Sunday, December 16, 2007
Curt Welch, the center fielder of the St. Louis Browns, when they were winning American Association and World's Championships in the eighties, was by long odds the greatest fielder of his day.
Welch was a rough diamond, uncouth, uneducated but a born athlete and player.
He did more than his share in the winning of championships for the St. Louis Browns during their wonderful success in the eighties.
Welch at this time was one of the most enthusiastic and aggressive players in the business. In fierce and offensive play he had no superiors. He would take any chance when running the bases and would buck a stone wall if that sort of thing was necessary.
He was a fine, plucky player, being always a good man in the breach and it was his ability to hit the ball when a hit was needed, or to steal a base when the steal meant a victory, that won many a game for his side.
But it was at fielding the ball that Welch excelled all other fielders of his day.
It was claimed that his skill in fielding the ball was due to his keen sense of hearing. It was said that he could tell by the sound of the crack of the bat just how far the ball was going to go. One thing is certain, no man that has ever played at center has excelled Welch when it came to rapid work in the field. In judging all kinds of high hits Welch was superb. He covered a great stretch of ground and seldom went after the ball without landing it.
In base running, too, he had no equal when it came to terrific head slides.
From The National Game
Bill James, in The Historical Baseball Abstract, wrote that "Curt Welch's '$15,000 slide' is the most famous play of 19th century baseball. Recent writers have for some reason taken to questioning whether Welch actually slid across the plate. G.W. Axelson in his 1919 biography of Comiskey (Commy) quotes Comiskey about the play, and Comiskey clearly states that Welch slid."
From Welch's obituary in The East Liverpool (Ohio) Review, August 31, 1894:
Curtis Benton Welch...was born on his father's farm near Williamsport, Feb. 10, 1862. He went to the village school, and when the family took up residence in this city he worked in the pottery.
In April of 1884 he married Miss Anna Boyle of Salineville and the union was blessed with two children.
In the spring of 1877 the famous Crockery City ball club was at the Cleveland and Pittsburgh station about to take a train to Steubenville. The catcher...was ailing with an injured hand and much doubt was expressed to the outcome of the game. Someone noticed a shy youth in the crowd of admirers present, and suggested they give Curt Welch a chance to prove his ability.
He accepted the position and did so well that his local reputation was made. Not a ball passed him that day and his brilliant playing was applauded. During the remainder of the season he played on several occasions with the club and the following spring was the prime mover in the organization of the Stars. He was a pitcher at this time and played well, but the Crockery City boys defeated the Stars in a series of seven games.
Welch became a member of the team and remained with them until June of 1883 and was regarded as the best player in the city. He could fill any position well and his fame soon spread through the surrounding country.
Then his professional career began. Toledo was the champion of the North-western league and Welch was signed by the management in June. His salary was fixed at $110 a month and he remained with the organization for two years. Welch played winning ball in those days, and few men have been accorded the reception given him in Toledo. His principal friends were Barclay and Mulane...and the trio were signed by Von Der Ahe, for his Association team in St. Louis in the winter of 1885. Welch was placed in middle field and played his position such as it had never before been filled. He was the admiration of the base ball world and his praises were sung in all parts of the country. The St. Louis Browns were champions of the Association at that time, and Welch was the favorite of the team. Von Der Ahe was offered $10,000 for his release but would not part with him. In 1888 when his base ball venture was not what he desired, the manager released Welch for $6,000 to the Athletics of Philadelphia and he played at the highest salary, $3,300, ever paid an outfielder. He also got $450 a season for filling the position of captain, and was never found wanting at a critical point.
In 1891 he signed with Baltimore through one season and part of the next. Released in 1893 he went to Cincinnati and played for a short time under his old manager, Comiskey, but he was not the player of his youth and soon went to Louisville. Here it was developed that he could not stay in the big league and he did not finish the season. In 1894 he signed with Syracuse and did excellent work until the beginning of the next season, when he was released and taken by Hazelton, Pa. He was released last fall, and signed with Carbondale, Pa. but was too ill when the summer opened to play ball...
Mr. Welch had been a sufferer of consumption but battled bravely against the illness. Several years ago when it first showed itself he felt confident that it would eventually cause his death, as his father and four brother died that way. He had been seriously ill for several months but borne up by the hope that the warm weather would make him much better and he refused to remain in his room. When the conviction was reached that he could not long survive he was forced to remain bedfast. He then lost consciousness and began to sink. On Aug. 28 he was a little better and recognized his family and could carry a little conversation. He then began to sink rapidly and died Aug. 29, too weak to make an effort toward resistance.