Outfielder Frank Welch played 723 major-league games for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1919 through 1926, before spending part of one final season (and only 15 games) with the 1927 Boston Red Sox as the coda to his time in the big leagues. He played in the minors into the 1935 season.
Welch was a 5-foot-9, 175-pound Alabaman who batted right-handed and threw right-handed, too. He was born in Birmingham on August 10, 1897, to dairyman Frank Welch and Minnie L. Welch. The couple already had five children when they welcomed young Frank into the world: Conrad, Oscar, Paul, Mary, and Bessie. James followed later, per the 1900 census, though he may have died. He was no longer in the family come 1910, but they had been joined by younger children Alice and Jessie.1
Conrad Welch pitched professionally when Frank was still a young boy, and began his career in impressive fashion with a 24-10 season for Savannah in the South Atlantic League in 1904. Arm troubles prevented him from making it to the majors, though his contract had been sold to Brooklyn.2 After 1907, he gave up the game.
Young Frank went to Martin Elementary School for eight years and then Central High School for four. He started his professional career with the South Atlantic League's Augusta Tourists in 1916. That year he played for both Augusta and Albany, both in the Sally League. He was in a combined 48 games and showed a league batting average of .263. A "bad hand" early in the season cost him the opportunity to play more.3 The South Atlantic League was Class-C baseball. In 1917, he played in 28 games for Macon (.330) but America had entered the World War and he went into the United States Army. Welch rejoined baseball in 1919, playing in an even 50 games for the Virginia League's Norfolk Mary Janes. He hit .303. But he quit the team in early July "because, he said, he could not live on the salary that club paid him."4 Welch played semipro ball in Albany, Georgia that July and August.
Welch's contract was sold on September 2 to Connie Mack's Athletics. His first game was on September 9, 1919, at Shibe Park, a 4-3 win over the Tigers in which he played center field, a game with six recruits in the lineup. Welch homered his second time up, for his first major-league hit. It was a "vehement home run wallop into the left field bleachers, and that's big league stuff," wrote Edgar Wolfe (under his Jim Nasium pen name) in the Philadelphia Inquirer.5 Newspapers around the country, and in Philadelphia, were spelling his name as "Welsh" at the time. He hit another homer, as part of a 3-for-5 day, on September 15. He got into 15 games and accumulated 54 at-bats, but only nine hits in all (.167).
He'd nonetheless made a sufficiently good impression and by the midway point of 1920 spring training, the Inquirer's James Isaminger wrote, "It is going to be hard to keep Frank Welsh out of the garden."6
The Athletics needed help badly. After winning the American League pennant in 1914 (their fourth in a five-year span), they plunged to eighth place–last place–and had been there for five consecutive years. (As it happens, they would finish last yet again in 1920 and 1921 before beginning to crawl out of the cellar.)
Welch played in an even 100 games in 1920, batting .258, with an on-base percentage of .312. He hit four homers (all in July) and drove in 40 runs (20 of them in July). He scored 43 runs. Welch’s fielding undermined his game some. He had been out of the lineup for a couple weeks before appearing in a September 6 game versus the Yankees. But in this game he fumbled a ball, prompting catcher Cy Perkins to throw up his hands "in dismay" and yell, "I'm through."7 Mack didn’t play Welch again during the season, and the outfielder finished with a fielding percentage of only .937.
Welch got another chance in 1921 and made good–working in 115 games and boosting his batting average to .285 (.347 OBP). In the Athletics’ second game of the season, against the Yankees on April 14, he hit safely three times, his ninth-inning single drove in the tying run, and then he scored the winning run minutes later. Welch got a little less work in the final two months, but played consistently throughout the year. He homered seven times and drove in 45, and hit .400 as a pinch hitter.
He was never a spectacular player, rarely in the headlines and with a batting average that hovered around the team average throughout most of his years with the A's. His outfield play gradually improved, with his fielding percentage rising every year from 1920 through 1924, when it was .985. Welch appeared in 114 games in 1922 (just one less than in 1921). His average dropped to .259 (.335 OBP), though he drove in 49 runs, thanks in part to 11 home runs. The team finished in seventh place.
