This article was written by Chris Rainey
The most dramatic event of Ollie Welf’s baseball career came as an amateur. He had his Kirk Gibson moment more than eight decades before that celebrated blast off Dennis Eckersley. Cleveland amateur championships drew crowds the size of World Series games in the early 1900s. That was certainly true on September 12, 1915, when the Stinchcomb Engineers faced off with the White Autos at Brookside Park. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 35,000-75,000 fans. The crowd might have been larger except for unusually hot weather.
The Engineers were at a disadvantage because their star outfielder, Welf, had injured his leg just a few days earlier and would not be in the starting lineup. In the ninth inning, down 3-0, Welf was sent to the plate to try to ignite a rally. He drove the ball to deep center field and “dragging his crippled right leg after his sound left limb, painfully limped to first. Gritting his teeth to keep his nerve he rounded first . . . every moment spectators thought Welf would collapse. No, he kept straight on to second” and beat the throw from center.1 Hollywood knows how to handle an opening like that, but this was the real world: the Engineers failed to capitalize on Welf’s heroics.
Oliver Henry Welf was born on January 17, 1889, in Cleveland, Ohio, the third son born to Henry and Emma (Kindsvater) Welf. Henry had come to the United States from Germany and settled in Cleveland where he opened a jewelry store with his brother Joseph. The brothers eventually parted company, and Joseph ran Welf and Sons Jewelry while Henry ran his own shop a few blocks away.
Henry Welf was never a politician, but he was involved in community affairs. He was also an active member of the Elks. Oliver attended public schools, and when the school district redrew their boundaries he was assigned to Glenville High School. He was involved in numerous clubs and activities at the school including being the star pitcher and outfielder for the baseball team.
Young Ollie grew to 5-foot, 9-inches in height and weighed 160 pounds. He was a left-handed thrower who batted right-handed. In high school his most impressive performance came against Shaw High School on April 17, 1907. In an 11-inning complete game victory he struck out 20 batters and won 6-5. After Shaw had taken the lead on seven hits in the first five innings and some shoddy fielding by Glenville, Welf struck out the side in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. After graduating from high school, Welf attended Ohio State University in Columbus. He earned his degree from the College of Agriculture as a veterinary. He specialized in horses.2
In the summers, Welf could be found on the ball fields. In 1908 he signed with the Lancaster Red Roses of the Tri-State League. He spent the pre-season with the team and saw plenty of exhibition action on the mound. After closing out a 7-0 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics on March 30, management decided he was not ready for the jump from sandlot to Class B and sent him to the independent Mt. Carmel, PA, Athletic Club. He spent part of the season with them before returning to Cleveland.
Lave Cross managed the Shamokin, PA, team in the independent Atlantic League. His team had won the title in 1908, but his entire roster had signed elsewhere for 1909. Cross lived in Cleveland and signed Welf to play for him as a pitcher and outfielder. Welf was on the mound June 19 when the Allentown club rallied for five runs in the seventh to claim victory. The next day, without giving a reason, Cross resigned as manager and returned to Cleveland. The victory was Allentown’s eighth straight and pulled them closer to second-place Shamokin.3
Welf (who appeared as “Wolf” most of the time in newspapers) struggled but took his turn in the rotation every time, even after Cross’s resignation. The team put out a call for a third baseman and manager and hoped to be at full strength by July 4th. It did manage to fill its holes, but the league disbanded on July 21 with Shamokin in the middle of the standings.
Welf was invited to spring training with the double-A Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association in 1910. His first action came March 24 against the yannigans of the Philadelphia Athletics. Facing Stuffy McInnis, Jack Lapp, and others,he struggled with his control. He walked 10 and threw two wild pitches while surrendering all the runs in a 7-2 loss. He returned to the hill two days later against the young A’s. This time he walked six but did not give up any hits for the 3-1 win. The headline from Grantland Rice read “Welf Recovers and We Win.” He struck out four and scored the third run after his single in the eighth.4
On April 10 he was sent to the Greenwood, Mississippi, Chauffeurs of the Class D Cotton States League. He played outfield and was part of a strong rotation. Welf had a decent fast ball that he augmented with two curveballs. His slow curve was his most effective pitch. His first pitching start came on May 17 when he beat Hattiesburg 6-1. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out seven. Just 21, he still struggled with inconsistency. He might walk seven in one game and then pitch a masterpiece like he did on July 21when he allowed Meridian only two hits and a run. At the plate he banged out three hits but was left stranded every time in a 1-0 loss. The Chauffeurs captured the pennant over Jackson, Mississippi. Welf closed out the year with a 16-7 record on the hill. He batted .167, which still beat out about 20 players in the league.5
Welf headed south again in 1911. Orth Collins took over as manager for Greenwood, now called Scouts. Welf and pitcher Lee Verneulle were the only pitching holdovers. The lineup was almost all new men. The team struggled and Welf pitched close games without much hitting support. His best performance came in a 4-4 tie with Meridian. He pitched 12 innings and struck out 15 while walking only two. At the plate he went 3-for-4 with a double.
Released in late May, he was picked up by Meridian. With them he had an extra long day on June 11 when he was pressed into service as the umpire for both games of a double header between Meridian and Hattiesburg. His team closed out the season in last place just below Greenwood. Welf posted a 5-10 mark on the hill. At the plate he hit .219 with 19 doubles, 3 triples, and 4 home runs according to the 1912 Reach Baseball Guide.
