Saturday, July 9, 2016

By Any Means Necessary

As I mentioned in my post about the Guy Bush signed photo card a few days back, the time between the famous tobacco issues of the early 20th century and the emergence of Bowman in the late 1940's was a period of relative dearth in the baseball card world.  Sure, baseball cards existed with strip cards, Goudey's brief run, etc., but with no industry standard like Bowman/Topps, there was no consistent product hitting the candy aisles of the day.  Not to mention, WWII paper rationing only made things more difficult.

With that in mind, finding cards of non-star and short-term players during that time period has been rather difficult when it comes to building my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  However, though the lack of steady options might have made the search difficult, it has not made it impossible.

One of the products that has helped fill in the gaps are the old, team-issued photo packs.  Like many teams of the day, the Cubs used to issue packs of over-sized head shots of their players on thin paper that were available at Wrigley concession stands.  These proved to be popular souvenirs, suitable for framing and useful for player autograph requests.  It appears as though this tradition lasted into the 1960's at the Friendly Confines.

While trolling Ebay a few days ago, I was lucky enough to stumble across a couple of singles from these packs that were heavily discounted.  For about five bucks each, I was able to land a pair of super-vintage "cards" and cross a couple of long-forgotten names off of my CATRC need list:

Heinz Becker, 1943 team-issued Photo Pack

Heinz Becker played for the Cubs during the war years, mostly at first base.  Coincidentally, he was also German-born, his family having fled Germany during the chaotic years immediately following WWI.  Now, not many German natives have spent time in the Major Leagues overall (39); however, that must have been an exceptionally bizarre time to be playing in the national spotlight.

In fact, one periodical reported that Becker turned down a personal invitation from the Fuhrer himself to return to his native land.  One can assume this story was largely hyperbole to make him look good in a land where Germans weren't in the highest standing.

Due to his roots, Becker earned one of the coolest nicknames in baseball history, "Der Shlager," which is a loose translation of "the slugger."  Another one of his monikers was "Bunions," a tag which he earned due to his constant struggles with those bone deformities.  Those maladies, along with prolonged struggles with arthritis and color-blindness, left him largely useless in the field - your prototypical all-bat, no-glove slugger.

Heinz showing off his fielding "abilities" with the old Milwaukee Brewers
Image courtesy of the J.G. Preston Experience

Obviously Heinz played in the days long before the DH, so he had a hard time nailing down a permanent gig.  He spent brief amounts of time with the Cubs from 1943, 45-46 and the Indians in 1946, but never stuck around very long due to his health issues and problems in the field.  Thus, most of his 14-year career was spent in the minors.

Interestingly, while playing with the Corpus Christi Aces of the Class B Gulf Coast League in 1953, his career came to an unexpected close when he seriously injured his shoulder trying to catch a boy who had fallen from the grandstand.  What a way to go out!

John Burrows, 1944 team-issued Photo Pack

While Heinz Becker has quite the interesting backstory, the informational trail on his fellow teammate, John Burrows, provides very little information.  Unfortunately, the uber-valuable SABR Bio Project, from which I pull most of my player biographical information, has yet to cover this short-term Cubs player.

What I can tell you about Mr. Burrows is that he saw three years of action in the Major Leagues, originally coming up through the Athletics system in 1942 before spending the next two years in the Cubs chain.  While in Chicago, the hurler spent almost all of his time in the bullpen, posting an ERA of 5.05 in 26 games from 1943-44; not the kind of numbers that will keep you in the Bigs for long.

That said, the baseball-lifer stuck around for 16 seasons in professional baseball, spent at various levels in the minors until 1949.  After his playing career ended, Burrows found himself in South Africa as a baseball ambassador, teaching America's pastime to the natives.

Tragically, Burrows lost his life in an accidental house fire at his Ohio home in 1987. He was 73.

An old article from The Pittsburgh Press where Burrows 
detailed his experience in South Africa.

Now, these are really closer to photographs than they are baseball cards, but they are as close as I am ever going to get when it comes to these kind of players.  For both Becker and Burrows, the Cubs-issued photo packs are the only "cards" to have ever been issued with their likenesses, according to the Beckett Sports Card Lookup database.

Therefore, I am more than happy to consider these names acquired.  Additionally, if that database is correct, before I'm done, they won't be the only two added to my collection in that manner either.  I will go to any means necessary (and within my meager budget) to fill these gaps in any way possible.

Today, it's super old school, team-issued photos; tomorrow, who knows....


  1. I have a Jimmie Foxx from that Team issue Cub set in my Foxx PC.

  2. Heinz Becker......amazing story. Nice additions.

  3. Great post. Love all of the research. By the way... if you're going to have a career ending injury... that's probably the best way to do it. I hope he saved the boy's life.