Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Joe Burns, Bill Heltzel and the Pitcher Who Skipped Out

Joe Burns played third base and the outfield for the Braves and Athletics from 1943 to 1945.

His Baseball-Reference site, in referring to him going from Boston to Philadelphia between 1943-1944, only has the following:

"Before 1944 Season: Sent from the Boston Braves to the Philadelphia Athletics in an unknown transaction."

We have been able to track this one down through Milwaukee newspapers of the time. This transaction involved two major leaguers, and a third player that went out of his way to avoid the majors.

We go back to the Milwaukee Journal of Sep. 12, 1943:

“The Boston Braves announced Saturday night they had purchased Jim Trexler, left handed pitcher, from the Indianapolis club of the American Association. Two players and an undisclosed sum of cash were included in the deal.”

“He will report to the Braves at the start of the 1944 season.”

Jim Trexler was a 33-year old career minor leaguer coming off back-to-back 19-win seasons. Given the shortage of solid arms at the time, this seems like a no-brainer for the Braves.

The two players involved in the deal were announced in the Jan. 14, 1944 Milwaukee Journal:

“John Quinn, secretary of the Boston Braves, announced Friday that Infielders Joe Burns and William Heltzel had been sent to the Indianapolis club of the American association to complete the deal for southpaw Pitcher James Trexler whom the Tribe bought last fall.”

Indianapolis was an independent minor league team at the time of this deal. Burns and Heltzel were coming from the major league club to Indianapolis, for the services of Trexel.

Is wasn't that easy. Trexler held out on the Braves for a bigger contract, then bolted for the armed services, never playing organized baseball again.

Burns was then sent to the Athletics. This from the Milwaukee Journal of July 6, 1944:

“The Indianapolis Indians Wednesday sold Second Baseman Joe Burns to the Philadelphia Athletics. Burns played 58 games with the Tribe, hit 70 times in 232 trips to the plate for an average of .302. last year he was with the Boston Braves.”

The Indians by then had a working agreement with the Athletics, but Burns was their property. Unknown transaction solved!

But what of Heltzel? He went to Philadelphia too, but in the National League. From, yes, the Milwaukee Journal of  July 14, 1944:

“Purchase by the Phillies of Infielder Bill Heltzel from Indianapolis was announced Thursday.”

 Heltzel's stay at Indianapolis was a bit turbulent, as earlier he had quit the club!

“Bill Heltzel, Indianapolis Indians' shortstop, has quit the club and left for his home at York, Pa., it was learned as the Tribesmen stopped off here yesterday”
A month later he was in PA, for the Phillies! Somehow, he was back in Indianapolis the next season. I have not been able to find how. After one season, he was bounced to the West coast:

"Pitcher Ira Hutchinson and Shortstop Bill Heltzel of Indianapolis of the American association have been acquired by the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast league, Rainier officials said last night. Terms were not disclosed ."

Heltzel hit just .132 in a short stint in Seattle, before finishing his career in hometown York.

Hutchinson played for several teams in the majors as mostly a reliever from the thirties to the forties, and we may take a look as some of his deals in a later blog.

Neither Heltzel's nor Hutchinson's transactions listed here were listed on their Baseball-Reference pages.

Top: Burns from www.baseballprospectus.com
Middle: Heltzel from Baseball Reference
Bottom: Hutchinson from


1 comment:

  1. I knew Heinie Heltzel. In 1944 his wife, Loretta June Heltzel filed for divorce in York, PA. Heinie was having personal issues, which affected his playing.