In the lead-up to their first World Series contest since the atomic age began, I wrote about the franchise's most recent game at the game's largest stage - October 10, 1945, Game 7 against the Detroit Tigers.
While drafting that post, I realized that there was only one man who appeared in that blowout Cubs loss who was unrepresented in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder: swingman and Zion, Illinois native, Paul Erickson. This offended my OCD tendencies and I immediately set out to right that slight. Luckily, just a few days later, appropriately enough on the day of Game 7 of the 2016 Series, I came across a super-vintage Erickson "card" that fit into my budget:
What you see here is a single from one of old the team-issued photo packs that the Cubs (and many other teams) used to sell at their concession stands in the 30's and 40's, of which this is my third acquisition. These photos are printed on thin paper and measure approximately 5"x7" in size. Calling these photos a card might be a bit of a stretch; that said, to the best of my knowledge, this is the only card-like appearance Paul has ever made. Thus, my options are quite limited.
This particular photo dates from the 1943 set and, like any piece of pre-war memorabilia, these photo packs rarely come cheap. However, as you can see from the scan, this example is hardly pristine due to some scuffing on the front. Meanwhile, the back is much worse off:
I'm assuming that someone had this pasted into a scrapbook way back when, as I'm sure many of those who purchased these photos did at the time.
That said, the front is still pretty good for a 71 year old slip of paper and I'm not looking at the back of it anyway. Not to mention, the price of $2.25 on Ebay was simply too good to pass up - these vintage oddballs don't appear too often, let alone at bargain-basement pricing. Therefore, I had to pounce. I'd rather have this than just about anything else I could buy at that price anyway.
Now, after sliding my newest addition into my CATRC binder, I had to do some research on the man pictured. Let's all take this opportunity to learn a little bit about the man they called "Li'l Abner," presumably after a contemporary comic strip.
The righty first reached the Major Leagues with the Cubs in 1941 with a bang, tossing a one-hitter against the Pirates. From there, he proceeded to shift back and forth between reliever and starter for the club and became an intimidating presence on the mound. The 6'2" hurler once loaded the bases on 12 straight intentional brush-back pitches in a grudge match against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Like many a Major League swingman, Paul Erickson's career saw many ups and downs. After all, life as a bullpen arm is rarely consistent, let alone when one bounces back and forth from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Furthermore, command was a frequent issue of his, often losing the feel on his fastball and/or curveball. Coincidentally, Paul's worst year in the Majors came the same year that the card you see above was released - in 1943, he posted a sky-high 6.12 ERA in 15 appearances (4 starts).
However, he soon recovered to become an important contributor to the (until recently) last Cubs pennant winning squad in 1945. During that exciting season, Erickson went 7-4 with a 3.32 ERA in 108 1/3 innings; furthermore, Paul saved the final two games of the regular season against the Pirates, which clinched the NL title, and then saw action in four of the seven games of the 1945 World Series. Aroldis Chapman feels his over-worked pain.
Joe rode Chapman's arm into the ground this Postseason - as he should have.
Of course, as we all know, that season didn't end on a particularly good note for Paul and his Cubs. Furthermore, many of his teammates ended up being pushed out of the Majors or saw their statistics flounder as the stars returned from war. Unlike many of his War-Era teammates, Erickson actually had a career year in 1946, going 9-7 with a 2.43 ERA in 137 innings - it's too bad the Cubs were in their first year of many as a non-entity.
But, the up and down nature of being a swing-man swung heavily to the downside from there on out, as he saw his earned run average rise into the 5's and 6's and his contract claimed on waivers by the Phillies and the Giants during the 1948 season. Paul was done with pro baseball after that campaign, excepting a single appearance for the Pirates' AAA club in 1949 and a partial season managing the Class D Appleton Papermakers in 1951.
Fun fact: seeing that he played in a time before big money infiltrated baseball, in the offseason, Erickson earned his living as milkman in the Edgewater and Rogers Park neighborhoods of Chicago. Can you imagine having Travis Wood show up on your doorstep today to deliver your dairy products?
That's the story of former Cubs pitcher Paul Erickson - swingman and milkman. Unfortunately for Paul, unlike milk and eggs, he and his cohorts were unable to deliver a World Series championship to Chicago. However, it may have taken 71 more years, but Travis Wood and his crew were able to pick him up and bring a parade to the Windy City.
Speaking of which, I was unable to take off of work in order to make it to the World Series Championship parade celebration, so I'll be taking in the scene via live stream. So it goes, I suppose.
Anyway, welcome to the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, Paul! As it stands today, Erickson becomes the 1,465th Cubs player to enter into my CATRC binder and puts me a 71.5% completion. Now, it's time for me to go back to pretending to work while I watch the parade on my computer screen!