Bob Burda (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Bob Burda

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Bob Burda (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Bob Burda appeared in 388 major-league games, spread widely across seven seasons from 1962 to 1972. Nearly half of those appearances (185) were as a pinch-hitter. He played first base in 106 games and the outfield in 97. He was always surrounded by established stars, which limited his opportunities. Only once, in 1970, did he appear in more than 100 games in a season.

“You always want to play,” he reflected in August 2018, “but throughout my career there were always superstars. I played with 19 Hall of Famers. One happened to be in the minor leagues. If you can believe it, I played with Satchel Paige. The Coast League in 1961, I believe it was. He was 55 years old.”1 The next year, in St. Louis, Cardinals legend Stan Musial was still in left field. In the mid- to late ’60s with San Francisco, Willie McCovey was entrenched at first. Back with the Cardinals in ’71, Lou Brock was in left. And when Burda moved on to Boston for his final big-league season, yet another longtime hero was in front of him: Carl Yastrzemski. Those were just a few of the top-rank competitors on his teams.

Edward Robert Burda was born in St. Louis on July 16, 1938. His parents were Emma and Edward Burda. Edward Burda worked as an assistant examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. It was the start of a family tradition. “Three generations. The only thing comparable in baseball was Harry Caray, Skip Caray, and Chip Caray. My dad, for 48 years at the Federal Reserve on Fourth and Locust in downtown St. Louis; my brother Dick Burda was in Chicago and then in Texas; and one of his sons. Having three generations of that was highly unusual.”2

Emma Burda was primarily a homemaker but from time to time she worked, too. “She was a soda jerk at the local drugstore for a while. Both my brother and I did the same thing. When my brother was in college, she got tired of sitting at home and she worked as a meat wrapper at one of the Kroger stores for a period of time until she got tired of it.”3

Burda attended Midland Grade School and then St. Louis’s Ritenour High School in 1956.4 He batted and threw left-handed. He had started in Khoury League baseball, a St. Louis-based program. In his junior year of high school, he helped lead his American Legion team — the Thomas-Boothe Post of Overland — to the 1955 Missouri state title, and was awarded the Leo A. Browne Award as the top player in the St. Louis area. Thus, he was already attracting attention from baseball scouts — indeed, he was “tabbed a natural for the pros.”5 In 1956, he was a member of the Meramac Caverns team which won the National Amateur Baseball Federation championship.6

Burda had played both baseball and football (quarterback) at Ritenour and was able to attend the University of Illinois on an athletic scholarship. He studied engineering and played freshman baseball, but declined offers to sign a pro contract. That changed once the bonus rule in baseball was eliminated. On the next to last day of 1957, Burda signed with the Cardinals for an estimated $30,000 bonus. Cardinals scout Joe Monahan, who shared signing credit with George Hasser, said, “The kid is a good hitter with an outstanding throwing arm and has good speed.”7

Burda himself talked about turning pro: “Repeal of the bonus rule, enabling me to get an attractive bonus and to be farmed out, was the big factor in my signing now.”8 Both Burda and his father said there had been no bidding on him, and that he had signed with his favorite team. His favorite player was, no surprise, Stan Musial.9

The Cardinals had held an instructional camp prior to spring training in St. Petersburg. J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that Burda had stood out: “Most observers in the camp agree that a young player who has never played a professional game of ball easily could be named as the Rookie of the Camp this year. He is Bob Burda, a St. Louis boy…Burda probably has a lot to learn, but to this observer he seems to be well advanced, with more poise, more obvious talent than any other athlete in the camp. We’d nominate him as most likely to be the first of the squad to make the major leagues.”10

Burda was assigned to the York (Pennsylvania) White Roses in the Single-A Eastern League. He appeared in 118 games for manager Joe Schultz and hit 276. He played most of 1959 at York as well, getting into 111 games and hitting .322 with seven homers and 52 RBIs. He had 11 games at Triple A with the Rochester Red Wings, batting .250.

Still only 21, Burda spent 1960 with Double-A Memphis (Southern Association), with a.286 batting average in 122 games and 71 runs batted in. In 1961 he played at the next level — Triple A — for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .263 with 50 RBIs in 148 games.

