The Crab — a forgotten West Virginian who hit .400 twice and lives on in the National Baseball Hall of Fame
We West Virginians will claim any great athlete born here.
Even if they don’t grow up here.
In baseball, hey, we’ll claim George Brett, who was born in Glen Dale – even if he grew up in El Segundo, Calif. He’s a Hall of Famer. We’ll take him.
Same with Bill Mazeroski, who was born in Wheeling, but attended Warren Consolidated High in Tiltonsville, Ohio. He’s in the Hall of Fame. We’ll take him.
West Virginia has been the birthplace to many famous Major League Baseball players, like Nitro’s Lew Burdette, who was the winning pitcher when Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix pitched a perfect game for 12 innings against the Braves – only to lose. (He was also the MVP of the 1957 World Series and, perhaps more importantly, appeared in an episode of “Leave It To Beaver.”)
Players and coach Doc Edwards was from Red Jacket. Morgantown native Jedd Gyorko earned about $38 million playing for San Diego, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. Four-time All-Star Toby Harrah is from Sissonville. Three-time All-Star John Kruk was born in Charleston and went to Keyser High. I could go on and on. Steve and Nick Swisher are from Parkersburg. Michael Grove is from Wheeling. And remember Elkins’ Stan Fansler?
Yet one Mountain State product combined everything – including induction into the Hall of Fame.
He was born in Wheeling. He was raised by his mother and father, the latter of which worked for the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company. And he absolutely crushed it as a ballplayer, batting over .400 not once but twice, winning the National League batting title three times and winning a World Series.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Jesse “The Crab” Burkett, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.
Yes, “The Crab” was his nickname. His Cleveland Spiders teammates nicknamed the left fielder that because of his disposition between the lines, according to the Hall of Fame website.
“You’ve got to be a battler,” Burkett said. “If you don’t, they’ll walk all over you. Once the bell rang, I had no friends on the other team.”
Ah, a true West Virginia competitor.
Burkett’s story really is fascinating. Born Dec. 4, 1868, he made his pro baseball debut as a pitcher, winning 27 games for a minor league team in Scranton, Pa. He surfaced in 1890 on an MLB team with the New York Giants and played for Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston until 1905.
He transformed from a pitcher to an outfielder – with amazing results.
The 5-foot-8 lefty hit .309 his first season before getting traded to Cleveland. By 1893, he was hitting .348 as an everyday outfielder and then broke into rarefied air.
You know how baseball fans point to Ted Williams hitting .400 in 1941?
Well, Burkett did it twice.
In 1895, he batted .405 and led the NL in batting average, nudging Ed Delahanty. He had 225 hits that season – 12 more than Hall of Famer “Wee” Willie Keeler.
The following season Burkett did even better — if you can wrap your brain around that. He hit .410 and led the league in batting average, hits (240) and runs scored (160). His 240 hits were a major league record for 15 years until a guy named Ty Cobb had 248 in 1911.
It’s a hell of a story. For his career, Burkett batted .338 with 2,850 hits. He scored 1,720 runs. What’s funny is he made his bones as a pitcher, but only pitched three games.
Burkett passed away on May 27, 1953, but not before being elected to the Hall seven years prior.
Born in West Virginia. Raised in West Virginia. Batted .400 twice. Won three batting titles. Won a World Series as a New York Giants coach in 1921. Hall of Famer.
The legacy of “The Crab.”
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.