Welf returned to the Cotton States League in 1912 with the Hattiesburg Timberjacks (aka Woodpeckers). The league had changed dramatically. In 1911 only seven batters in the league hit over .300. The Hattiesburg franchise (which had moved to Columbus, Mississippi, after Welf’s release) had four .300 hitters on its roster. Unfortunately, none of this rubbed off on Welf. He was hitting .143 when he was released on May 3.6
When the Meridian Metropolitans of the Cotton States League gathered in the home town on March 18, 1913, for the start of spring training, Welf joined the team as an outfielder and relief pitcher. Carlos Smith, who had hit .401 and .349 the previous two seasons, managed the team. The season opened on April 10 with a 3-2 win over Columbus. Welf banged a single, stole a base, and scored a run batting in the three-hole. Welf played left and right field and continued to hit third in the lineup. On May 1, he was batting .272, a marked improvement from his then career average of .191. Meridian struggled, and on June 3, the team sold Carlos Smith to Clarksdale (he would go on to lead the league in batting) and suspended Welf for reasons unknown. Ollie left the team after 43 games with a .220 batting average and 14 stolen bases. That raised his career average to .205 (150-for-730). Box scores showed no pitching appearances, nor do league stats for pitchers published in Jackson Daily News or the 1914 Reach Baseball Guide.7
Welf then returned to the Cleveland baseball scene. In 1916 he joined the Tellings Strollers in the city league. In August the Indians announced that they would offer try outs to selected local players. Lee Fohl told writers that Welf would be the first. He joined the team for their eastern swing which departed on August 16. He watched and learned until August 30 when he finally got into a game.8
The Indians were down 3-1 to the Senators with two outs in the ninth. Catcher Bob Coleman was sent to pinch-hit for Stan Coveleskie and singled; Welf was sent to pinch-run for him. The next batter, Jack Graney, lofted a fly to left to end the game. As Howie Shanks closed his glove around the ball, Ollie Welf’s major-league career came to an end. Two other Indians that year got into just an inning of action, but they were pitchers and tossed an inning each. Poor Welf was on the field for one-third of an inning, less than two minutes.
He returned to the city league in 1917, this time with the White Autos whom he stayed with until he enlisted in June 1918. After basic training he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Veterinary Corps and stationed in Charleston, SC, for the duration and beyond. He was given his discharge on May 20, 1919.
Upon his return from uniform, he opened his veterinary practice in Mantua, OH, in Portage County about 35 miles southeast of Cleveland. On June 23, 1920, he married Josephine Lausche, the sister of one of his teammates, and a rather distinguished teammate at that. Josephine’s brother Frank Lausche would eventually serve as Cleveland’s mayor, Ohio’s governor, and senator. The couple welcomed their only child, Oliver Henry Welf Jr. on July 27, 1921.
During the 1920s Ollie studied at the John Marshall School of Law (which has since been absorbed into the Cleveland State University system) and passed the bar. By 1930 he was serving as counsel for the workman’s compensation division of the state’s industrial commission.9 He eventually served 36 years in that capacity. After the family moved back to the city, his son Ollie, Jr. attended Glenville High School A gifted athlete, he went on to become captain of the baseball team at Denison University. He served with the 27th Infantry Division on Okinawa during the Second World War. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a lawyer, and thanks to his connections with the Democratic Party hierarchy, he was appointed to various political positions before his death in 1964.
Ollie and Josephine moved to the suburbs of Euclid, Ohio, where they both were involved with community affairs and Josephine was active in the Catholic church. Ollie Welf passed away on June 15, 1967 at the age of 78. He is buried in the Lake View Cemetery, which is also the resting place of Ray Chapman and other Cleveland baseball notables.10
This biography was reviewed by Tom Schott and verified by the BioProject fact-checking team.
1 C.L.Kirkpatrick, “Ollie Welf Real Hero of Contest; Incident of Big Game at Brookside,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 13, 1915: 11.
2 “Central Loses to St. Ignatius,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 18, 1907: 7.
3 “Lave Cross Resigns,” The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), June 21, 1909: 5.
4 “First Game to Yannigans,” The Tennessean (Nashville), March 25, 1910: 5; Grantland Rice, “Welf Recovers and We Win,” The Tennessean, March 27, 1910: 6.
5 “Greenwood Wins Easy Walkover,” The Commonwealth (Greenwood, Mississippi), May 20, 1910: 3.
6 “Welf and Brooks are Released,” Hattiesburg News, May 3, 1912: 4. On Welf’s Hall of Fame questionnaire his wife mentions that he played for Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in the independent Ohio-Indiana League and St. Thomas in the Canadian League. No years were mentioned, and a search of newspapers and baseball-reference.com offer no clues when he might have been with those teams. In which case, 1912 may well have been the year.
7 “Only One Game in Cotton States League,” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), April 11, 1913: 6; “Cotton States Batting and Fielding Averages,” Jackson (Mississippi) Daily News, June 21, 1913: should be noted that baseball-reference lists himwith one appearance.
8 Ed Bang, “Cleveland Still in the Race,” Sporting Life, August 19, 1916: 9.
9 “Oliver H. Welf, Sr., 78, Ohio Ex-Aide Dies,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 16, 1967: 38.
10Marc Bona, “9 Famous Baseball Graves in Lake View Cemetery,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 25, 2018. Accessed online at cleveland.com. Some sources erroneously put his grave at Calvary Cemetery. That is the resting place of Josephine and their son.