Burda got his first taste of the big leagues in 1962. Most of his year was spent in Triple A again, with the Atlanta Crackers, where he hit .303 (enough to rank him third in the International League) with 10 homers and 74 RBIs. On August 22, the Cardinals purchased his contract — to replace the injured Minnie Minoso. On August 25, he played right field against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium, batting second in the order. He never got the ball out of the infield, popping up twice and grounding out twice for his 0-for-4 debut in the first game of the day’s doubleheader. He was 0-for-3 in the second game, but worked a walk. There was another doubleheader the next day. Both times he came in late in the game. He was 0-for-1 with a walk in the first game, but collected his first big-league base hit in the second game, a single to right field off Tom Sturdivant. It was his only hit of the year, 1-for-14 with three bases on balls. He neither scored nor drove in a run.

Younger brother Dick Burda was once seen as a pitching prospect. “He was at Southern Illinois University. He also played basketball. He was on the same team as Harry Gallatin [the coach] and Clyde Frazier. Harry told him, ‘You get the ball, bring it up and give it to Clyde. You do not shoot.’ My brother was a really good athlete, but when he graduated he said he was tired of getting hurt. He said, ‘Dad never got hurt working in the bank’ so he went into banking. My brother’s still alive. He’s three and a half years younger than me and he lives three blocks away from me here in Mesa.”11

On February 14, 1963, Burda was traded to the Pirates for Cal Neeman because St. Louis was looking for additional catching. Again, the players around him prevented him from seeing much opportunity to play in the big leagues. “In St. Louis originally, Stan Musial was still playing. Curt Flood was just signed. And we had about six outfielders. All of us could have played on any number of big-league teams. And then they made that great deal where they traded Ernie Broglio to Chicago and got Lou Brock. They had Brock and Flood and Mike Shannon. The rest of us they let go. We were getting older but any one of us at the time could have played on big-league teams.

“I got sent to Pittsburgh and my competition is Bill Virdon in center, a guy named Stargell in left, and a guy named Clemente in right. That was my competition.”12

Burda spent all of 1963 and 1964 playing for the Columbus Jets. He slugged 27 home runs in 1963, driving in 90 runs, and made the International League All-Star team. Why the burst in home-run production? It was due more to homemade weight training than the configuration of the ballpark. “I worked real hard one winter to make myself stronger. Back then, you did no weight training. But I put a rack — I learned when I was at York from the York Barbell people — I put a rack in my folks’ basement. I went from hitting 10 home runs to hitting 27 home runs. I said, ‘Okay, I’m strong.’ Little did I even think to keep doing that all the time! None of us…we were all told not to do that.”13

He hit one point higher (.271) in 1964, with 18 homers and 78 RBIs.

In 1965 he made the majors once more. In February, the Pirates traded him (and Bob Priddy) to the San Francisco Giants in a two-for-one deal to obtain Del Crandall. The Giants assigned Burda to Tacoma (PCL), where he again added exactly one percentage point to his average from the year before, batting .272 in 101 games (with 11 homers and 43 RBIs). The Giants optioned Randy Hundley to Tacoma and brought Burda to the big leagues on July 4; he got into 31 games,accumulating 34 plate appearances, and was able to notch his first career big-league run batted in on July 16 against the visiting Astros. It was a big run. The score was 1-0 in Houston’s favor in the bottom of the seventh at Candlestick. With runners on second and third and one out, manager Herman Franks had him pinch-hit for pitcher Bob Shaw. Burda grounded out, but drove in the tying run. The next Giant drove in the go-ahead run and the Giants won the game, 2-1.

The very next day, again facing the Astros, he was called on again. After seven full innings, the Giants held a 5-0 lead. Franks rested Willie McCovey and Burda took over at first base. He came up to bat in the eighth and singled to right field, driving in two runs. The Giants won, 7-0. A sacrifice fly in a losing cause gave him his fourth RBI on July 18. After the spurt against Houston, he only drove in one more run the rest of the season (he was optioned back to Tacoma on August 17, then recalled on September 6). His fifth and final RBI came on a September 26 sacrifice fly against the Milwaukee Braves. He finished the year with the five runs batted in, 3-for-27 at the plate (.111).

Burda made just one error in the field in 32 chances. Though Roy Stockton had written that defense was what Burda had needed to work on, he apparently succeeded. He had a career .992 fielding percentage at first base and an overall fielding percentage of .988 in 203 chances,

Burda’s 1966 season was similar to 1965 in that he started in Triple A (with the Phoenix Giants, batting .308 in 63 games) and was brought to the big leagues in early July when Bob Bolin suffered a sprained left ankle. He played in six more major-league games (37) and accumulated 12 more plate appearances (46). This time he hit.163 but only drove in two runs. He scored three, the first runs he had scored in the majors.

