Thursday, July 7, 2016

What's the Deal with That Guy?

It's been a few days and I still can't believe that Tony L. of Off Hiatus Baseball Cards forwarded this signed, ultra-vintage beauty my way:

This roughly 80-85 year old photocard depicts former Cubs pitching rotation stalwart Guy Bush, presumably warming up in the bullpen before a start way back when.  As I mentioned in the trade wrap-up post yesterday, it's believed that Tony's grandmother, the Linda to which Guy Bush inscribed this matte-finished photo, is thought to have contemporaneously obtained the John Hancock, in person during the early 30's.

What a generous move - sending little ol' me a long-held family heirloom just because it fit into my collection... that's a classy move, right there.

Now, I'm not really going to be able to turn up anymore information on the acquisition of the autograph further than that; so, what about some details on the card itself?  What is this thing?  The time between the famous T-208 cigarette cards and the first Bowman sets, the baseball card landscape was kind of like the wild west - there wasn't a lot of organization and there was plenty of randomness.  After all, there was no industry standard like Topps around to establish consistency.

For the answer to this question, we'll have to flip the roughly postcard-sized artifact over:

In the upper left. you can see a company name and even an address for the party behind Guy's photograph.  In case you can't quite make it out (the scanner blurred it out a little bit), let's zoom in and take a closer look:

Rdm Studio, eh?  That address is actually a part of Chicago that I'm fairly familiar with, seeing as it's just around the block from the Vic Theatre - one of my absolute favorite concert venues in the city of Chicago - and a ballpark by the name of Wrigley Field.  Here's what the area looks like today:

According to my internet sleuthing, what is now La Tacorea (an Asian/Mexican grill - that's an interesting mix) used to be the lair of famed, Chicago-dwelling baseball photographer George Burke. Rdm Studio was his base of operations.  

George Burke was the official photographer of the Chicago Cub, Bears and White Sox and, along with Charles Conlon, he is one of the most well-known and influential early sports photographers.  From the turn of the 20th century through the 1940's, Burke was behind the lens for countless baseball (and football) games, capturing some of the biggest names in sport on film, including the immortal Babe Ruth, who once called Burke his favorite photographer.  That might have been the best compliment a sports photographer could have received at that time.

Burke on the other side of the lens, standing with Cubs hurler Lon Warneke
Image courtesy of The National Pastime Museuem

The story of how Burke became involved with sports photography is an amusing one.  In 1929, Cubs manager Joe McCarthy and HOF catcher Gabby Hartnett wanted to have the team photographed in street clothes. They knew the Cubs used a photographer named Burke, so they searched in Chicago’s Yellow Pages and quickly found the name George C. Burke, who operated a photo studio not far from Wrigley Field.  However, they had the wrong Burke -  the man they wanted was Francis Burke.  Sensing a lucrative opportunity, George took their call anyway and agreed to the shoot.  That "Cubbie occurrence" quickly led to Burke’s role as the official team photographer and the rest is history.

The biggest tick on Burke's resume for most trading card collectors is that he was responsible for most of the images on the Goudey baseball cards produced from 1933-35, some of the most iconic baseball cards of all-time.  Furthermore, he also lent his talents to the Play Ball card sets, put out from 1939-41, and his sets of baseball stamps from the 30's have also proven popular with collectors.

Burke's photos grace these Goudey and Play Ball reprints that reside within my collection

Besides usage in team productions, newspapers and bubble gum cards, Burke's work was also shown off of through his own prints, like the one at the top of this post; many players purchased these shots en masse in order to fulfill autograph requests.  Most of these photocards were produced in the 1930's, although some have also been dated to the early 40's.  Printed on postcard-esque stock, the photographs featured a matte finish and a back that was blank, except for the marking identifying Rdm Studio and it's address.

