November 26, 2014

The Life and Death of Carl Weilman

January 10, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Carl Weilman had about as unlikely a major-league career as one could expect.

First, he was the son of a Swiss immigrant who wanted his son to have nothing to do with baseball. “I used to get more lickings and miss more meals on account of scrub baseball than any other kid in the United States,” Weilman once remarked.

But Weilman wasn’t deterred. He had three minor-league tryouts, and each time was sent home in quick fashion. Each time he’d return home to work with his father as a machinist, but he’d always be bitten by the baseball bug and try yet again to play the sport. Again, this was not the surest path to the majors.

At one point, the foreman of the company told Weilman (whose name was actually Weilenmann) that he was not wanted as he had “too much baseball on the brain.” Weilman managed to hook up with a semi-pro team, then in 1912 with Maysville of the Blue Grass League. Three years earlier, Weilman had his first minor-league opportunity with Richmond in the same league, but was let go after just three days.

This time, his stay in the Blue Grass League was a little longer. He was finished in July, but only because he was sold to the St. Louis Browns.

At nearly 6-foot-6, Weilman towered above his peers. He also displayed the control which would mark his career (2.5 BB/9 IP), walking just three batters in 49.1 innings pitched in 1912.

Another interesting aspect of Weilman’s eight-year career was that he spent the duration with the St. Louis Browns – yet another different path.

Weilman’s career record was just 85-95, but his career ERA was 2.67. Having what the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described as “a slow ball that equals anyone in the American League,” Weilman  finished sixth in ERA in 1914 (2.06), seventh in 1916 (2.15) and third in 1919 (2.07).

One team Weilman had particular success against was the Detroit Tigers, against whom he went 13-4 from 1914-16. Late in his career, Ty Cobb said the left-handed Weilman was the “pitcher who always gave me the most trouble.”

Weilman was known for one more thing during his playing days – he was the first player to strike out six times in one game. He accomplished this July 25, 1913 in an 8-8, 15-inning tie against Washington.

Of his rough start to making it to the majors, Weilman said: “They say a poor beginning makes a good ending. My beginning was poor enough, and here’s hoping the ending is just as far on the other side. Baseball is uncertain, but the luck evens up pretty well in the long run.”

Unfortunately for Weilman, he was struck with some bad luck. In May 1917, Weilman had to have a kidney removed. He pitched in only five games that season and missed all of 1918. Yet, he remained upbeat.

“When accidents and sickness took their toll and Weilenmann’s name was stricken from the active playing list, he returned to us the same cheerful affable fellow that he was when he left,” wrote the Hamilton Evening Journal. “Egotism was something about which he knew nothing and the fact that he was a ‘big leaguer’ never affected him.”

Weilman would return in 1919 and post a 10-6 record with a 2.07 ERA, but in 1920 he slipped to 9-13 and 4.47.  He was through as a baseball player. The 1920 census lists Carl Weilenmann as a machinist; no doubt he went back to working with his father.

However, in 1921 he was offered a job as scout by the  Browns, and thus his baseball career resumed in a different manner.

He remained in that job and would go to spring training with the Browns, helping out as a coach. In 1924, he was sidelined with what was called a “strange form of influenza.” When the team returned to St. Louis, Weilman was sent home to Hamilton, Ohio and rested for 10 days.

Seemingly well again, Weilman departed for a scouting trip to Bay City, Michigan, but once again he fell ill and returned home May 19. On May 23, while at home, Weilman collapsed and was sent to nearby Mercy Hospital. Twenty-four hours later his condition worsened and at 12:20 a.m. on Sun., May 25, Weilman died at the age of 34, “dying without pain and with the same calm attitude which had marked his career on earth.”

The Hamilton Evening Journal expressed the shock of Weilman’s death, writing “He gave his life for the game he loved. His death is that of a martyr for baseball. All Hamilton mourns his passing and every ball player who knew him will always carry a tender thought for Carl Weilenmann.”

