Tag Archives: Mickey Welch

“The only Great Game in the Country”

7 Aug

Smiling Mickey Welch spent his post-baseball years operating various businesses in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but visited Boston and New York often—until he eventually moved back to New York.

mickeywelch

Welch

In 1908, Welch, “one of the most famous pitchers of half a generation ago,” talked to Tim Murnane, the baseball writer for The Boston Globe, on a trip to visit his former teammate Tim Keefe in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“’It certainly seems to me,’ said Welch a few days ago, ‘That the players of today have nothing over the stars of the past. I’m not at all prejudiced and I believe that I am at least fairly competent to judge, as I have kept right up with the many changes that have been made since I left the business.”

Murnane said of Welch:

“Mickey finished his career in the baseball world 15 years ago [sic, 16], but he still retains his deep interest in the great national game, and each season always plans to come to Boston or to go to New York to watch the work of the present-day players and compare them with those of his time, when by his superb work in the pitcher’s box he assisted in winning a couple of pennants and world championships for Gotham.”

Welch, who had just sold his salon in Holyoke, “to engage in the milk business with his oldest son, Frank,” asked Murnane:

welch.jpg

Welch, with wife Mary and seven of the couple’s nine children

“Where, for instance, is there today any greater baseball player than Buck Ewing was? Ah, he was the greatest of ‘em all—indeed the grandest that the game has ever known. Universally acknowledged by all followers of the sport as the king of catchers, he also shone in other departments, for he was a hard natural hitter, could run bases with the top-notchers and could play any of the infield or outfield positions as well as any of the regulars holding down those berths.”

Welch said he and Ewing—who died in October of 1906–were “the warmest of friends for years and that friendship dated from the days when as a member of the Troy team, I first became acquainted with him while he was with the Rochester club (in 1880).”

Welch said from the day Ewing joined Troy later that season and after they went to New York together when the Trojans disbanded after the 1882 season:

buck

Ewing

“Buck and I were chums and for all that time used to room together.”

Murnane said that Welch, who “always made it a point to take the very best care of himself,” was in “as splendid condition,” as he was when he pitched:

“One of his favorite hobbies is walking, and on every pleasant day in the fall and winter he and Jack Doyle, also a famous old-time ball tosser, may be seen setting from the Welch home to take a jaunt to Mt. Tom, which is between Holyoke and the neighboring town of Northampton.”

Some nights Murnane said the two went out in the evening and “they sit for hours and talk over the good old days when they were players of mark in the fastest company.”

After all of those talks with Doyle about their days in baseball, he maintained:

“I’m throwing no bouquets at myself but have there ever been any better pitchers than Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Charlie Radbourn? I say ‘no’ emphatically. Then look at the rest. Dan Brouthers has never been excelled as a batsman and I don’t believe he ever will be. He could land a ball farther and with less apparent effort than any ballplayer that ever swung a bat. I faced him many a time and I could never discover that he had any weakness.

“(Cap) Anson was also a fine hitter, as were Deacon White, Hardy Richardson, Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, (Ed) Delahanty, and George Gore, to say nothing of a dozen more whom I might mention. Jerry Denny has never been excelled as a third baseman, and Johnny Ward is the headiest man that has ever played shortstop. ‘Dickie’ Johnston, pride of Boston for years, and Curt Welch of the old St. Louis Browns and (Jimmy) McAleer of the Clevelands were easily the most brilliant outfielders of the past.”

Welch also believed “the best club in the history of the game,’ were the 1888 and 1889 Giants—Welch was 26-19 1.93 in ’88 and 27-12 3.02 in 1889 for those New York teams.

“Buck Ewing was the captain, and a magnificent one he was too. Buck used to catch nearly all of the games.”

Welch said of the team:

“We won the pennant rather easily in the National League in ’88, and fully as easily beat out the St. Louis Browns for the world’s flag. But the next season of ’89, we had to go some right up to the very last notch to pull away from the Bostons in the National League, the championship not being decided until the final day of the season when we won in Indianapolis while the Bostons lost in Pittsburgh. Then we met the Brooklyns, champions of the American Association. In a series of nine games, we won five”

Welch got two details wrong; while 1889 was the first pennant decided on the season’s final day and Boston did lose to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Giants beat the Cleveland Spiders that day; also, in the series the Giants won six of the nine games with Brooklyn.

Welch vowed to Murnane, “I shall never lose my interest,” in “the only great game in the country.”

 

Hence his Careless, Indifferent air when he goes to the Plate to Bat.”

18 Nov

In 1911 Reds manager Clark Griffith told The Cincinnati Times-Star that pitchers no longer hit like they did when he played:

“Give me pitchers who can hit the ball instead of fanning out weakly, I wish there were a few more pitchers available like the top notchers of twenty years ago.  In those days a pitcher believed that he was hired to soak the ball as well as curve it, and he always did his best to get a hit.

