July 29, 1955: Redlegs catcher Smoky Burgess breaks loose for three home runs and nine rbi in a 16-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. This game featured two Redlegs grand slams, one by Burgess and one by Bob Thurman.
Burgess homered with one on in the first and fourth innings and hit a grand slam in the sixth inning. He also had a run-scoring single in the second inning. Thurman hit his grand slam in the fourth inning. Milt Smith also homered for the Redlegs. The Redlegs collected 22 hits on the day, four each by Burgess, Johnny Temple, and Wally Post while Gus Bell had three. Pitcher Joe Nuxhall was the beneficiary of this offensive explosion, going the distance for the Redlegs and scattering 11 hits. Nuxhall finished the season with a 17-12 record, the most wins of his 16-year major league career.
Burgess had been acquired in trade from the Philadelphia Phillies earlier in the year and became the Redlegs regular catcher. The Reds had traded Burgess to the Phillies in the 1951 season and he developed into one of the finest hitting catchers in baseball, batting .368 in the 1954 season. The Redlegs reacquired him early in 1955 and he saw the most playing time of this career, batting .301 with 21 home runs during the 1955 season. The Redlegs traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959 in a deal that did not turn out so well for the Cincinnati squad. Burgess was traded along with starting pitcher Harvey Haddix (nicknamed “Kitten”) and third baseman Don Hoak (nicknamed “Tiger”) for Frank Thomas and three other players. The Redlegs had hoped that Thomas’s power bat would flourish in Crosley Field, but instead Thomas hit .225 with 12 homers and he was soon flipped to the Chicago Cubs. Meanwhile, Hoak became an MVP candidate for the Pirates, Haddix was a very good starting pitcher (pitched 12 perfect innings in one game before losing), and Burgess became one of the most prolific pinch hitters of all-time.
Burgess was named to six all-star teams in his career, five times as a catcher and once as a pinch hitter. He was named to the 1964 all-star team as a 37-year-old and he wasn’t even the regular catcher on his own team (the Pirates). When he retired, he held the major league record for most pinch hits (145, since broken). With the White Sox in 1966, Burgess set a record for most at bats in a season without scoring a run (67) as well the most hits in a season (21) and most rbi (15) without scoring. Slow afoot, he was typically replaced by a pinch runner by the White Sox after reaching base with a pinch hit. Burgess finiished his career with a .295 batting average.
The 1955 Redlegs finished the season 75-79, their second consecutive fifth place season under manager Birdie Tebbets. The following year (1956) would prove to be the first time the Redlegs reached 90 wins in a season (91 overall) since 1940. Built on power, the Redlegs were led by slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski who batted .314 with 47 home runs and 113 rbi. It was Kluszewski’s third straight season of 40 or more homers and each season he had more home runs than strikeouts in the season. Post had his best major league season in 1955, batting .309 with 40 home runs and 109 rbi.
One other oddity for this July 29, 1955, game. Batting fourth and playing centerfield for the Pirates was pitcher Dick Hall. Hall had played the outfield for most of 1953, batting .239 with two home runs and 14 total extra base hits in 353 plate appearances, but had begun been making the transition to becoming a fulltime pitcher. He played centerfield in the July 29 and 30 games against the Redlegs, batting clean up both games. He batted ninth the remainder of the season in games that he started (all as a pitcher). Hall went on to pitch through the 1971 season, including the 1970 World Series for the Baltimore Orioles in their Series victory over the Reds.