Ernest Burke

“In this country, you can grow up be anything that you
want to be. Get a good education, be respectful and honest.”
--Ernest Burke

Click here to go to the
Negro Leaguer of the Month archives
to read about past honorees.

The above two photos are courtesy of David Harty,
a Negro League fan and historian.
Many thanks for the images!

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Negro Leaguer of the Month
March, 2004

Ernest Burke

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
Years: 1944-1955

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.

I 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.

Ernest was born in Harve de Grace, Maryland in 1924 and was raised in Canada by a French-Canadian family.

Ernest 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.

Burke 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
played 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.

Special thanks to the Bert Orlitzky and the Negro League Baseball Players Association for information and statistics. Please visit their site by clicking here.