That was the only time I ever went to the plate in my entire career trying to hit a home run and actually doing it.
- Smoky Burgess on record-tying 1956 home run
The Reds have a strong history of excellence in executing one of baseball's most challenging tasks: the fine art of pinch-hitting. Much of that tradition can be attributed to Reds Hall of Famer Smoky Burgess. A catcher by trade, Burgess quickly established himself as one of the game's best pinch-hitters. Initially acquired in a trade with the Cubs in October of 1951, Smoky was dealt to the Phillies in December of that year without ever having suited up for the Reds. Smoky was re-acquired by the Reds in April of 1955 and remained with the club through the end of the 1958 season.
Burgess served as the Reds' starting catcher in 1955 and earned the second All-Star berth of his career. For the balance of his Reds career, he split the catching duties with Ed Bailey as Smoky's value as a weapon off the bench became increasingly apparent. Always in possession of a dangerous bat, it was Smoky's line drive home run in the second-to-last game of the 1956 season that gave the Reds 221 team home runs for the year. The mark tied the major league record set by the 1947 New York Giants and would stand as the Major League mark until the 1961 Yankees belted 240. The Reds' 1956 mark remained the National League record until the 1997 Colorado Rockies hit 239.
While known primarily for his hitting abilities, Smoky was also behind the plate when three Reds pitchers (Johnny Klippstein, Hershell Freeman and Joe Black) combined to hold the Milwaukee Braves hitless for 9 2/3 innings on May 26, 1955. The Braves broke the tie in the 11th to win the game, 2-1. Incredibly, four years to the day later, Smoky, now a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the battery mate of Harvey Haddix when Haddix tossed 12 perfect innings against the Braves only to lose the game in the 13th inning.
In an unfortunate trade for the Reds, the club had dealt Smoky (along with Haddix and Don Hoak!) to the Pirates after the 1958 season for four players who did little in their brief tenures with Cincinnati. Smoky was a member of four more All-Star teams before he retired after the 1964 season. At the time of his retirement, Smoky had more pinch hits (145) than any player in baseball history. His record stood until 1979 when the Dodgers' Manny Mota singled off Houston's J. R. Richard for the 146th pinch hit of his career. Mota's mark stood until former Red, Lenny Harris, passed it in 2001.
Smoky Burgess was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1975. He died September 15, 1991 in his native North Carolina. He was 64.