Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Top 100 Indians: #91 George Burns


A Note from Paul – Given the recent…um, performance of the Tribe, I can’t tell if the current vaca that I’m on with the fam is prescient (since my ears aren’t bleeding from what I’m sure is vitriolic stupidity being spewed across the North Coast) or ill-timed (as we are in Chautauqua, which means we get the YES Network for these debacles in the Bronx), the bitter taste in all of our mouths after the Astros’ series has turned into full-blown dry heaving thinking about where this 2012 season looks to be heading.  Thus, since there’s plenty of time to write (more) about the RH bat situation, the LF “issue”, the back-end-of-the-rotation, and the front-end-of-the-bullpen, I thought I’d introduce what will be a continuing series here.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive permission to cross-post the countdown of the Top 100 Indians players of all-time that’s been taking place at Let’s GoTribe.  As a fortunate “voter” in the process to determine the Top 100, I’m thrilled to be able to include the rundown of these players in this space.  Most of the pieces (including this one) are penned by Ryan Richards, one of my favorite Tribe writers who – for years – has been churning out informative and insightful analysis and whose work (in this age where quantity is valued over quantity) has always separated itself in terms of originality over the mere aggregation of sports news that seems to bury us from all angles.

Truly, I hope you enjoy this series (and this writing) as much as I have and will continue to and (in light of recent events with our Tribe); it’s a nice respite and an enjoyable diversion.  Regardless, I’m picking up here with #91 on the list (full list here), a lesser-known Tribesman from the 1920’s, so I’ll hand the mike over to Ryan…

George Henry Burns
Tioga George
First Baseman, 1920-1921, 1924-1928
Height: 6'1" Weight: 180 lbs
Acquired (1920): Trade, 5-29-1920
Purchased by the Cleveland Indians from the Philadelphia Athletics
Left Via (1921): Trade, 12-24-1921
Traded by the Cleveland Indians with Joe Harris and Elmer Smith to the Boston Red Sox for Stuffy McInnis
Acquired (1924): Trade, 1-7-1924:
Traded by the Boston Red Sox with Chick Fewster and Roxy Walters to the Cleveland Indians for Dan Boone, Joe Connolly, Steve O'Neill and Bill Wambsganss
Left Via (1928): Trade, 9-17-1928:
Purchased by the New York Yankees from the Cleveland Indians
Burns was nicknamed "Tioga George" so that people could tell him apart from another George Burns who played in the National League about the same time as the AL George. Of course modern fans think of the actor and comedian who had a very long career; the actor Burns died in 1996 at the age of 100; he was just five years younger than the George Burns who played in American league in the 1910s and 1920s.
Our George Burns was born in Niles, Ohio in 1893, and got his start in professional ball in 1913 with several clubs, including the Sioux City Packers of the Western League. A big and strong first baseman, he quickly attracted the attention of the Detroit Tigers, who acquired Burns before the 1914 season. The 21-year-old quickly fit in with the high-powered Tiger offense, and Del Gainer, the incumbent first baseman, was tossed onto the waiver wire. In his rookie season, Burns hit .291/.351/.389 (119 OPS+) hitting behind Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach.
Star-divide
Injuries and illnesses would dog Burns over the next couple years. Bill James notes that between 1915-1917, Burns had "malaria, typhoid fever, an operation for appendicitis, a broken ankle suffered on the ball field, and a broken shoulder blade suffered diving into a swimming pool'" Obviously all those maladies had an effect on his play, and after a poor 1917 season he was dealt to the Yankees, who then dealt him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Burns finally was healthy in 1918, and it showed in his performance; he hit .352/.390/.467 for the rebuilding Athletics, who finished 52-76. He had a solid season in 1919 for one for one of the worst teams in history; that year's Athletics club finished 36-104. Burns was mercifully dealt early the next season, and landed with a pennant contender.
The 1920 Indians were a loaded team, with Tris Speaker leading a high-powered offense and Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby headlining the pitching staff. Burns came to the Indians in late May, and he was used as a role player the rest of the season. He rarely started for the Indians, and seemed to be used mostly as a pinch-hitter; he appeared in 44 games, but only played the field in 13 of them. One of his biggest contributions to that club was giving Joe Sewell the bat that became known as Black Betsy; In the wake of Ray Chapman's death, Sewell was quickly called up, and need a bat. Burns pulled a black bat out of his locker and offered it to Sewell. That bat, which was used by Sewell on Sundays, would last throughout his Hall of Fame career, Despite the sporadic playing time, Burns hit .268/.339/.375 for the Indians, and hit .300/.462/.400 for the Indians in 13 PA in the World Series.
Burns played a somewhat more prominent role with the Indians in 1921, sharing time with starting first baseman Doc Johnston. Johnston continued to start despite getting outhit by Burns. Keep in mind that Burns was just 28 years old at this point, nowhere near the age where starters become part-time players. One theory I have is that the Indians were trying to take advantage of League Park, which had ridiculously short right field. So the right-handed Burns sat most of the time while the Indians were home in favor of left-handed Johnston. For example, Burns that season started almost every game of a lengthy road trip in June, but when the Indians got home, he rode the bench for most of that homestand.
So although Burns was on a good team, he wasn't playing as much as he should have. But he'd soon get his opportunity to play in 1922, as he was one of the three players dealt to Boston for Stuffy McInnis, a first baseman whose game was made more the Dead Ball Era than the new lively ball era that was just starting. But Burns' best years were just ahead of him. Now playing in a park with a short left field porch, Burns played every day in 1922, smacking 49 extra base hits for the Red Sox. His next year, 1923, was even better; he hit 47 doubles, posting a .328/.386/.470 line.
Burns seemed to have finally found a home, but his stay in Boston would be a short one. He was dealt that winter back to the team that didn't really use him before; the Cleveland Indians. He was part of a huge 7-player trade, and would turn out to be the only worthwhile acquisition of the three players the Indians got in the deal. Now the full-time starter, Burns continued to pound out doubles despite playing in a park that seemed to be designed to thwart his game. Burns was known for his strange batting stance; he stood at the plate with legs close together and his bat resting on his shoulder, but it worked for him. He hit 37 doubles in 1924, 41 in 1925, and then an incredible 64 (still the franchise record) in 1926. That season was a magical one for Burns; he led the league in hits with 214 in addition to topping to the circuit in doubles. He took home the MVP that season, outdistancing second-place Johnny Mostil by 30 points.
Burns would have another nice season in 1927 (.319/.375/.435, 109 OPS+), but that would be the last time he'd be a full-time player. Losing playing time to Lew Fonseca in 1928, Burns would eventually be dealt to New York that September just in time to be part of another World Champion. He would be sold to the Athletics early next season, and would be used mainly as a pinch hitter in his final major-league season. He'd play and manage in the PCL for several more seasons, and when he left baseball, he remained on the West Coast. He died in 1978 in Washington State at the age of 84.
Indians Career Stats
Year
Age
Tm
Lg
G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
OPS+
TB
HBP
Pos
Awards
1920
27
44
64
56
7
15
4
1
0
13
1
0
4
3
.268
.339
.375
.714
86
21
2
3/O

