Today I'm starting a new feature that spotlights one of my cards per week. I'll try to keep the cards and the players as varied as I can. I'll write about the player first, then the card. Sometimes the card will be available for sale. I'll say so at the bottom of the entry. So look back here for a new entry, on average once per week, about a card and player. And look back to previous entries about some cards I've already written about.
This one is a 1923 Willard's Chocolates: George H. Burns--in 20 Fair 1.5 condition, which isn't too bad for the age. I mean, this card is 90 years old, after all. I hope I look as good at 90, if I even reach that age.
The backs are blank, like the 1887 N182 Old Judges and the 1921 Exhibits. (Love those, too, but they're very expensive. The 1887s cost at least $100 each, in authentic, presentable or fair condition, which are the three lowest. Crazy money, for me, anyway.) This one has writing on the back, which I'm not crazy about. Normally I don't buy blankbacks that aren't blank, especially if there's writing on it. But this card was at a price I couldn't refuse. It's the only 1921 Willard's Chocolates I own.
I was interested in the card partly because I was vaguely familiar with the player. I knew that a George Burns led the league in hits in the 20s for a year, and won an MVP, and was a solid player. The Hall of Famers' cards cost more, of course, so I had to stay away from those. But you tire of buying commons of good cards, too--though this card is more a commons than a star card. Still...So if you look him up on baseball-reference.com, which is the site I always use to get stats, you'd find that there were actually two George Burns playing in the 20s. There's my guy, at this address, and then there's another guy, who played in the mid-10s to the mid-20s, at this address. They were both good players, but time being what it is, let's focus on my guy.
He had an odd career, if you look at the stats. In 1918 he led the league in games, hits and total bases, while batting .352 and with an almost-.400 on-base percentage. Despite this, he only scored 61 runs, which tells me that he either didn't bat leadoff (or even in the top-5 in the order) or that the Philadelphia Athletics of 1918 was a bad team. Or both. Anyway, in spite of his good play, he was a part-time player in 1920 and in 1921--two prime years, when he was 26 and 27, peak years for many ballplayers. He apparently got stuck in the depth chart behind another first baseman, and he was flat-out bought by the Cleveland Indians (for whom he was playing in 1923, the year of my card). He was a part-time player for them, before being traded to the Boston Red Sox for Stuffy McInnis, an extremely good player. He played very well for Boston, which traded him back to Cleveland in a huge trade you can read about at the bottom, beneath all the stats.
He played great in Cleveland, batting .306, .328, .310, .336, .358 and .319. While averages across the league were up between 1921 and 1939, this is still very good. In 1926 he was the MVP, with 216 hits and 64 doubles, a record until Earl Webb hit 67 for the Red Sox a few years later. (Webb's record still stands today, so Burns' 64 is still in the top-5 or so.) He had 3 triples, 4 homers and 115 RBIs, which means those doubles drove in a ton of runs, plus whatever singles he hit. (This also means Cleveland was a good team, with lots of runners on base, and that Burns hit between 2nd and 5th in the lineup.)
But something happened, because two years later he was flat-out bought by the New York Yankees, who barely used him for a couple of seasons, before selling him back to the Philadelphia Athletics, who rarely played him. And that's it. He played twice for two different teams, and he seemed to be wanted, yet easily sold or traded, at the same time.
A very strange career for a very good player. He led the league in hits twice, eight years apart, which is hard to do in general, but especially if you're playing in the same league as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and all those guys. He finished second in hits and average one year; finished second to Babe Ruth in RBIs during his MVP year, and constantly was among the league-leaders in hits, average and defensive statistics, including consecutive games played and fielding percentage. He snagged an MVP from them as well, when he was 33. He had over 2,000 hits and hit over .300 for his career. A quick glance at his defensive stats shows that he was good, maybe a little better than average. Not a Gold Glove winner, but solid enough not to make a jerk of himself there, and he once made an unassisted triple play, which is very rare. Burns also played in two World Series, and won both of them, nine years apart.
I went to his Wikipedia page to see why he was traded or sold so often, and why he was made a part-time player in the middle of his career after very good seasons, and at the end, just a year after winning the MVP. It didn't tell me a thing, except that there might not be anything to say, and that he became a good minor-league player and manager, and then a sheriff of a small town. I guess injuries could explain the part-time status and the trades, but I would've thought Wikipedia would show that. Maybe he had Rogers Hornsby disease: despite a HOF career and being a world-class hitter as the National League's Babe Ruth (and a second basemen!), Hornsby was also an uncontested jerk who teams couldn't wait to get rid of, and which actually became better after getting rid of him, despite replacing him with a worse player. (A-rod is a present-day example.) But, again, I would guess that the Wikipedia page would've mentioned that he was hard to get along with. Instead, this article's writer seemed to be obsessed with Burns' greatness as a right-handed hitter, and with right-handers in general.
I suspect that there's more here to know. If you feel like it, please investigate and leave a comment.
As stated by PSAcardfacts.com (click this link and look at the beautiful Babe Ruth card):
1923 Willards Chocolate set consists of 180 cards, each measuring about
2” x 3-1/4”. Produced by a Canadian firm, the Willards Chocolate
Company, the unnumbered cards feature a sepia-tone player photo with a
white border. A facsimile autograph is printed across the image. The
back of every card is blank. The key cards belong to Ty Cobb, Walter
Johnson and of course, Babe Ruth. This set is also anchored by Grover
Cleveland Alexander, Stan Coveleski, Hugh Duffy, Johnny Evers, Frank
Frisch, Kid Gleason, Burleigh Grimes, Harry Hooper, Rogers Hornsby,
Miller Huggins, Connie Mack, Branch Rickey, and Tris Speaker. The
company inserted one card into packages of their products. The set’s
unique imagery has kept the Willards Chocolate issue extremely popular
with collectors, and partly as the result of coming from a Canadian
manufacturer is seen as being relatively rare."
Apparently they're commonly found trimmed, with the white border cut away, leaving just the picture. (Some of the T206s I've seen were trimmed, too, like we do today with a copy that has too much black ink. I don't get the point of doing this to baseball cards, but whatever. Who knew in 1922 that they'd be worth so much?) Anyway, they're worth less, obviously, if they're trimmed. Mine isn't. A graded set of 6.+ sold in 2010 for $71,700. The Babe Ruth was $35,000 in Mint condition, and $315 in poor condition, which is a worse state than mine's in. The Ty Cobb was $18,000 in Mint condition, and $155 in poor condition. I don't own those, of course. I make it a point not to buy cards for more than $15 to $25, and for even less, when I can. I did so for this card, and it's not for sale.