“The Best Ballplayer Few Fans Have Ever Heard Of,” George Burns!

“The Best Ballplayer Few Fans Have Ever Heard Of,” George Burns!

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 “The Best Ballplayer Few Fans Have Ever Heard Of,” George Burns!

…Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the Dead Ball Era. Then you’ll have no trouble recognizing the name George Burns, one of the great players from that long-ago, often overlooked era.

How great was he? Check out this quote from his Giants’ manager, the legendary John McGraw: “Next to Christy Mathewson, Burns was the greatest player I ever managed.” That’s high praise indeed!

Other baseball contemporaries held the same view. Eddie Collins called George Burns, “The most dangerous and best all-around star on the Giants.” Hughie Jennings concurred, saying, “He’s as good a player as ever drew on a spiked shoe.” Sportswriter John B. Sheridan placed Burns fourth on his list of the 25 best outfielders of all time, behind only Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, and Jimmy Sheckard.

I’m pleased to report we were recently contacted by Mike Hauser, a family descendant of the Utica, New York native George Burns, who was the younger brother of Mike’s great-grandfather, Leo Burns. Mike is quite proud of his famous great uncle and shared a few thoughts with us:

“I used to hear my grandparents talking about him when I was a kid. I figured they were just exaggerating on a relative who was probably just a good local softball player. It wasn’t until 1989 when I was on my way to college in Utica that I decided to stop in Cooperstown to see what I could find. I realized then he was ‘the real deal.’ Not only were my grandparents not exaggerating, they were actually understating how good he actually was. From that moment on, I was hooked on the legend of George Burns. I’ve spent the last 27 years feverishly researching and documenting his career and life.”

Mike told me that when he started the Fulton County, New York Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, he purposely didn’t induct Uncle George Burns for the first few years even though he was unquestionably the most accomplished athlete from the area. Mike was afraid people would think he was favoring his own family! “We didn’t put him in until 2015 and did it between innings of a vintage baseball game held at historic Parkhurst Field, which he played on countless times.”

Never one to argue an umpire’s call or boast of his own abilities, the 5’ 7”, 160-pound George Burns was nicknamed “Silent George,” perhaps providing a clue as to why he isn’t better known. Burns played 15 years in the majors (1911-25). Over his career, he hit .287, with 2077 hits, 1188 runs, 362 doubles, 383 stolen bases, and a .366 on-base percentage. He led the league in runs and walks five times; at-bats and stolen bases twice; and on-base percentage once.

From 1913 to 1921, Burns averaged 170 hits per season. He hit .257 in 19 World Series games and led the Giants in hitting in the 1921 World Series, with his late-inning double in Game Four providing the decisive run. Burns was an accomplished all-around athlete, known as a great boxer and wrestler (even challenging Jim Thorpe), and was called the best pool player “ever to put on a major league uniform.” Giant teammates refused to play him in billiards unless he played left-handed!

Blessed with a sharp eye at the plate, combined with his speed, Burns was the best lead-off hitter of the era. His 62 stolen bases in 1914 is still a Giants’ single-season record. Burns was also a superior defensive outfielder with an extremely strong arm. He was considered a specialist at playing the “sun field,” at the Polo Grounds, utilizing a long-billed cap with blue sunglasses attached. The left field bleachers were called “Burnsville” after the pint-sized fan favorite.

After his major league career ended in 1925, he became a player/manager for numerous minor league teams, and was back with the Giants in 1931 as a coach. He returned to his home town of Gloversville, near Utica, where he ran his father’s pool hall, and later became a payroll clerk. George Burns passed away in 1966, aged 75, two years before the birth of great-nephew, Mike Hauser.

Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: Many in the photo gallery are from Mike Hauser’s personal collection; others from Google search

Information: Excerpts edited from George Burns biography written by Mike Hauser; from the George Burns Wikipedia page; and from article on George Burns by Richard Puff: http://research.sabr.org/journals/silent-george-burns-a-star-in-the-sunfield

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I’m a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

1 Comment

  1. Patrick Kennedy · November 28, 2017 Reply

    42 inch, 52 ounce bat?!?…that’s insane!

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