SABR

Fred Burchell

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Fred Burchell pitched in 49 major-league games over four seasons and never once posted an earned-run average as high as 3.00.

Burchell was born into a large family at Perth Amboy, New Jersey, on July 14, 1879. His father, William, worked as an engineer, and his mother, Emily, bore at least eight children, of whom Frederick Duff Burchell was the youngest. At the time of the 1880 Census, when Fred was 3 years old, his 24-year-old brother, Jerome, was working as a brakeman. Following Jerome in birth order were Frank, Lillie, Edward, Eliza, Anna, Maggie, and then Frederick. Despite a report in 1906 that his twin brother had died in March at Perth Amboy, there was none reflected in the 1880 Census.

As a ballplayer, Burchell first turns up in the news pitching in the Three-I League for the 1902 Evansville River Rats. And he threw a fine game against visiting Bloomington on June 3, holding them to one scratch hit in ten innings of work, winning his own game in the bottom of the tenth inning with a triple. He had a .438 winning percentage, more or less matching the team’s winning percentage, but we don’t have actual wins and losses. He led the league in batting, with a .352 average. There had been a Burchell pitching for Newark in 1901, but we don’t know for sure if it is the same man.

Near the end of spring training in April 1903, Burchell was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies from the Evansville ballclub, “that player having made good in practice.”i Elsewhere in the same issue of Sporting Life, Philadelphia correspondent F. C. Richter listed Burchell first among the new pitching prospects expected to join the team: “Of the new pitchers, the work of Burchell, Wolfe, and McFetridge has been most encouraging.”

How encouraging may be another matter, and a relative one. Under manager Bill Shettsline, the 1902 Phillies had finished in seventh place (56-81), 46 games out of first place. Pitcher Bill Wolff is presumably the “Wolfe” to whom Richter referred; he had been 0-1 in his one game late in 1902. It was the only game he ever threw in the major leagues. The 1903 team worked under manager Chief Zimmer, and again finished seventh; Pittsburgh repeated as the pennant winner and faced the Boston Americans in the first World Series. The Phillies were 49-86. Burchell was 0-3 and McFetridge was 1-11. (It’s a curiosity that the only other major-league experience McFetridge ever enjoyed was way back in 1890 throwing one game, a 4-1 win over Brooklyn that June 7. And yet he was now seen as a “new” pitcher at age 33.)

Burchell had “delivered the groceries” in a late exhibition season game against Washington, allowing just one scratch hit for four innings – until pinch-hitter Rabbit Robinson drove in two, enough to win the game.ii In the regular season Burchell was 0-3.

He made his major-league debut in Philadelphia on April 17, 1903, against the Boston Beaneaters. Chick Fraser started, but the Bostons batted around in the top of the third and scored five runs. Burchell came on in the fourth and gave up a double to the first batter. He pitched five innings, allowing two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth, then settled down and surrendered no runs in the next three. “Neither Fraser nor Burchell could do anything worthy of their reputations,” wrote the Chicago Tribune.

Burchell’s first start came four days later, on April 21, also against Boston – but this time in Boston at the South End Grounds. He held the Beaneaters to three hits, but lost the game on a cold and raw day, 3-1, to fellow left-hander Wiley Piatt. Boston scored twice in the third on one hit, a hit batsman, and two errant throws (one of them by Burchell, which was one of two errors he made.) On the 25th in Brooklyn, his teammates were shut out and lost, 8-0. The Brooklyns came to Philadelphia and, once more, the Phillies offense was shut out, Burchell losing, 5-0. Again he took over for Fraser after three innings in a game on May 12. His sixth and final game for the Phillies came on May 23 in Chicago, again in long relief. He’d lost his three decisions, thrown 44 innings, and seen half the 28 runs on him scored as unearned runs; his ERA was 2.86.

On June 4 both Burchell and fellow pitcher Warren McLaughlin (also 0-3) were paid off by Philadelphia, and Burchell immediately signed with the Baltimore Orioles (Eastern League).iii McLaughlin later hooked on with New London. Not a single Phillies pitcher had a winning record in 1903 and only Pop Williams (1-1) broke even; Bill Duggleby (13-16) led the team in wins.

