Welch’s Wizardry

Pitchers can become overwhelming forces during a season.

Denny McLain went 31-6 in 1968.

Nolan Ryan struck out more than 300 batters in a season five times.

Ron Guidry’s 25 wins in 1978 comprised exactly 25% of the Yankees’ 100 victories.

In 1985, Dwight Gooden compiled a 24-4 record in addition to leading the major leagues in ERA, strikeouts, complete games, and innings pitched.

Walter Johnson burned through American League lineups like a torch through oil-soaked rags in 1913, ending the season with a 36-7 record.  His 1.14 ERA is the second-lowest for a single season.

1885 belonged to Mickey Welch of the New York Giants.  With a 44-11 record, Welch’s victories accounted for more than half of the Giants’ total.  Welch’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site notes that “Smiling Mickey” completed all 55 games that he started, won 17 consecutive games, and tallied a 1.66 ERA.  In addition, he struck out 258 batters.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb denoted the difference between Welch and Timothy Keefe, another Giants standout on the mound, in his biography of Welch for the Society for American Baseball Research Biography Project.  “But away from the field, Welch and Keefe were polar opposites,” wrote Lamb.  “Keefe was a quiet, serious man, reserved, almost aloof in manner, and he sported the handlebar mustache near-ubiquitous among the ballplayers of the 1880s.  In contrast, the clean-shaven Welch was a fun-lover.  Although he reputedly refrained from tobacco, swearing, and hard liquor, Mickey was a fabled beer drinker, given to composing impromptu ditties about his favorite beverage.  He also frequently entertained teammates, companions, and other bar-goers with a fine Irish tenor singing voice.

In his 1988 book The Giants of the Polo Grounds:  The Glorious Times of Baseball’s New York Giants, Noel Hynd wrote, “Welch was quickly developing into one of the most prolific beer drinkers of the nineteenth century, one reason he was always said to be smiling.  Welch loved his suds so dearly that he was even given to writing rhymes and jingles about them, then setting the verses to music.”

Ultimately, the Chicago White Stockings defeated the Giants for the 1885 National League pennant by two games.  An August 31st article in the New-York Tribune emphasized the team’s lack of attention as a source of losses.  “The New-York nine ought to have the lead instead of being one game behind,” stated the Tribune.  “It cannot be denied that the New-York men have lost several games through over-confidence.  They considered their opponents to be of little consequence and the mistake has cost them dearly.  Every player in the club, however, is determined to win the pennant, if hard work during the remainder of the season can win it, and no more careless playing will be tolerated.”

Welch won 30 or more games four times in his career; for his five years in the major leagues preceding the 1885 season, Welch racked up 113 victories.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 22, 2016.

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