(Tim) Keefe (career .187), (Mickey) Welch (.224), (Thomas “Toad”) Ramsey (.204), and (James “Pud”) Galvin  (.201) were among the old-time pitchers who could not bat, but they tried all the time, and if one of them got a hit he was as proud as a kid just breaking into the big league.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

The problem, said Griffith, was that “The pitcher seems to think that when he is delivering the goods in the box nothing more is required of him.  Hence his careless, indifferent air when he goes to the plate to bat.”

Griffith said Cap Anson, “wouldn’t hire a pitcher who couldn’t hit,” and said former Chicago pitchers Pat Luby (.235), Ad Gumbert (.274),  Walter Thornton (.312) and  George Van Haltren (.316, but was primarily an outfielder appearing in 93 games as a pitcher over a 17-year career), “were bear cats with the stick.”

Griffith said of his ability with the bat:

“The old guide-book will show that even your humble servant hit over .300 for Anson.”

Griffith hit .319 for Anson in 1895, and .233 for his career.

The 1911 Reds had only one starting pitcher who hit better than .214, (George Suggs. 256).  He was also the only starter with a winning record (15-13) for Griffith’s sixth place Reds.

George Suggs

George Suggs

“Death to Flying Things”

3 Apr

The nickname “Death to Flying Things,” is likely the only thing most baseball fans would know of John Curtis “Jack” Chapman, and even that is a morass of different and often questionable research.  He shares the nickname with one-time Brooklyn Atlantics teammate Bob Ferguson, and competing versions of the story disagree about whether first baseman/outfielder Chapman or infielder Ferguson is the one most commonly referred to by the nickname—and never with contemporaneous citations to back up the assertions.

Regardless, Chapman was an important figure during the advent of the game.

He was a well-known amateur player in the 1860s with the Brooklyn Atlantics (as opposed to the National Association team of the same name he and Ferguson played for in 1874) and the Quaker City’s of Philadelphia. Beginning at age 30 he played a total of 113 in the National Association, with Brooklyn and St. Louis, and during the National League’s inaugural season in 1876 he played and managed the Louisville Grays.

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

Jack Chapman, far right, with 1868 Brooklyn Atlantics

After the 1876 season, the career.246 hitter retired as a player.  Over the next 22 years he managed parts of ten seasons in the National League and American Association; including an 88-44 finish and American Association championship with the Louisville Colonels in 1890.  He also managed for 11 seasons in the minor leagues, retiring from baseball after the 1899 season.

When his managerial career ended Chapman was often asked to discuss the current state of baseball; carrying on a tradition as old as the game, and one that will never end, Chapman was adamant that the game as it was currently being played did not measure up the game during his prime.  In a column that appeared in several newspapers in 1900 he said:

“Our great national game is today in bad shape both financially and in other ways.  Whether this situation is caused by the rowdyism of the players I cannot say, but it seems to me that if the rules were strictly lived up to and the chief of umpires and his staff did their duty the game would soon climb back to the high plane it once occupied.

“The players of 10 and 15 years ago were just as fast, tricky and well up in the game as those of today…Years ago the ball used to have two and one-half ounces of rubber in it, whereas now there is only one ounce.  This reduction has made the sphere less lively and consequently easier to field…The men are now harnessed almost like football players, with gloves, pads masks and other paraphernalia.  We hadn’t these accessories in the old days, yet I don’t think the fielding is much improved.”

But mostly Chapman seemed to be concerned with his legacy as a manager:

“Probably no other man has brought out so many players as I have, mainly because I always have made it a point to be on the lookout for new blood by means of which I could improve my team…I think I may claim without anyone gainsaying my assertion, that I have turned out and sold to the National and other leagues more players who have proved to be crackerjacks than any other man living.

Robert Winchester and Mickey Welch, two old timers were ‘finds’ of mine, while Hugh Jennings, Roger Connor, Jimmy Collins, (Bill) Hoffer, (Harry) Howell and many others too numerous to mention in the major and minor leagues were developed by myself.”

Jack Chapman 1900

Jack Chapman 1900

Unfortunately, he said little and provided no details about the most significant incident of his career: as manager of the Louisville Grays in 1877 his team was the first to be involved in a gambling scandal:

“I had four men of my own team—(George) Hall, (Bill) Craver, (Al) Nichols and (Jim) Devlin—put out by the league because they were caught throwing a game.  That was the first time such a thing had ever happened, and it caused a great sensation at the time.”

“Death to Flying Things” died in 1916 in Brooklyn at age 73.