Burwell's last Cardinals-related column ran this summer and featured Mike Shannon, a man whom Burwell described as a St. Louis treasure and soothing voice in this baseball-crazed community. Many of the same descriptors were being used Thursday to describe Burwell, whose love of storytelling and willingness to tackle any sports subject, controversial or not, stamped his legacy.
"All of us in the Cardinals organization were deeply saddened to learn of Bryan's passing," Cardinals chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement. "He was a good friend and true professional whom we enjoyed working with in his coverage of St. Louis sports. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."
Even among those who disagreed, Burwell commanded respect by the way he went about his job.
"Like so many others in the sports community today, I am shocked and saddened by the passing of respected journalist Bryan Burwell," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement released by Major League Baseball. "From his recent coverage of the Cardinals to chronicling the National Pastime as a whole, Bryan's passion and professionalism were evident throughout his long and distinguished sports media career."
In the Cardinals statement, GM John Mozeliak said, "Bryan had a tremendous presence and was always a pleasure to work with. His energy and passion for sports will be missed. I always appreciated his banter and smile."
Burwell's career was also marked by his adaptability in an ever-changing sports journalism landscape. In addition to covering sports in print, Burwell spent many years working in radio and television. Until stepping away this fall for medical reasons, Burwell co-hosted an afternoon radio show on the CBS Sports Radio affiliate in St. Louis. He also made regular appearances as a guest on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" show.
He took that comfort of being in front of the camera to the Post-Dispatch, where he created a video blog titled "Upon Further Review." In recent years, almost anytime Burwell appeared at Busch Stadium, he was accompanied by a cameraman so that he could create a package that included both a story and video. He embraced being an innovator in the business while nevertheless remaining humble in his accomplishments.
"A day at the ballpark when Burwell was going to be there was certain to be a better day at the ballpark," said Derrick Goold, the Post-Dispatch's lead Cardinals writer. "I'm having difficulty articulating the calming and inspiring presence Bryan has been to me in my career. He had a depth of knowledge and anecdotes that could fill dozens of rain delays. He had an instant familiarity with people that shined through his writing, but was even more bright in person. And he was always eager to share advice, tales, suggestions or just support. His selflessness was influential to many of us.
"He was one of the greatest teammates I've ever had. It may seem like an odd word for a sportswriter to use -- teammate? What? You're not suiting up, not taking the field -- but he was always there with an assist, always had the good of the paper on his mind. If he was done writing, he was off gathering quotes, shaking the trees for news, and doing whatever was asked of him to help others on deadline. There were times when I was in a pinch to get a quote, and there to get it and transcribe it and provide it was Burwell -- a columnist, decades past his need to prove himself on a beat. He was one of the greatest teammates I've had in journalism. He was always there. The pressbox is less of a place because now he won't be."
Burwell garnered the respect of those he covered, too, as was reflected in the immediate outpouring of condolences on social media after news of his death became public.
Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter tweeted: "Sad to hear the news about Bryan Burwell. Kind-hearted man and extremely professional to work with. My prayers are with his family."
Tweeted former Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, about whom Burwell didn't always write flatteringly: "Thoughts and prayers to the family of Bryan Burwell. Respect and appreciation for one of STL's finest."
Burwell is survived by his wife, Dawn, and his daughter, Victoria. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.