1921
28
84
265
244
52
88
21
4
0
49
3
1
13
19
.361
.398
.480
.877
121
117
2
3

1924
31
129
528
462
64
143
37
5
4
68
14
5
29
27
.310
.370
.437
.807
106
202
15
*3

1925
32
127
523
488
69
164
41
4
6
79
16
11
24
24
.336
.371
.473
.844
112
231
3
*3
1926
33
151
657
603
97
216
64
3
4
114
13
7
28
33
.358
.394
.494
.889
130
298
8
*3
1927
34
140
607
549
84
175
51
2
3
78
13
11
42
27
.319
.375
.435
.810
109
239
7
*3

1928
35
82
238
209
29
52
12
1
5
30
2
3
17
11
.249
.323
.388
.711
85
81
6
3

CLE (7 yrs)
757
2882
2611
402
853
230
20
22
431
62
38
157
144
.327
.375
.455
.830
112
1189
43


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/25/2012.
Selected Awards/Leaders
Cleveland Indians Career Leader: Batting Average, 5th (.327);
Cleveland Indians Season Leader: Hits, 8th (216 - 1926); Doubles, 1st (64 - 1926); Hit by Pitch, 8th (15 - 1924)
AL MVP: 1st, 1926
AL Batting Average: 5th, 1926
AL Hits: 1st, 1926
AL Total Bases: 5th, 1926
AL Doubles: 10th, 1924; 4th, 1925; 1st, 1926, 2nd, 1927
AL Singles: 3rd, 1926
Sources
ed. David Jones, Deadball Stars of the Ameircan League
Bill James. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
Mike Sowell. The Pitch That Killed


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