Browns manager, first baseman and general face of the ballclub George Sisler wired a letter to the Hamilton Evening Journal expressing his condolences. He wrote:

“It was with real, genuine regret that we hear this morning that Carl Weilman had passed away. It is hard to believe when only two months ago he was with us down south, keeping everyone in good humor and inspiring everyone to do better work. Carl forgot about himself in an effort to help others do well. To all of us he meant much more than a fellow baseball player. He stood for something more than baseball to us. To people who did not have the good fortune to know him he probably was known as a winning pitcher or a good baseball player but to us who really knew him he represented much more than that. He was ever uncomplaining regardless of what happened to him. He was a genuine real friend who was a help to all who knew him. It is useless to say that he was a credit to baseball because he would have been a credit to any profession he might have chosen. His friends are very sorry of his death but the memory of the fine things he stood for will be a constant help in all of us who knew him. The things he represented are good and eternal and will never be forgotten.”

Other letters of condolence poured in to Weilman’s family – he left a wife, Lucy, whom he married in 1914, and a daughter, as well as his parents, five sisters and a brother – including those from teammate Jimmy Austin and former Browns managers Jimmy Burke and Lee Fohl. Austin would also travel to Hamilton for the May 29 funeral.

Unfortunately, operations and medical services tapped the Weilman savings over the years. So on Sept. 1, the Browns announced they would hold a benefit game for Weilman’s family, who were in need of “thousands of dollars to meet a debt.” This game would be different from other benefit games, though, in that it would be played by scouts – Weilman’s final profession. It was announced that tickets for major league players would be sold for $5.50, minor leaguers for $2.20 and the general public for $1.10.

Originally it was announced that the game would be one scout team versus another, but when the game was played – Sept. 26 at Sportsman’s Park – it was a team of scouts against the Browns.

The scouts would win the game 11-5 – the St. Louis Globe-Democrat calling it a “farcical event” – and ended after eight innings when the megaphoned announcer declared it was called “on account of weakness.”

The day wasn’t without its highlights, though. Prior to the contest, there were displays of fungo hitting, distance throwing and races, and two amateur boxers staged a four-round exhibition. Throughout, “Brown’s quartet and Johnny Adams’ trio furnished several snappy song hits.”

On the team for the scouts were Austin, Burke, Pat Monahan of the Browns, Otto Williams of the Tigers, Joe Sugden of the Cardinals, Jack Ryan of the Red Sox and Bill Friel, the Browns’ business manager. In addition, 65-year-old St. Louis native Theordore Breitenstein, who pitched for the American Association’s and National League’s Browns as well as the Cincinnati Reds, hurled three innings.

The Browns had fun with the game, too. In the third inning, all their left-handed hitters batted righty and vice-versa. In the fifth, the team let easy fly ball land over their heads, giving extra bases to the scouts. The Browns put outfielders into the infield (Johnny Tobin played first base, Baby Doll Jacobson second and Ken Williams third), and infielders in the outfield. Pitcher Elam Vangilder manned shortstop for a time as well.

Sisler played every infield position and got the fans in a good mood when he took the mound in the seventh inning. However, he walked two batters and hit another (and also struck out one) and Gene Robertson, the Browns’ third baseman, took his manager out in favor of catcher Pat Collins, who displayed a spitball.

The Globe-Democrat said about 1,500 fans attended, yet The Sporting News reported that Weilman’s widow was given $5,000, which was much-needed as a mortgage payment was due, and she would have been unable to pay it otherwise.

As the Hamilton Evening Journal declared, baseball was Weilman’s life. And in the end, the game ended up paying him back.

Comments

4 Responses to “The Life and Death of Carl Weilman”
  1. DS says:

    Thanks for this – Weilman was a good pitcher, but I hadn’t found any information on him before I read this article.

  2. Dave says:

    What a great story. I am married to the great, great grand daughter of Carl. We just recently lost Carl’s daughter Mary in 2011. It took some searching, but we were lucky enough to find one of his baseball cards. I had never heard the story of the charity baseball game.

    Thanks

  3. Don says:

    Uncle John seemed like a myth, mentioned a few times as I was growing up. Thanks for the story. It’s wonderful to have learned of his success as a ballplayer and as a person.

  4. David Starr says:

    My grandmother (Alma) was one of Uncle Carl’s sisters and often lovingly spoke about him and his career with the St Louis Browns. It’s perhaps the reason she was a life long baseball fan. Of the seven Weilenmann children I only remember her talking about Uncle Carl and Aunt Rose. I wish I had paid more attention growing up. Locally, Carl was known as ‘Legs Weilenmann’. Reportedly, at 6′-6″, as a batter that all you saw.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!