HOFer Mickey Welch Picked a Surprising All-Time MLB Team
The former pitcher’s dream team was unlike any baseball fans might imagine
Baseball fans all like to think they have a discerning eye when it comes to identifying talented players and qualities that can make up a great team. However, it’s hard to argue against those who played the game themselves having the best perspective on such things. Mickey Welch, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher from the early days of professional ball, had a very unique take when asked to choose his all-time team decades after he last threw a pitch. While he didn’t choose the players most might expect, he carefully explained his reasoning in a way that makes his reasoning hard to dispute.
“Smiling Mickey” was a durable righty, who was a star during a 13-year big-league career (1880–1892). He spent the first two seasons of his career with the Troy Trojans and then the remaining 11 with the New York Giants. All told, he combined to go 307–210 with a 2.71 ERA, earning enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 via the Veteran’s Committee. He certainly pitched in a different era, as he surpassed 500 innings in a season on three occasions and the mound was 50 feet from home plate; not changed to the standard 60"6' until the year after he retired.
In 1939, Welch was about to turn 80 but had the vigor of a much younger man. He lived in Brooklyn and still loved going to games, following the sport where he made his name. In an article appearing in the April 2, 1939 edition of the Daily News, he was asked to break down his all-time team. Instead of making the obvious picks, his squad looked quite different than the typical dream time of the time:
Pitchers: Christy Mathewson, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson and Carl Hubbell
Catchers: Buck Ewing and King Kelly
Infield: Jack Doyle (1B), Frankie Frisch (2B), Ed Williamson (SS) and John McGraw (3B)
Outfield: Hugh Duffy (LF), Ty Cobb (CF) and Willie Keeler (RF)]
Welch reiterated his resume and acknowledged that his picks may have sounded unorthodox. However, he was prepared to defend himself:
“I pitched the first game the Giants ever played at the old Polo Grounds 56 years ago. I’ve seen ’em come and go ever since and I want to tell you that in picking an all-time, all-star team, most experts make a mistake. They ignore brains and go for brawn. Believe me, I could put together a dream team on the field of smart fighters who’d beat any team you could assemble. They’d fight at the drop of a hat — but they’d make runs for you.
“My all-time team may sound kind of silly to fans of 1939. All I ask fans to remember is that whenever brains clashed with brawn, brains always won. Remember how John McGraw would goad Babe Ruth and beat the Yankees year after year in the World Series? Why he had poor Ruth so mad the Bam was striking out on deliveries McGraw ordered purposely pitched into the dirt.”
The former pitcher was whimsical thinking about the team he assembled in his head. You could practically see him smile as he thought about how well he believed they would do:
“There is a team that would just rip the heart out of any club you could put against them. The pitchers would give ’em the high, low, and inside, out, slow and fast stuff, driving them crazy at the bat. If they did get on base they’d get an awful physical beating. They’d be stepped on, spiked, punched, tripped, gouged, trapped by cutoff plays or lured off base by catcher Ewing who would purposely pretend to have a passed ball. Buck could sit on his haunches, look innocently at his pitcher and without moving his head, he could make a rifle-shot, side-arm flip to first base that would nip an unwary runner.”
King Kelly was one of the best known and flamboyant early stars of baseball. Welch played against him extensively and had some fun memories of the experience:
“That King Kelly was a tough one. He didn’t look tough, or talk tough, but he was tough. When I was pitching against him, I used to shy the first one up around his ears.
“He would say in his rich brogue, ‘Now, now, Mickey, me bye, I’m just after getting’ me chin shaved this morning.’
“I’d usually let him alone after that mild warning because if I didn’t, he’d throw the bat at me.”
Baseball changed greatly from the time Welch made his living on the mound until when he gave this interview. While he was still clearly a big fan, he didn’t like all of the evolution. In particular, he was disheartened by how he perceived pitching to have declined since his playing days:
“I don’t blame the modern pitchers for being so dopey. They lack mental agility because the game today is all stand and slug. If you don’t slug, you lose. And I say sluggers wouldn’t get a chance against smart pitching. McGraw and Hubbell, in his prime, both proved it.”
Expecting that baseball fans would pick him apart for not choosing seeming “no-brainers” for his all-time team, Welch laid out his reasoning on some specific legends of the game:
“You probably wonder why I don’t pick Hal Chase, Lou Gehrig or Bill Terry at first base over Jack Doyle. Well, I’ll tell you — they were lopsided. They didn’t have balance. For instance, Chase could field but couldn’t hit. Gehrig could hit but couldn’t field. Terry would hit and field but couldn’t run the bases. Jack Doyle could do everything and do it well.”
One baseball icon that he didn’t seem to hold in the same regard as most was Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner, still seen as an all-time talent by many to this day:
“I like Honus Wagner. I didn’t see an awful lot of him. But I do know he wasn’t much on the basepaths. He wasn’t a well-rounded player and he didn’t have the fire, the never-give-up, murder those so-and-so’s spirit of Ed Williamson.”
Using his own intimate knowledge of what makes an effective pitcher, Welch also broke down his selections for his pitching staff:
“Matty, Tim Keefe and Clarkson could handle any club you threw against them. And for your lefty, I’d take Hubbell. He’s a cool proposition. He won a pennant, carrying a bunch of Joe Nobodies with him. Imagine winning on one run, week after week.”
Babe Ruth is on practically everyone’s all-time team. Not Welch’s. He also delved into why the Bambino wasn’t able to make the cut:
“My outfield of Duffy, Cobb and Keeler is fast, they are good hitters and good throwers. My goodness! I know I left Ruth off. He had Combs playing his territory for him half the time. And Ruth was no base runner. And no great shucks as a fighter. I tell you I want all-around men, with balance and fire.”
When asked to name the ideal player; his best player of all time, Welch didn’t hold back. He went with a friend and a former teammate that he swore was the most versatile and talented ball player he ever saw:
“The greatest all-around ball player of all time was Buck Ewing. He could hit, run and throw. I worked with him for 11 years and I know what he could do. He used to stay up all night thinking about ways to upset his rivals of the next day. He’d do anything to win. Like McGraw, he’d find out something about an opposing pitcher’s love affairs. Next day, he’d be out there shouting at him, driving the poor fellow dippy. Like McGraw, his motto was, if you’re losing, knock the other fellow down, rough him up, kick him in the sins, poke his eyes out, break his skull open — but beat him. Buck Ewing was the first to originate pre-game clubhouse meetings. Every club in organized baseball copies Ewing’s stunt today.”
Maybe Welch was way off base with his picks, or maybe he was right on the nose. It would be great to be able to see his hand-picked squad come together as one during their prime and test his theories and convictions. While that’s not possible, the next best thing is hearing why the venerable old pitcher (who passed away in 1941) believed what he believed and how he relived the exploits of some of the great old players he recalled so fondly.