916 and a dismal final few months when he was the least effective pitcher on the team. He attributed it to a sore back, but John McGraw had other ideas. The wily Giants’ manager had watched from the bench as Anderson’s erratic spitter fooled opposing batters for a few innings, but they would usually got the measure of it the more they saw it. McGraw started limiting Anderson’s exposure by using him more and more as a relief pitcher. The strategy worked. Pitching mostly from the bullpen in 1917, Anderson led the National League with a 1.44 ERA. He was almost as good the following season, which was shortened by America’s entrance into World War I.

Anderson joined the Army’s aviation corps at the end of the year, but the war was over by the time he finished training in late 1918.

His baseball career was also done. Another contract dispute played a part, but so did changing times. Anderson may have sensed that his days were numbered. Spitballs had always been controversial. Doctoring the ball, many thought, wasn’t very sporting.  A ball stained by tobacco spittle and mud could also be dangerous. Batters had a hard time seeing such balls, especially late in games in the failing light on unlit fields. Ty Cobb thought there was another reason why the spitter was falling out of favor in the dawning era of Babe Ruth and the slugger. “Freak pitches […] were outlawed when the owners greedily sold out to home runs,” he wrote in his autobiography.[III]

Team owners voted after the 1919 season to limit spitball pitchers to two per team. After a Carl Mays’ spitter struck Ray Chapman in the temple and killed him in August 1920, the owners banned the spitball but exempted the 17 pitchers who threw them. When they retired, the spitter would be illegal. Burleigh Grimes, the last spitballer, retired in 1934.

Anderson left after the 1918 season. He was a dentist in Charlotte for a short time but was living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, two years later. He and his new wife, Clementine, settled in the South Fork section of Forsyth County, and Anderson practiced in the city until his retirement in 1948.

Suffering for two years with an undisclosed illness that was likely terminal, Anderson shot himself in 1957.

Footnotes
[1] Walsh spent all but the final season of his thirteen-year career with the Chicago White Sox. Throwing primarily a spitter he won 195 games during his career, including 40 in 1908. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
[2] Anderson was one of four North Carolina natives who played in the short-lived league, which folded after the 1915 season. For a more complete description of the league and its effects on major-league baseball, see the Ducky Yount
profile.

References
[I] Nowlin, Bill. “Fred Anderson.” Society for American Baseball Research. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/fred-anderson/.
[II] “Anderson Signs With Federals.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), March 15, 1914.
[III] Cobb, Ty with Al Stump. Ty Cobb: My Life in Baseball. New York: Doubleday, 1961.

 

 

 

Burrus, Dick

Position: First base
Birthplace: Hatteras

First, Middle Names: Maurice Lennon   Nicknames: Dick

Date of Birth:  Jan 29, 1898    Date and Place of Death: Feb. 2, 1972, Elizabeth City, NC
Burial: New Hollywood Cemetery, Elizabeth City

High School: Elizabeth City High School, Oak Ridge Academy, Oak Ridge, NC
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh, NC

Bats: L             Throws: L        Height and Weight: 5-11, 175
Debut Year: 1919       Final Year: 1928          Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1919-20; Boston Braves, 1925-28

Career Summary
G         AB       H         R          RBI      HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
560     1760    513      206      211      11       .291     .247     .373     0.9      

Cornelius McGillicuddy, the manager and part owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, was a hard man to impress. Few men would ever match Connie Mack, as he was known to all, as a judge of baseball talent. He would remain in the game for more than 50 years as a player, manager or owner, acquiring nicknames along the way that reflected what his contemporaries thought of his acumen — The Tall Tactician, the Tall Tutor and the Great Old Man of Baseball.

Mack traveled down to Columbia, South Carolina, in June 1919 to check out a talented, 21-year-old minor-league first baseman. Dick Burrus got five hits that day and fielded his position with the grace that reminded Mack of Hal Chase, a peerless first baseman who was in the last year of a 15-year career. Reserved by nature and calculating in his evaluation of talent, Mack was reduced to a gushing suitor.[I]

“When I signed Burrus, I believed I was getting the greatest first sacker the Athletic club ever had,” Mack later remembered. “I said he wouldn’t be just a good player, but a player who will get big, black headlines.”[II]

Mack bought Burrus from the Columbia Comers in the Class C South Atlantic League for the unheard price of $5,000, or about $75,000 in current dollars. He later said he would have gone as high as $25,000, or almost $400,00 when adjusted for inflation.

