James Timothy Burke had a stormy tenure with the Saint Louis Cardinals from 1903-1905, including a disastrous 35-56 record as player-manager in 1905, replacing Kid Nichols (who remained on the pitching staff)—Burke resigned in August, and the Cardinals were in such disarray that owner Stan Robison eventually took over the team for the remainder of the season.
Burke had been with five teams from 1898 through 1902 before being traded to the Cardinals.
During his time with the Cardinals Burke had various fights and feuds, it was said he was the ringleader in a group of players trying to undermine manager Patsy Donovan in 1903; he had a long-standing feud with shortstop Dave Brain and the two seldom spoke, and he feuded with Robison throughout his short tenure as manager. After his resignation he said:
“When I took charge of the team it was with the understanding that I was to be manager or nothing. I have suffered as Donovan and Nichols with too much interference.”
Burke also had trouble with a Saint Louis sportswriter named Joe Finnegan. Their contentious relationship came to a head at the Victoria Hotel in Chicago in September of 1904 after Finnegan had written an article in which he called Burke “a cow’s foot,” (apparently those were fighting words circa 1904).
The Pittsburgh Press provided the colorful blow-by-blow of the fight:
“First round–Burke hit Finnegan in the lobby, and followed the blow with a left hook on the back of the neck, breaking the scribe’s collar. Burke pressed the advantage and struck Finnegan near the cigar stand. Finnegan blocked cleverly, uppercut with the left and caught Burke in the snout. Finnegan crossed his right and landed on Jimmy’s potato-trap. Burke jolted Finnegan in the rotunda and followed with a short swing near the Turkish parlor. Finnegan shot the right to the ear, and the left to the lamp. They clinched. Terrific short-arm fighting, completely wrecking Finnegan’s collar and cuff. Johnny Farrell separated the men. Time.
“Second round—The house detective threw both fighters out in the alley. Time. Decision to Finnegan.”
Burke’s Major League career ended after the 1905 season. New Cardinal manager John McCloskey said he wanted to retain Burke as his third baseman, but Robison, against his manager’s wishes (and continuing the pattern which led papers to call Cardinals managers “figureheads”) waived Burke.
Burke became a successful minor league manager and returned to the Major Leagues as a coach with the Detroit Tigers in 1914. He also served as a coach with the St. Louis Browns and managed the team for three seasons.
Burke served as Joe McCarty’s right hand from 1926-1930 with the Chicago Cubs and followed him to the New York Yankees where they continued together until a stroke necessitated Burke’s retirement after the 1933 season. McCarthy had played for Burke with the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association in 1911.
Burke died in St. Louis in 1942.