Tag Archives: Harry Welchonce

More Hard Luck for Harry

25 Nov

“Hard Luck” Harry Welchonce had his share of bad luck on and off the field. He may have also been a member of the only professional baseball team that was on a train while it was being robbed.

Harry Welchonce

           Harry Welchonce

The robbery took place when the Atlanta Crackers were traveling home from New Orleans on the Louisville & Nashville train in July of 1914.  Welchonce, the Crackers captain told the story to The Atlanta Georgian:

“All the bunch were busy playing cards when the train stopped abruptly.  We paid no attention to this, but a moment later there was a command of ‘Hands up!’ and a small man with two large guns came in our car, with the train crew and the porters ahead of him.  All hands went up and he went through the car, taking (Henry ‘Hack’) Eibel and (David) Mutt Williams ahead of him.  They were standing in the aisle and he took them right along in their night clothes.  He found nothing in the baggage car, and then turned Williams loose, robbing the conductor and taking the mail clerk and baggage man off the train.

hackeibel

                  Hack Eibel

“There were apparently three robbers (various reports said there were two, three or five).  Two of them remained on the rear of the train and started through, robbing the passengers.”

The robbers shot the train’s flagman who was attempting to send an alert a following train.  After shooting the man, who later died:

“They seemed to get scared then and jumped off the train.  They either made a mistake in the train or got mixed up, and the fact they killed the flagman probably saved all of us as they quickly ordered the train crew to proceed…Some of the boys gathered around the dying flagman and his last words were, ‘For God’s sake, someone go back and flag that train.’  A train was following twenty minutes in the rear.

“Talk about a scared bunch. There was little if any sleep on the car all night, everyone remaining up…We were all congratulating ourselves on our narrow escape and the fact that we saved out valuables, which, no doubt, they would have got had they not become scared after shooting the flagman.”

The robbers got away with $20.25.

The Crackers returned to Atlanta the following day; they finished the season in fourth place.

“Hard Luck” Harry Welchonce, who had already been ill for part of the season, was diagnosed with Tuberculosis the following month.

In the days following the robbery, news reports described armed posses and bloodhounds on the trail of the robbers. There is no record of their capture.

“Hard Luck” Harry Welchonce

23 Nov

In January of 1913, as Harry Monroe Welchonce was preparing for his fourth attempt to stick with a major league club, The Washington Herald said:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors.”

He did not make his professional debut until he was 25-years-old.  He worked as a telegraph operator for the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad while playing amateur ball in Pennsylvania until 1909 when he signed to play with the Steubenville Stubs in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Harry Welchonce

Harry Welchonce

A .321 hitter over seven minor league seasons, Welchonce was purchased by three major league teams—The Phillies, Dodgers, and Senators—and went to spring training at least five times with big league teams, but earned just one 26-game trial with Phillies in 1911. He hit just .212 and made two errors in 17 games.

After failing to make the Senators in 1912, he hit a Southern Association leading .333 for the Nashville Volunteers, earning himself another spring trial with Washington.  The Washington Times said of him:

“(Welchonce) is said to have the abilities of a major leaguer without the inside adornment. In other words, he is easily disheartened. This is said to have caused his failure with the Phillies three years ago.”

While under the headline “Welchonce is Hard Luck Guy,” The Herald attempted to explain his big league failures:

“Welchonce is one of the most unfortunate young men that ever tried to get a steady job in the majors. He has always batted for more than .300 in the minor leagues, and he has the natural speed and ability to make good in the majors.

“Welchonce is a telegraph operator, and his hard luck really dates from several summers ago.  He was seated at his key at Indiana, PA, one afternoon, when a thunderstorm came up. A bolt of lightning shattered a tree outside his office and he was a long time recovering from the shock…He joined the Phillies (in 1910), and his dashy work made a big hit in the training camp at Southern Pines (North Carolina)

“The team had been there only about a week when lightning struck the hotel and a ball of fire ran down into a room in which Johnny Bates, Welchonce, (Lou) Schettler, and (Jim) Moroney were sleeping. The players were all badly scared, and the shock was such that Welchonce did not get over it.”

A contemporary account of the incident in The Philadelphia Inquirer said all four players were badly shaken and that “Welchonce was the first to recover his speech.”  The Associated Press said all four players “were covered with plaster and debris from the ceiling,” and that Schettler “could not talk for two hours.”

Adding to Welchonce’s woes in 1910 was an injured shoulder, or as The Philadelphia North American put it: “(He) still plays with a wrenched shoulder and it affects the fleet youngster’s batting. He can only get a very ladylike swing at the sphere.”

The Phillies sent Welchonce to the South Bend Bronchos in the Central League.  He hit .315, leading South Bend to the pennant.

The Times picked up the story:

“(In 1911) he took the training trip to Birmingham, Alabama (with the Phillies).Again it looked as if Harry would give (John) Titus a hard battle for right field honors.  Then came more hard luck. One of Earl Moore’s cross-fire slants struck Welchonce in the head, and Harry went to a hospital in Birmingham for several days. “

The contemporary account in The Inquirer said that he did not lose consciousness, but “was sick to his stomach,” and quoted a doctor saying he suffered from “nervous shock.”  When he was released from the hospital three days later, the paper said, “He looks weak and colorless.”

He failed to make the Senators again in 1913 and was released to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association again and led the league with a .338.

Welchonce returned to Atlanta in 1914, and so did his “hard luck.”

He was hospitalized at the end of the April with pneumonia and was out for much of May.  By late June, The Atlanta Constitution said he was “Back in Stride,” and he was again hitting above .300.  But his season came to end in August when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis.  The Atlanta Journal said he “Went to Ashville, North Carolina for the mountain air,” and treatment.

Atlanta held a benefit game and various other fundraisers and presented Welchonce with a check for $883.10.

Welchonce recovered, but not enough to rejoin the Crackers the following season.  He returned to his job with the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad and managed the company’s baseball team.

He returned to pro ball in 1915, accepting an offer from the  to be player-manager of the Texas League club.

welchoncedallas

Welchonce, 1915

He played fairly well, hitting .297, but the Giants were a last place club and Welchonce became ill again in August and retired from professional baseball.

He again returned to the railroad and management of the company baseball team until 1920, when poor health necessitated a move to the West.  He settled first in Denver where he was employed as an accountant, and later Arcadia, California where “Hard Luck” Harry lived to age 93.  He died in 1977.