Baltimore welcomed Burchell back for the next four seasons, and in 1904 he appears to have pitched well (we are unable to locate season statistics), earning lines such as “Burchell was a complete puzzle to the local batsmen”; “Burchell had no difficulty in holding the visitors down to five scattered hits”; and “Burchell was too much for the Grays, despite poor support.” On the other hand, he was human. On June 19, after giving up a first-inning run, he shut out Newark for the next 11 innings, pitching to a 1-1 tie. Six days later, against Rochester, “Burchell lost his own game by making a wild throw to second in the third inning.” Even sitting on the bench he sometimes showed up in game accounts: In the June 30 game hosting Newark, “Baltimore lost a listless game to Newark. Burchell, Jennings, and Alieame were ordered from the grounds by Umpire Gifford, and the latter had to be escorted from the field after the game by a squad of police after being mobbed and rotten-egged.”iv Listless though the game (a 4-2 loss) may have been, the Baltimore fans seemed to have some energy and passion.

The 1903 team itself had been managed by Wilbert Robinson and then Hughie Jennings, both future Hall of Famers, and both of whom played alongside Burchell. Jennings managed in 1904. Only two of the 17 players on the Baltimore roster that season failed to play in the major leagues. The Orioles finished in second place behind George Stallings’ Buffalo Bisons. Burchell was named by the Buffalo Times to the Eastern League all-star team. Near the end of the 1904 season, Brooklyn’s manager Ned Hanlon purchased the rights to Burchell, but Fred never played for Brooklyn; instead he returned to the Orioles in March and pitched for them once again in 1906.

We do have statistics for Burchell in 1905 and 1906, and he was a 20-game winner each year, 24-10 in 1905 and 20-18 in 1906. Baltimore finished just a half-game behind Providence for the 1905 pennant, having played one less game. Again, Brooklyn renewed its rights to Burchell’s contract, but once more he played for Baltimore – though there was some drama in February, when he was reported to have jumped his contract to sign with Johnstown (Tri-State League). By April, however, salary matters had been worked out. In 1906 the Orioles finished third. Burchell led the league’s pitchers in strikeouts with 183.

After Jennings signed a contract to manage the Detroit Tigers for 1907 (he led them to three consecutive American League pennants), Burchell was reported to have agreed to manage the Orioles.v On September 1, 1906, it was announced that he had signed with the Cincinnati Reds and would join them before the end of the season. He did not.

In any event, Jack Dunn managed Baltimore in 1907, and Burchell pitched for the team once more, going 15-17. He also appeared in two major-league games for the Boston Americans. Boston manager Jim “Deacon” McGuire traveled to Providence to scout Burchell in a game on July 28. Boston owner John I. Taylor signed Burchell on August 10, intending to have him join the team in 1908. He did, however, appear in two games late in ’07. An August 11 dispatch to the Washington Post said he’d been traded by Baltimore for two unnamed players. The Post said, “He is very popular and a hard worker.” Dunn later said that Taylor had paid $3,500 and sent players Jack Knight and Chet Chadbourne to the Orioles.vi

About six years later Baltimore’s Dunn dealt another pitcher to Boston – Babe Ruth. Burchell was no Babe Ruth. He served the Boston Americans for part of three seasons, first coming up late in 1907. He had a winning record overall, 13-12 for Boston, with a combined ERA of 2.94. As a batter, Burchell never hit a home run and batted .226 for Boston, with six RBIs. He did surrender three homers.

Burchell started his first game for Boston on September 26, 1907, and pitched well for four innings, then hit a batter and was touched for three successive singles. Tex Pruiett came on in relief and hit three batters. Detroit won, 9-5. Burchell’s other appearance in 1907 took place on the last day of September, when he came on in relief in the ninth inning and held the White Sox hitless for five innings. The game was played to a 3-3 tie. The Chicago Tribune’s Charles Dryden wrote, “When it came to stopping the Sox this Burchell was big smoke.”vii The headline writer introduced another image, crafting a subhead that read “This Burchell Some Pumpkins.”