That marking is particularly important when it comes to determining the age and origin of the card.  You see, when Burke suffered a stroke in 1951 and eventually passed away, his business partner and former apprentice George Brace, an accomplished sports photographer in his own right, reprinted many of Burke's images in a similar fashion, along with his own postcards.  These photos are easy to identify since they have either a ‘Burke and Brace’ or ‘Brace Photos’ stamp on back with an address at a different location.  Business must go on.

For the record, Brace continued his work all the way until 1994, when eye problems forced him to retire.  All in all, between the two business partners, their cameras recorded 66 years of baseball history!

Burke's compatriot Brace with Jeff Heath and Bob Feller in 1940
Image courtesy of The National Pastime Museuem

Moving on, that's an awful lot of background on the man who took the photograph and produced the card; what about the guy who's mug and signature are featured on the front?

"The Mississippi Mudcat" was a longtime member of the Chicago Cubs starting rotation and swingman, first debuting in the National League in 1923 and departing for Pittsburgh in 1934.  Bush proved to be a valuable arm, usually good for 10+ wins in any given season and he even lead the league in saves on two separate occasions (1925 and '29).

Part of what made Bush so effective was his unorthodox style of delivery.  As baseball scribe F.C. Lane once put it, "Bush has developed a curious 'hop-toad' lunge that is unique. When he really bears down on the ball, he actually springs forward and finishes up in a squat position like a catcher reaching for a low pitch. This freakish hop forward would be impossible to many pitchers. Bush can do it by virtue of his lithe and wiry build, his long thin legs."

This Pittsburghed Bush previously rep'ed Guy in my CATRC
Fitting that a Burke would replace a Conlon, from one icon to the next.

Before the 1935 season, Guy was traded to the Pirates, along with Babe Herman and Jim Weaver, in exchange for fellow moundsman Larry French (who held down a spot in the rotation for the next several seasons) and veteran outfielder Freddie Lindstrom.  In Pittsburgh, Guy was the unfortunate soul on the mound for Babe Ruth's swan song moment.  On May 25th, 1935, the "Sultan of Swat" lived up to his moniker one last time, crushing three home runs, the final two coming off of Bush.  The last blast was Ruth's 714th homer and was a mammoth 600 foot shot, the first ball to clear the right field grandstands at old Forbes Field.

From there, Bush's career began to wind down and he found himself as a bit of a journeyman through the end of his career, briefly playing for the Braves and the Cardinals until 1938 and then reappearing during the 1945 season as a replacement player for the Reds.

Bush's 1933 Goudey, ft. the imagery of none other than George Burke.
Image courtesy of Vintage Card Prices.

"The Mississippi Mudcat" finished his career with a 176–136 pitching record and a 3.86 ERA over 2722 innings and 542 games–308 as a starter, 234 in relief. Meanwhile, Bush also managed the Battle Creek Belles of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in parts of two seasons spanning 1951–1952 after his playing career ended.

So, there you have it - the story behind this wonderful George Burke photocard and the old-timey hurler who graced the front and so kindly signed his name over his follow through.  Not only did this acquisition slot perfectly into my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder, but it also provided the jumping off point for an unexpected educational opportunity.  For that, I must tip my hat to Tony L. again - this is definitely the coolest item I've ever received in a trade.

In other words, Tony rocks for sending me this Guy.  Whatta good buddy!


  1. Burke got his job because the Cubs called the wrong Burke in Chicago? Crazy. Thanks for the fun and informative post!

  2. Excellent sleuthing, Tony! And to think I almost sent a different autograph that my grandma got in the 1930s of a guy in a Cubs uniform who, as it turns out, was never a major leaguer at all...

    1. A local radio guy who went by the name of Rube Appleberry. Here's an old Chicago Tribune story about him spending a day with the Cubs.

    2. And, in fact, that radio guy -- really a character on a serial -- eventually spawned a comic strip drawn by former major leaguer Al Demaree:

  3. What a generous gift from one Tony to another! I really enjoyed the write-up, great research.