The Giants still had options left on Burda, and he didn’t get back to the major leagues for two more years, spending all of 1967 and 1968 with Phoenix. He hit .265 there and then .301, driving in just over 50 runs each year. They were his last two years in the minors. During his time with Phoenix, he began to wear eyeglasses. “After being hit in the face with a ball in 1967, they discovered I was nearsighted.” He added that wearing glasses not only helped him see better but also trained him to keep his head still while batting.14

Those years in the mid- to-late 1960s were good ones, but his opportunities were limited because of all the talent around him. “My competition that first year I stayed with them — Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey at first base. Two Hall of Famers, one played first and the other played left. There were three brothers by the name of Alou. And, oh yes, we had a center fielder by the name of Willie Mays. That was my competition.”

It was, he said, “the original melting pot for a team. I know that Brooklyn had Jackie Robinson first but we had everybody. We had Masanori Murakami from Japan, we had all the Latins [players from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic], and as far as the African Americans, we had both the country boys and the city boys and they were just as different as night and day.”15

Burda spent the full 1969 season with San Francisco. As a left-handed hitter who could play first base or the outfield, he suited the Giants’ needs. He got a fair amount of work, appearing in 97 games and collecting 184 plate appearances. He hit .230 but achieved a .317 on-base percentage, drove in 27 runs and scored 20. His biggest hits were a three-run homer on May 9 and a grand slam on July 9 at Candlestick against the Astros’ Skip Guinn. The game he probably felt best about, though, was the first game of the July 4 doubleheader against the visiting Braves. In the bottom of the ninth, Burda hit a two-run homer to tie the game, 5-5. The Braves scored a run in the top of the 10th, but the Giants loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th and, with one out, Burda doubled to right field to win the game.

In 1970, he had three scattered RBIs in 28 games (29 plate appearances) with just one run scored, but he was hitting .261 (.414 on-base percentage). On June 9, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A team in Portland purchased his contract. Six days later, when they had cleared room on their 25-man roster by selling Bob Locker’s contract to Oakland, they brought Burda up to join the Brewers. He performed as well as they might have anticipated, being used more in the field than in any other year — appearing in 78 games with 246 plate appearances. He drove in 20 runs in the half-season, scoring 19. On both August 3 and September 25, he drove in the game-winning run in the second games of doubleheaders.

“The only time I got any opportunity to play for any length of time was with the Brewers their first year. We were a new club. Frank Lane came on the next year and got rid of anybody over 30 years old — which rightfully you should do.”16 The Brewers didn’t wait long to move Burda, trading him to St. Louis on February 2, 1971, for minor-league pitcher Fred Reahm.

Burda hit for his highest batting average in 1971 (.296) but was again primarily used as a pinch-hitter and not in the field — in 65 games, he came to the plate 83 times. He drove in 12 and scored half that many. One standout game was in the Astrodome on May 15, when he pinch-hit for Steve Carlton and drove in the tying and winning runs for the Cards. On August 6, he gave the Cardinals the lead when pinch-hitting with the bases loaded — and getting hit by a pitch.

Burda led the National League in pinch-hits with 14.17 But he sought a raise for the’72 season and August Busch of the Cardinals refused to give him one, so Burda became a holdout. Of Busch, Burda said, “He insisted on going along with President Nixon’s wage freeze guideline of 5.5 percent. I was dismayed. After all, I had 14 years of pro experience, and I had a wife and two kids to think about.”18 The Cards traded him to the Boston Red Sox for Mike Fiore near the end of spring training 1972. The Boston Herald’s Tim Horgan called the trade a “monumental anti-climax.”19

The Red Sox apparently gave him the extra $3,500 he’d been seeking from St. Louis. “Sure, I’m happy to be with the Red Sox,” Burda said, “They gave me the raise I couldn’t get from the Cardinals. But no matter what I do,” he added with a sigh, “they still say Bob Who?”20

He wasn’t likely to get a lot of playing time in Boston, though. “By the time I got to Boston, I’m the same age as Yaz. The younger guys are definitely going to play and I understand that, but every place I went, that’s just the way it was. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I had a chance to go to Japan and make all kinds of money and the Giants wouldn’t let me go. They’d rather have me in the minor leagues where they could bring me up, because I knew how to play. Not just me; a lot of other players were in the same position, and a lot of those other players stayed in and became wonderful managers and teachers.”21

