He played in the World Series and held down a fulltime job in the 1940s
When the Chicago Cubs went to the World Series in October 2016, it was the first time in 71 years.
In that 1945 series, between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers, one of the players was a guy from Oak Cliff.
Heinz Becker was born in Berlin, Germany in 1915. His family later moved to Venezuela, where his father made a small fortune as a brewer. They arrived in Dallas around 1925 to pursue cattle ranching.
It was here in Oak Cliff that young Becker, who’d grown up playing soccer, saw his first baseball game.
Becker played for the Dallas Eagles of the Texas League, whose Oak Cliff home stadium later became known as Burnett Field, and for a Chicago White Sox farm team in Louisiana.
From there, he was picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers.
“First thing that happened at Milwaukee was [manager] Charley Grimm pulling me out of the outfield and sticking me on first base,” Becker told a Dallas newspaper in 1945. “Don’t know why, but the change affected my hitting, and I notched .340 and was second to teammate Eddie Stanky whose .342 led the American Association. It was the best batting mark I ever made.”
Becker also led the league in runs batted in that year.
At 26, married with two children and a fulltime job at General Motors, Becker went to Cubs spring training in March 1945.
Becker was a switch hitter and weighed 200 pounds, a muscle-bound power hitter.
That year for the Cubs, he played first base in 67 games and batted .286. He hit two home runs, 27 RBIs and scored 25 runs, according to Baseball Reference.
He made three appearances as a pinch hitter in the World Series, going 1-for-2 with a walk. He hit a single against pitcher Dizzy Trout in game four.
The Cubs lost that World Series, which was followed by a decades-long pennant drought on the north side of Chicago.
Becker was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1946. He played in 59 games and batted .299 there. Cleveland released him the following spring, and he signed with the Boston Braves, but his big-league career was over.
He was 30 years old, and his performance had suffered from bunions — his fellow players actually nicknamed him “bunions.” Becker had foot surgery following the 1945 season.
By June of 1950, Becker was back on the Oak Cliff ball field playing for the Dallas Eagles, where he played through a shoulder injury early in the season.
Local sports columnist Charles Burton quoted an anonymous source who said the first baseman wasn’t fit to play because of his bunion trouble.
“They’ll have to keep a first baseman down at Gladewater or Gainesville with a bus ticket in his hand,” the source said. “Somebody will be shuttling into Dallas all season.”
Becker also suffered that season because he was much stronger hitting from the left side, and the Eagles faced an unusual number of left-handed pitchers, which forced Becker to bat from his weaker side to avoid the lefty-versus-lefty matchup.
He’d hoped to play in all 154 games that season, but the Eagles released him in late July.
Married couple Brandon Herrmann and Cheryl Fox bought Becker’s former home on West Clarendon a few years ago. Their neighbors told them stories about Becker and showed them where there are old Chicago Cubs stickers on the carport.
“He was apparently pretty good,” Hermann says. “And it’s amazing to think he worked a fulltime job the whole time when he wasn’t playing baseball.”
The highest paid players in Major League Baseball earned $25,000 in 1945, according to the Society of American Baseball Research.
Becker died in Dallas in 1991 at age 76. He remains one of the few German-born players ever to appear in the major leagues.
We couldn’t find an obituary for Becker, but Sam Blair of the Dallas Morning News mentioned him in a column a few weeks after his death.
In it, friend Al Harting was quoted: “He was a shy, good-natured gentle giant of a boy and a natural athlete. He could kick a football or soccer ball a mile and knock a baseball out of the neighborhood.”