Few people in Williamsburg remember “Smiling Mickey” Welch, but he was one of the greatest pitchers ever to play professional baseball. Michael Francis Welch (July 4, 1859 – July 30, 1941) was the third pitcher to accumulate 300 career victories. Welch was born and raised in WIlliamsburg and played 13 seasons in the major leagues, three with the Troy Trojans, and 10 with the New York Gothams/Giants. He was very successful with an effective curveball, a change of pace, and a version of the screwball. During his 13 major league seasons, he posted 20 or more wins nine times, seven in succession.
“Smiling Mickey” Welch earned his name because of his nonchalant smile that never dimmed no matter how many errors his teammates made behind him. He attributed his remarkable pitching success to drinking beer. He even coined a short ditty that embodied his philosophy: “Pure elixir of malt and hops/Beats all the drugs and all the drops.” Welch was born Michael Francis Walsh. He later adopted the last name Welch. The name change may have been spurred by a sportswriter’s mistaken recording of the name in a box score. The new last name may have distinguished him from the high number of men in Brooklyn at the time named Michael Walsh. Off the baseball field, Welch used his birth name throughout his life
His real name was actually Michael Walsh and he was born of Irish parents on the fourth of July 1859. At the time of his birth there was no place in America that was more fanatical about the new sport than Brooklyn. A Greenpoint team, The Eckford Club, would win two national championships in the Civil War years and the first fully enclosed baseball ground, The Union Grounds. Kids all over Brooklyn were playing the game in sandlots and Welch became a students of the game at an early age.
Welch stood only five eight and was no power pitcher. He threw underhand and had his success because he was a student of the game who mastered batters strengths and weaknesses and pitched smartly. Welch said, “I was a little fellow and I had to learn to use my head. I studied the hitters and knew how to pitch to all of them and I worked hard to perfect my control. I had a pretty good fastball, but I depended on my change of pace and an assortment of curveballs.”
Some claim that the curveball was invented in Wiliamsburg in 1867 by local pitcher Candy Cummings who is also enshrined in the Hall of Fame for his invention of the curve ball. Others claim that they invented the pitch, though. Controversy aside, Welch became a master of the curve and it propelled him into the majors.
Welch made his professional debut in 1878 with Auburn in the minor-league National Association. The following year, he was with Holyoke in the same circuit. Hired by the Troy Trojans of the National League for the 1880 season, Mickey was installed as the team’s ace pitcher.
Welch came through with 34 wins in 64 starts and 574 innings as a rookie. Despite his extraordinary yearling season, Mickey was replaced as Troy’s ace the following year by Tim Keefe.
After again playing second fiddle to Keefe in 1882, Welch regained his status as the club’s No. 1 pitcher when Troy moved to New York for the 1883 season and Keefe was shifted from Gotham’s National League franchise to the New York Metropolitans of the American Association.
To Welch fell the honor of pitching the first game for the home team in the original Polo Grounds. The forerunner of the New York Giants got full value from Mickey, a 25-game winner in 1883 and a 39-game winner the next season.
In 1885, when Keefe returned to the club from the Metropolitans, the pair won 76 games between them, with Welch contributing 44 victories. The New Yorkers were unable to garner a flag until 1888. Welch netted 26 wins for the pennant winners, then another 27 victories a year later, when the Giants repeated as champions by capturing the title on the last day of the season in the closest pennant race in history to that point.
With most of the leading stars gone to the Players League in 1890, Welch toppled to just 17 wins. Used sparingly the following season, he started only 15 games, winning six and losing nine. After being knocked out of the box in an early-season start in 1892, Mickey was shipped to Troy in the Eastern League. Despite his 308 career wins, he was neglected by Hall of Fame voters until the Veterans Committee named him for enshrinement in 1973.