Jesse Cail Burkett (December 4, 1868 – May 27, 1953), nicknamed “Crab”, was a left fielder in Major League Baseball from 1890 to 1905.
He batted over .400 twice. After his playing career, Burkett managed in the minor leagues. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
Burkett was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, to Granville and Ellen Burkett. His father was a laborer and painter who worked for the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company.
Beginning his professional career as a pitcher, he won 27 games at the age of 19 in 1888 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and also compiled a 39–6 record for the Worcester Club of the New England League. He acquired his nickname, “Crab”, due to his serious disposition.
Burkett made his major league debut for the New York Giants of the National League (NL) in 1890 and had a batting average of .309. He was then purchased by the Cleveland Spiders in February 1891 and played for them through the 1898 season. In 1892, he hit .
275 and was among the league’s top ten players in runs scored and triples. The next season, his batting average increased to .348 (sixth highest in the league) and drew 98 walks (fifth most in the league). He remained in the top ten in walks in almost every season throughout his career.
In 1895, he batted .405 and led the NL in batting average and hits (225). The following season, he set a career-high in batting average, at .410, and led the league in batting average, hits (240), and runs scored (160).
Burkett was the second player in major league history to bat over .400 twice, the first being Ed Delahanty. The Spiders finished second in 1895 and 1896 and played the Baltimore Orioles both seasons in the Temple Cup series, beating the Orioles in 1895.
In March 1899, Burkett was assigned to the St. Louis Perfectos. He played for the Perfectos/Cardinals for three seasons.
In 1901, he led the NL in batting average (.376), on-base percentage (.440), hits (226), and runs scored (142). Before the 1902 season, Burkett jumped to the St. Louis Browns of the American League.
He played for the Browns for three seasons and then finished his major league career with the Boston Americans in 1905.
Burkett holds the record for the most inside-the-park home runs in MLB history, with 55. Of the players in his era, Burkett is second in career hits (2,872).
Burkett managed the New England League’s Worcester Busters from 1906 to 1915 and played some games for the team, as well. In 1906, he led the league with a .344 batting average.
Newspapers described Burkett as retiring from baseball in 1916. He secured a position with a brass factory in Worcester in December.
However, he signed on as a coach with College of the Holy Cross late that month. In four seasons as Holy Cross, Burkett amassed an 88-12-1 record; nine players on his 1919 team were designated All-East players.
Burkett managed sporadically in the minor leagues until 1933. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. The Wheeling native became the first West Virginian elected into the Hall of Fame.
Burkett died in Worcester, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1953.