Wally Burnette remembered as great father, 'good ol' country boy'
By JEFF DAVIS
Register & Bee staff writer
Thursday, February 13, 2003
BLAIRS, Va. - Wally Burnette, a Blairs native who played with the Kansas City Athletics from 1956 to 1958, died Thursday due to complications from lung cancer. He was 73.
"He was the best father, just wonderful," said his daughter Lisa Cox. "He was very loving. He was one of those people you could always count on to be there for you."
Cox said her father was spotted by major league scouts when he was pitching at Spring Garden High School in Blairs.
Burnette signed with the New York Yankees in 1947 and was assigned to the team's minor-league affiliate in Blacksburg.
After spending six years in the minor leagues, Burnette served two years in the Army during the Korean War.
"When he got out of the war, he played with the Kansas City Athletics," Cox said.
Burnette compiled a record of 14-21 with a 2.89 ERA. His big-league career ended in 1958 when he injured his shoulder. Standing 6 feet tall and weighing 178 pounds, he batted on the right side and threw with his right arm.
When he returned to Blairs, Burnette kept himself busy with a variety of endeavors.
"He married his wife, Katie, and they opened a country store on Spring Garden Road in Blairs," Cox said.
The store, Burnette Grocery, was a gas station, restaurant, and convenience store.
"In the spring, he raised tomato plants and cabbage plants to sell at the store," Cox said.
Burnette also operated a small engine repair shop on the store's porch where he worked on lawn mowers and other machinery. He ran the store for 31 years.
Cox said her father also drove a Pittsylvania County school bus for 25 years.
Burnette had two children, Cox, and her brother, Tony.
"When he retired, he enjoyed hunting and playing with his granddaughter," Cox said.
Cox said her father raised beagles for hunting, and his granddaughter would often play with them.
"He was a good ol' country boy," she said.
Cox said her father didn't play much baseball after his shoulder gave out.
"He went to a few of the old timer's games but he never played in them. He was a spectator," she said. "He watched constantly."
Cox said her father remained a baseball fan, but cast a disparaging eye at the escalating salaries of current big-leaguers.
"He thought the salaries they were drawing were ridiculous," she said. "What he made then wasn't even 1 percent of what they're making now. He played for the love of the game."
Last January, Burnette was diagnosed with lung cancer.
"Up until then, he was the picture of health," Cox said.
Burnett's cancer went into remission during the summer, giving the family a chance to take him on some vacations.
But in October, the cancer came back.
"It came back with a vengeance," Cox said. "His heart gave out on him. He went a lot earlier than we'd expected, so we were a bit surprised, but there's a lot of relief in there, too."
Cox said she remembers her father as a man of incredible strength.
"He was one of the strongest men I've ever known," she said. "But he had one of the biggest hearts, too."