R.I.P. to Milt Welch, a catcher who played in one game for the Detroit Tigers in 1945. He died on Feb. 9 in Eugene, Ore. at the age of 94. At the time of his death, he was the 17th oldest baseball player.
Milton Welch was born on July 26, 1924 in Farmerville, Ill., along with his twin brother Melvin (who had a brief minor-league career of his own). Following his graduation from high school, he signed a contract to play pro ball. He made his debut with the Lockport (N.Y.) Cubs of the Pony League in 1943. Welch was a capable backstop for the team, batting .284 and catching 100 of the club’s 110 games. In the offseason, he worked in Wisconsin Rapids for the Prentiss-Wabers Mfg. Co., which made lamps, lanterns and heaters. The company actually had two future major-leaguers working there at the time. Welch’s Lockport teammate, Jim Delsing, was an employee too, before embarking on a long MLB career of his own.
Welch spent 1944 playing for the Hagerstown (Md.) Owls and performing well once more. He batted over .300 and hit 4 home runs in 129 games. One local columnist praised his rifle throws to second base and compared him favorably to old-timers Ray Schalk and Johnny Kling behind the plate. The same column also mentioned he was 4-F in the draft, though the reasons weren’t specified, so he didn’t have to worry about the draft. That classification helped him get to the major leagues in 1945.
The 1945 Detroit Tigers would of course go on to win the World Series over the Chicago Cubs. One Spring Training report noted that the Tigers had collected 10 4-F players, including pitchers Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout and regulars Jimmy Outlaw, Paul Richards and Skeeter Webb. That also had 10 veterans and a handful of underage and overage players. It’s an interesting look at how teams during World War II scrambled to fill their rosters. Welch was originally ticketed for Buffalo of the International League, but the Tigers kept him around as a bullpen catcher, according to his SABR bio. He didn’t get into an actual game until June 5.
The Tigers were in Cleveland that day, and the Indians’ Red Embree shut down their offense, allowing just 6 hits. The Tribe would go on to win 9-0, and manager Steve O’Neill threw some of his untested rookies into the game. Welch replaced Paul Richards as catcher, and he caught 17-year-old Art Houtteman and 18-year-old Billy Pierce, who had just made his MLB debut a few days prior. Welch went 0-for-2 with a strikeout at the plate, and he was flawless in 4 chances behind the plate, with a 50% success rate at throwing out baserunners.
As the season wore on, returning veteran ballplayers came back to the majors, and Welch and the other kids on the team were sent to the minor leagues. Welch struggled in Buffalo, where he hit .181. He played for two more seasons for Danville in the Carolina League before calling it quite at the age of 22. He hit .271 in his 5 seasons in the minors with 9 home runs.
Welch co-owned a men’s clothing store after his baseball days and then became a sales representative for H.D. Lee and Levi Strauss. He won a National Salesman of the Year Award while working for Strauss. He and his family lived in South Dakota, Montana, Texas, California and Oregon, where they settled in Eugene.