John I. Taylor renamed his team the Boston Red Sox in December, and Burchell was among those to play in the first season under the new name. After marrying Anna Guilfoil, from Jordan, New York, in early February, he joined the Red Sox for spring training at Little Rock, made the team, and appeared in 31 games, 19 of them starts. He won ten games and lost eight, with 94 strikeouts and 65 walks, and an ERA of 2.96 – which sounds excellent, but the team ERA was 2.28. Cy Young was 21-11 with a 1.26 ERA. The Red Sox finished in fifth place, 75-79.

Burchell wrote the Red Sox that he wanted to report early to 1909 spring training in Hot Springs, and he did show up a couple of weeks before the rest of the team. He didn’t start in a game until May 18. His best effort of the season came on June 1 when the Athletics and Red Sox traded 1-0 shutouts, Philadelphia beating Jack Ryan in the first one (11 innings), but Burchell (relieved by Eddie Cicotte after 7⅓) winning the second. He won a three-hitter on July 6 against Washington. Burchell was 3-3 in ten appearances (five starts) when manager Fred Lake sold his contract on July 23 to Buffalo, sending him back to the Eastern League. The Boston Globe wrote, “His one great fault was lack of control, and then, too, he was not showing a disposition for hard work. With a big string of pitchers, Fred Lake decided that Burchell would never rise to the heights of a swell major league workman and disposed of him to Buffalo, where he will no doubt do good work.”viii

At first Burchell said he would refuse to report to the minors and went instead to his summer home at Jordan, New York. He didn’t need the work, the Globe reported, in that he had “saved some money from his baseball income, and besides that his wife has a comfortable allotment of this world’s goods.”ix By August 11 he was in harness and pitching again, but was pounded for ten runs by Providence in the fourth inning. That was just one game, but overall Burchell’s work was nothing special. He was 6-9 the rest of the way.

Burchell began 1910 with the Bisons, but was released in early June. For the rest of 1910 and all of 1911, he pitched for Ed Barrow’s Montreal Royals, 15-13 the first year and 4-10 the second, for manager Ed McCafferty. And in 1912 he made another move, buying his own team. On January 18 Burchell purchased the Syracuse Starts of the New York State League and announced he would bring the city a pennant. (The sale was ratified on the 31st.) He also planned new ballgrounds for the team, and had an option on a centrally located site.

But Burchell was still under contract to Montreal.x The Montreal team announced that he could purchase his release for $1,500.xi The National Baseball Commission said that payment of $750 would solve the problem. Montreal objected, but the commission upheld its ruling.xii

Burchell averaged 27 appearances in the next three seasons for his Syracuse club, 1912 through 1914. We lack the team’s pitching statistics, but we do know that Burchell broke his finger on July 8 of his final year. The team finished seventh in 1912, sixth in 1913, and seventh in 1914. It ultimately went bankrupt.xiii The reorganized Stars won the pennant in 1916, two years after Burchell’s departure.

Perhaps living on his wife’s wealth, Burchell may not have had to take regular employment. He next turns up named as manager of the 1926 Newark team in the International League.xiv He had a good season, in the estimation of the estimable Jack Dunn of Baltimore: “Burchell has worked wonders with his team; he has his players on their toes and, furthermore, he knows how to move his men around. He has saved a number of games this season by making substitutions at the right time. He has made good as a manager.”xv Not every one of his players appreciated his leadership, however. On August 21, after Toronto scored five runs in the first inning, Burchell took out his pitcher, Ed Tomlin – but Tomlin took exception and attacked Burchell. Tomlin was fined $500 and suspended for the rest of the season.xvi

After baseball Burchell worked for the Onondaga County Park Department until he died of a heart attack in Jordan, New York, on November 20, 1951.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Burchell’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i Sporting Life, April 4, 1903.

ii Sporting Life, April 11, 1903.

iii Sporting Life, June 13, 1903.

iv Sporting Life, July 16, 1904. The snippets describing Burchell come from assorted issues of the same publication.

v Sporting Life, October 6, 1906.

vi Sporting Life, June 4, 1910.

vii Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1907.

viii Boston Globe, July 24, 1909.

ix Boston Globe, July 25, 1909.

x New York Times, January 19, 1912.

xi Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 1912.

xii New York Times, May 7, 1912.

xiii Hartford Courant, January 30, 1915.

xiv Boston Globe, September 19, 1925.

xv Boston Globe, August 3, 1926.

xvi New York Times, August 22, 1926.

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