The Red Sox were disappointed. From being the leading pinch-hitter in the National League in 1971, Burda hit just .164 in 84 plate appearances for Boston. He was used earlier in games — often in the fourth or fifth inning, with Ben Oglivie drawing more of the assignments in the later innings. Burda said when he’d been with the Cardinals in 1971, “I didn’t think of hitting until the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings” and he candidly acknowledged one reason it made a difference to him: “I don’t like to hit early because a guy like that can’t make any money. The money is for the late pinch-hitters.”22

He hit his final two home runs and drove in his final nine runs. But the Red Sox were in a pennant race (they finished just a half-game behind the Detroit Tigers). In late August, they brought up Bob Bolin from Louisville and made room for the reliever on the roster by placing Burda on waivers for the purpose of giving him his outright release.

The Red Sox kept him around, however, because he was just five days shy of qualifying for five years in the game and the pension money to which that would entitle him. “I realize I didn’t do the job Eddie [Kasko] wanted me to do…Ben Oglivie went in there and was swinging a hotter bat. I couldn’t blame any manager for going with the man who was swinging the hotter bat and doing the job. So I’m just going to try to keep swinging the bat and be ready in case I get a call from some team I’m interested in going with. But I certainly appreciate the way I’ve been treated around here by the Red Sox.”23

Well after rosters expanded, the Red Sox signed him again on September 26 — as a free agent. News stories were frank about it being to give him the few extra days he needed to become a five-year man.24 Burda himself believed this might have been something that had been arranged between the Giants and the Red Sox. He was in the dugout for the final week of the season, but was not called upon. The Red Sox released him yet again after the season was over, on October 27.

His baseball career was over as well, with final marks of .224 in 723 major-league plate appearances, enough walks to bump up his on-base percentage to .302, and 78 RBIs. Burda did not play pro ball after 1972. What came next?

“Originally, I did financial planning. I went into a lot of things, maybe too many things. I had my real estate license, my securities license, my insurance license. I could do taxes. I did all the above. There was a group called Athletes Financial Services out of California that did a lot of work with the Dodgers and then they opened an office which another fellow and I ran here in Phoenix. I did that maybe for about three or four years. For the future, I could see that the thing with agents would be…you’re going to have to be an attorney. A lot of that is what’s happened. Truthfully, our clients were all doctors, dentists, and athletes. I got tired of the egos. I had enough of it. It could have been lucrative, but I had no desire to get back in. I was trying to save a marriage at the time, and didn’t. It didn’t work out either way.

“I had a friend from California and for 20 years I was an estimator for a painting contractor. That friend had an unusual story. His name was Rex Johnston. He was the last player for Pittsburgh that played for the Pirates and for the Steelers. I worked for his dad’s company in California.

“We did industrial and commercial basically. We didn’t do homes. We did big projects. It was really interesting. The stories about that are incredible, the things we were responsible for. I could tell you stories of things out of LAX where there’s 13 pillboxes you would call them, where they’re basically shutoff valves for the pipes that run the gasoline for the planes from the tank farms. We did all the work with coating the pipes and having a lot to do with where those are. A whole bunch of different stories over that 20-year period.

“I would have loved to have stayed in baseball because I know I could have given back a lot.”25

Burda has kept in touch with a number of ballplayers, and was particularly pleased to have been among those invited to Fenway Park in 2012 for the stadium’s 100th anniversary. It gave him the chance to meet one figure from days gone by. “I was an original Milwaukee Brewer when the Giants traded me to the Brewers in ’70 and my competition as a first baseman/outfielder was Mike Hegan and Tito Francona. We’re all three left-handed hitters and I’m a left-handed thrower. There wasn’t enough time and space for all of us to play at the same time.

