Leaguer of the Month
Born: June 26, 1924 in Harve de Grace, Maryland
Died Jan. 31, 2004 in Baltimore, MD
Ht:5'-10", Wt: 165
Batted left and threw right.
Position: pitcher, outfield, third base
Teams: Havre de Grace Black Sox, Baltimore Elite Giants
Ernest Burke is the embodiment of what drew me to research the
Negro Leagues, and why, 15 years later, I still can't get enough.
He was a true gentleman, fun to be around, and a great athlete
in his day.
Negro League baseball, I've come to learn, is not as much about
wins, losses and statistics as it is about personalities and stories.
first met Ernest at Double Duty Radcliffe's 100th birthday party
in Chicago in 2002. He couldn't have been nicer to me and my family,
and we emailed each other a few times in the past few years. Mr.
Burke agreed to let me interview him, but we hadn't gotten together
yet when I heard of his passing from cancer.
I will try, however, to give you as thourough a picture of Mr.
Burke's career as I can.
was born in Harve de Grace, Maryland in 1924 and was raised in
Canada by a French-Canadian family.
was drawn to athletics at an early age, and spent his childhood
skiing, playing tennis and playing baseball.
He returned to the United States to enlist in World War II. Ernest
was one of the Corps' first black Marines and fought in WWII in
the Pacific, earning a medal as a sharp shooter. His honorable
discharge papers include the commander's description of Ernest
as possessing "excellent character". (Note: His daughter,
Valerie, recently retired from the Corps after 20 years of service.)
It was as a Marine that Ernest first began playing baseball, picking up the game as if he had played it all his life.
At the end of World War II, Ernest returned to the Unites States
and was signed to pitch by the Baltimore Elite Giants. Burke
was a tough righthanded pitcher, and also a solid hitter with
power, sometimes playing outfield and third base when not on the
mound. Scant records credit Burke with 4 wins and 1 loss on the mound
and a batting average around .290.
Burke spent about five seasons in the Negro Leagues before being
enticed into signing a Minor League contract with Pough-Kingston
of the Western League. Burke batted .253 as a pitcher-outfielder-third
baseman. He spent 1950 and '51 with St. Jean in the Canadian Provincial
League, a homecoming of sorts, and he hit his stride, winning
23 games, losing 11 and batting close to .300 in two seasons.
was honored many times in the last few years as a fantastic baseball
player, wonderful ambassador for the Negor Leagues, and a beautiful
person. He was the only player not named Ripken featured in the
Cal Ripken Museum when it was showcased in 1998; Aberdeen, Maryland
proclaimed "Ernest Burke Day" on April 25th, 1998, and
Harve de Grace, Maryland did the same on April 20th, 1998.
After retiring from baseball, Ernest kept active in sports. He
semi-pro football as a fullback for several years, and In his fifties Ernest took up the sport of tennis and eventually became a professional
tennis instructor. He taught tennis at many clubs in the Baltimore
area into his 70s.
thanks to the Bert Orlitzky and the Negro League Baseball Players
Association for information and statistics. Please visit their
site by clicking here.