Grave Story: Tony Welzer

Here lies Tony Welzer, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox in 1926-7. He is one of 42 players born in Germany to play in the major leagues, though he was of Polish descent. He is also one of countless Red Sox pitchers who hated playing the Yankees.

He was born Anton Frank Wleczek on April 5, 1899. According to his 1961 naturalization records, he and his family came to the United States on the SS Barbarossa on July 30, 1903. Arriving in New York City, they moved out to Milwaukee, where Welzer grew up. Unlike many of the Milwaukee boys who grew into baseball players, Welzer never pitched for a local team professionally. Instead, he made his debut in Muskegon, Mich. in 1922. He spent three seasons pitching there and averaged 15 wins a season. He also showed off a little power, clubbing 400-foot home run in a practice game in 1923. Nobody had managed that feat before Welzer’s bomb. He then went to the Mobile Bears of the Southern League in 1925 and went 14-13 with a 3.76 ERA in 41 games. His contract was purchased by the Red Sox in September of that year, and he debuted in the majors the following season.

Starting in March 1926, the Boston papers started reporting about 25-year-old prospect Welzer (who was actually closer to 27, but he was hardly the first ballplayer to lie about his age). “Reports from the South indicate Tony is a promising candidate for big league twirling honors,” the Boston Globe teased.

Tony Welzer pic
Source: The Boston Globe, March 1, 1926.

Welzer tossed a scoreless inning in relief against the Yankees on April 13 for his MLB debut. In his second game, Welzer threw 7 innings of 1-run, 4-hit ball against the Yankees in a relief appearance. “Tony Welzer looked better than [Herb] Pennock—and ought to win many a game,” the Globe rather optimistically proclaimed. The Yankees would pay him back in his first start, though. They knocked him out after 5-1/3 innings on April 22, after Welzer gave up 5 runs on 12 hits.

For 1926, Welzer pitched in 39 games, with 5 starts. He ended up with a 4-3 record and 4.86 ERA, walking 53 batters while striking out 29. His best outing of the year was a 5-hit 4-0 shutout against the St. Louis Browns on August 17 in Game 2 of a doubleheader. He also walked 5 batters in the game but coaxed the Browns to his into four double plays.

Welzer again was in the swingman role in 1927, with 19 starts for the Sox and 18 relief appearances. He fared better as a reliever, with a fine 3.62 ERA and 2 saves. As a starter though, he went 5-9 with a 5.04 ERA and a 1.709 WHIP. Batters hit .325 off him as a starter versus .292 out of the bullpen. All total, he had a 6-11 record and 4.72 ERA. The Red Sox cast him off after the season, leaving with career MLB totals of a 10-14 record, 4.78 ERA, 124 walks and 85 strikeouts. He allowed 15 home runs in 310-2/3 innings. His ERA + was 87, which means that relative to other pitchers in this lively ball era, his ERA was still below average.

Welzer did participate in a bit of baseball history, as he surrendered home runs number 43, 45 and 46 (the latter two in the same game) to Babe Ruth during his record-setting 60-homer season. “A ball hardly could be propelled farther by a cannon,” reported the Daily News about the first blast.

If Welzer never had to face the Yankees, he might have stuck around longer. The same could be said for quite a few pitchers in the 1920s and ‘30s, of course, but Welzer was hammered by Ruth (.353 average, 3 home runs), Lou Gehrig (.333, 2), Tony Lazzeri (.368, 1) and Bob Meusel (.688 – yes, 11 hits in 16 at-bats).

Welzer returned to Mobile in 1928 and was a 17-game winner for the Bears, with a career-low 3.35 ERA. That number rose up to 4.73 in 1929, when he was with the Louisville Colonels. He did throw a beauty of a shutout for the Colonals, with the only hit off of him being a 7th inning double. He won 17 games for Memphis in 1930, but he surrendered 246 hits in 135 innings for a 4.78 ERA. His last professional season came in 1932 with the Binghamton Triplets of the New York-Pennsylvania League. In his 9 seasons in the minors, he won 115 games and lost 109 with a 3.96 ERA.

Welzer wasn’t done with baseball just yet. He played in the Wisconsin State League in 1933, signing with the Sheboygan Chairs, along with former Cubs slugger Mandy Brooks. It’s not exactly a team name that strikes fear into the heart of their opponents, is it? Before becoming a Chair, Welzer was pitching for a team called the Verifine Ice Creams, so I suppose it was somewhat of a step up. Welzer pitched for a team in Oshkosh in 1934, and that was the last instance I could find of him playing anywhere. His name did come up frequently in 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were making a run at Ruth’s record of 60 homers. A good number of columnists, in an attempt to boost Mantle and Maris in the national spotlight, pointed out that many of the pitchers that surrendered Ruth’s round-trippers just weren’t very good. They had a point; the 33 pitchers who gave up homers to Ruth had a combined 346-371 won-loss record. I’m sure Welzer, if he was reading the papers, just loved being lumped into a category of “loser” Red Sox pitchers who were abused by the Babe.

Welzer married his wife Mae on October 26, 1935, and they were married for 23 years before her death on February 8, 1956. There is an odd news item from 1940 in which Welzer was named in an eviction suit filed by his mother, Mary. The Green Bay Press Gazette states that Welzer agreed to rent an apartment from his mother in 1938 for $20, but he never paid rent and refused to move. Mrs. Wleczek claimed that her son struck her when she asked for the rent money. I can’t find a resolution to the case, but it would have been Welzer’s second run-in with the law. Back in 1929, while with Louisville, Welzer struck and killed a man with his car. He was released without charges and said that the man stepped into the path of his car after leaving a roadhouse.

Tony Welzer became a machine operator following his baseball days and retired as an employee for International Harvester. He died on March 16, 1971 after a brief illness. He was 71 years old. Welzer is buried in St. Adalbert Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wis.

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