“There was a kid who was 11 years old. I played catch with him. I threw batting practice to him. I saw him in Boston [in 2012]. Terry Francona. I ran up to him and shook his hand right before we ran out. I didn’t introduce myself. I just stood in front of him and shook his hand. ‘Terry,’ I said, ‘Do you still talk to your dad?’ ‘Oh yeah, I still talk to him all the time.’ I said, ‘Well, if you do be sure and tell him that Bob Burda said hello.’ He stands up and he grabs me and he starts giving me a hug and he said, ‘Oh my god. Bob Burda, line-drive hitter just like my dad. Holy cow! It’s so good to see you.’ It’s so fun to watch kids like that and see the success they have had. I know he had something that stopped him from playing physically but the fact that he stayed in it as a manager and has been successful, a tip of the hat to him.”26

In our August 2018 interview, Burda was speaking from his retirement home in Mesa, Arizona. “My mom and dad were here [in the Phoenix area] and they were having some health issues, so I moved back to Arizona in ’98 and I’ve been here ever since. My dad lived ’til he was 88 and my mom lived until she was 97. I was able to help both of them during that period of time.”

Burda was married twice; the first union (20 years) produced his two daughters. “I just had my 80th here about a month ago and my two daughters — one of them lives here and the other one lives in California — we had a three-day celebration over in Scottsdale, just the family, and it was a lot of fun. That oldest daughter, she’s very successful. She’s a world traveler. She puts movies on airlines for years.

“I’ve been married for eight years with someone I met here where I live in Sunland Village in Mesa. We’re active. We’re involved with the community. I’ve held different positions and done different things in church. We belong to the Southern Baptist Church and we sing in the choir.

“We met singing. My wife and I still sing. We’re in a group called The Songsters, a choral group that my dad [founded] when he came to this community. He and another gentleman went out and got a flatbed truck for Christmas and they put some hay on it and went around the community and sang Christmas carols. They formed one of the homeowner clubs. We have 55 to 60 strong and we sing over Christmas and then in the spring we have some concerts. It’s a lot of fun to do.

“I sing in a quartet also, in church. Music has always been a part of our family. My dad was always a song leader and choir director in church, so I grew up with it. Family and church always came before anything we could do athletically. And work.”

Last revised: June 29, 2020

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Burda’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. Thanks to Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee, and to Gregory H. Wolf for assistance with some newspaper clippings.

 

Notes

1 Burda elaborated on his time with Satchel Paige. “We were out of the playoffs and they wanted to get some full houses so they hired him to pitch three innings. Two of them were in Portland and one was in Hawaii, one was in Spokane, and one was someplace else. Full houses, everywhere. And it was awesome. It was awesome. When we weren’t taking batting practice orf infield, we spent the whole time sitting and listening to stories. He came before the time and there’s no doubt that he would have been super. Having grown up in St. Louis, I was also aware of when he was with the Browns.” Author interview with Bob Burda on August 25, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 United Press release, “Illini Star Signs Cards’ Bonus Pact,” Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star, December 31, 1957: B1.

5 “Enid Awaits Legion Meet,” Daily Oklahoman, August 14, 1955: 121.

6 The winning team, including Burda, are depicted celebrating in a photograph which ran, among other places, in the Altoona Tribune, August 27, 1956: 6.

7 “Cards Get Bonus Boy, Assign Him to EL,” Troy Record (Troy, New York), December 31, 1957: 12.

8 Untitled article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, datelined February 22, 1958, found in Burda’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

9 Ibid.

10 J. Roy Stockton, “Redbird Rookie Burda Seems Best of Class In Early-Camp Work,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 23, 1958: 57. Stockton went on to praise Burda’s patience at the plate, saying that the are where he needed improvement was on his defense, which can only come with experience.

11 August 25, 2018 interview.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Red Smith, “Sometimes Glasses Just Don’t Help,” Trenton Evening Times, October 4, 1972: 63.

15 August 25, 2018 interview.

16 Ibid.

17 Ray Fitzgerald, “Red Sox Give Cards Fiore for Burda,” Boston Globe, March 20, 1972: 29.

18 Neil Singelais, “Burda Comes Through, They Ask, ‘Bob Who”’,” Boston Globe, June 2, 1972: 24.

19 Tim Horgan, “Fiore Swap Hints THE Deal’s Anon,” Boston Herald, March 21, 1972: 33.

20 Ibid.

21 August 25, 2018 interview.

22 Bill Liston, “Sox Burda Likes It In ‘Cooker’,” Boston Herald, July 1, 1972: 21.

23 Bill Liston, “Burda Determined to Catch On,” Boston Herald, August 31, 1972: 50.

24 “Sox Resign Burda for Rest of Season,” Boston Herald, September 27, 1972: 25.

25 August 25, 2018 interview.

26 Ibid.

Full Name

Edward Robert Burda

Born

July 16, 1938 at St. Louis, MO (USA)

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