Welch's best year came in 1923, and the Athletics bumped up to sixth place. Offensively, he set career highs in games played (125), batting average (.297), RBIs (55), and runs scored (56). He helped beat the Yankees in back-to-back games, driving in the only run of the game in the ninth inning of the May 24 game and homering the next day. In the August 18 game, he recorded eight putouts, unusually high for a right fielder. Over the wintertime, one writer suggested that "for two years Welch has given promise of developing into a star, but instead of getting somewhere has stood still. Possibly it's because he fails to take the game more seriously. Frank is the easy going disposition, it's all right with him whether he strikes out or hits a home run." The unbylined author quoted Connie Mack as saying Welch "hasn't arrived as yet. He lacks a certain something that would make him a much better player."8
He hit for a similar average in 1924 (.290), but with many fewer at-bats (293 in 94 games), and after August 18, all Welch did was pinch hit. He scored 47 runs but only drove in 31. His fielding percentage (.985) was the best of his career. There were reports over the winter that Mack was looking to trade him. But no deal was made. Welch was the last to sign for 1925. He appeared in 85 games and drove in 41, with a .277 average. In 1926, Welch hit a comparable .282 but only drove in 23 runs in 75 games. On December 9, his contract was sold to the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association.
Welch opened the season playing outfield and some infield for Atlanta, and he "upheld his Major league reputation."9
On July 11, the Boston Red Sox purchased his contract. Welch drove in a run his first time up, pinch-hitting on the 15th, another in the game on the 16th, and two more in a game on the 18th. Those were the only four runs he knocked in for the Red Sox. Welch was a pinch hitter in nine of the 15 games in which he appeared, but only hit .179. His last game in the majors was on August 13, when he drew a base on balls in his final plate appearance.
Welch's contract was sold to the Hollywood Stars over the winter but in early 1928 he was released; he was picked up by the San Francisco Seals on May 7. He played in 62 games in the Coast League, batting .292.
In 1929, his club was the Greenville Spinners in the South Atlantic League. It was Class B baseball and Welch hit .307 (and a league-leading 29 home runs, perhaps more than all the homers he'd hit in all prior seasons put together) in 143 games. In the Spinners outfield Welch was reunited with Tillie Walker and Frank Walker (the Spinners’ owner). The two (unrelated) Walkers had played alongside Welch in Philadelphia in the early 1920s.
Welch suffered what was described as a "sore hand" early in Greenville's spring training in 1930 and he couldn't recover in time. He was released on April 21.10
In 1931, he was named manager of the Middle Atlantic League (Class C) team in Beckley, West Virginia. Welch hit 38 homers for the Black Knights and hit .364 that season. His homers led the league, but the team finished in third place in a tight race, only three games out of first place.
Beckley and Charleston tied for first place in 1932, but Welch was traded to Atlanta during the season, leaving the Black Knights’ managing duties to Holt "Cat" Millner. For Welch, it was jump up two notches to Class A and his batting average fell nearly 100 points after arriving in Atlanta.
Welch was perhaps out of Organized Baseball for 1933 and 1934, but appeared in 28 games for Jackson Mississippians in 1935, in the East Dixie League. He hit .232. He apparently continued to play, for his son Francis Jack Welch claimed that Welch played ball into 1939. Frank had married Lois Dinkle in May 1918. After baseball, at the time of the 1940 census, Welch lived in Birmingham with his wife and son, working as a salesman for the Budweiser beer distributorship.
Frank Welch was living in Birmingham when he died of a heart attack on July 25, 1957.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Welch's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Census records may have been a little confused. Oscar and Paul were both reported as 12 years old in the 1910 census, but Oscar was said to have been born in October 1887 and Paul in April 1888, just seven months later. It was possible even in the late 1880s for a child born two months early to survive, but one wonders about the likelihood.
2 The Sporting News, February 15, 1964.
3 Augusta Chronicle, April 30, 1916.
4 Columbus (Georgia) Ledger, September 4, 1919.
5 Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 1919.
6 Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 1920.
7 New York Times, September 7, 1920.
8 Charleston (South Carolina) Evening Post, December 28, 1923, 15.
9 Augusta Chronicle, April 4, 1927.
10 Macon Telegraph, April 22, 1930.