It was real money, more than most men in Hatteras saw in a decade of fishing. Maurice Lennon Burrus grew up in the remote fishing village on an island of the same name that was a day’s sale from the N.C. mainland. Hatteras Island had yet to be marketed to the world as a part of the famed Outer Banks. Burrus would be the only person from the region to play in the major leagues.

He was the youngest of seven children. Their father, Capt. Dozier Burrus, was a well-respected elder who had been the keeper of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the mid-1870s, soon after it got its famous black and white stripes. Their mother, Achsah, died when Burrus was five. The family moved to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on the mainland in 1909 so that the kids could get a better education.

A teacher at the local high school, where Burrus first showed real talent on the baseball diamond, suggested he transfer to Oak Ridge Academy in Guilford County, more than 300 miles west. The private military school had become something of a cradle for major-league players.[1]

Burrus finished high school at Oak Ridge and received a partial athletic scholarship to attend what is now N.C. State University. He arrived in Raleigh in 1916 intending to study textile engineering, but World War I intervened. Burrus was drafted into the Army and spent two years at a base in Georgia.

He returned to State to play the last three games of the 1918 football season — he was on the team that Georgia Tech humiliated 128-0. Burrus played the entire baseball season the following spring and was signed by Columbia when it ended.

Within a few weeks of his signing, Dick Burrus from a far-off fishing village on the North Carolina coast, was heading to Philadelphia as a major leaguer. Mack wanted him at Shibe Park for the first game of a Sunday doubleheader, but Burrus got off the train at the wrong station and arrived during the second game. He walked into the A’s dugout just as George Burns, the team’s star first baseman, launched a deep home run. Mack intended to move Burns to the outfield to make room for his promising rookie.

“Burrus’ first words were, ‘What a hit that was. Who was the batter?’” Mack remembered. “When he was told the hitter was George Burns, the player he had been signed to succeed, his face fell. I will always believe that this entrance licked him. He had been signed to take the place of a man who in his first view of a major-league ball game had hit one of the longest homers he had ever seen. ‘What chance have I?’ he must have thought.”[III]

Burrus hit a respectable .258 that season for a hapless team that lost 104 games. His average, however, dropped more than 70 points after 71 games in 1920. Mack had seen enough and shipped Burrus back to the minors. “He was no more like the Burrus I saw at Columbia than a harmonica resembles a piano,” he said.[IV]

During the next four years, Burrus built a strong minor-league resume. His .365 average and near flawless play at first base in 1924 led the Atlanta Crackers to the Class A Southern Association pennant.

Having earned another shot at the majors, Burrus seemed to be reaching the potential that Mack envisioned. Playing in all 152 games for the Boston Braves in 1925, Burrus hit .340, ranking third in the National League. He rapped out 200 hits, including 50 for extra bases, and drove in a career-high 87 runs.

Hernias, not a destroyed psyche, stopped him. He played another three years in Boston, but hobbled by abdominal hernias, his playing time and numbers decreased each year. Though he hit .318 in 1927, Burrus played in less than half of the Braves’ games. He played two more years in the minors before being released in 1930. His .291 lifetime batting average ranks as ninth among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats.

Burrus owned a restaurant in Atlanta for a time before moving with his wife, Beck, back to Hatteras. He was an oil distributor and fish dealer on Hatteras Island and was elected to the Dare County commissioners.  Burrus died of lung cancer a few days past his 74th birthday in 1972.

His daughters, Dixie Burrus Browning and Mary Burrus Williams, are prolific writers and artists. Dixie Browning has written more than 100 romance and historical novels, mostly about life on the Outer Banks. The sisters have collaborated on several works of fiction under the pen name Bronwyn Williams, a combination of their married names.

Footnote
[1] Oak Ridge’s Coach Earl Holt had already sent pitchers George Suggs, Dixie Davis and Jakie May to the majors. Wes Ferrell and his Hall of Fame brother, Rick, would come later.

References
[I] “Mack Very Fond of Dick Burrus.” Charlotte (NC) News, June 23, 1919.
[II] Ison, Wade. “The Isonglass.” Charlotte (NC) News, April 6, 1931.
[III] Ibid.
[IV] Ibid.