The Life and Death of Carl Weilman
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. â€œI used to get more lickings and miss more meals on account of scrub baseball than any other kid in the United States,â€ Weilman once remarked.
But Weilman wasnâ€™t deterred. He had three minor-league tryouts, and each time was sent home in quick fashion. Each time heâ€™d return home to work with his father as a machinist, but heâ€™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 â€œtoo much baseball on the brain.â€ 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 Weilmanâ€™s eight-year career was that he spent the duration with the St. Louis Browns â€“ yet another different path.
Weilmanâ€™s career record was just 85-95, but his career ERA was 2.67. Having what the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described as â€œa slow ball that equals anyone in the American League,â€ Weilman Â 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 â€œpitcher who always gave me the most trouble.â€
Weilman was known for one more thing during his playing days â€“ 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: â€œThey say a poor beginning makes a good ending. My beginning was poor enough, and hereâ€™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.â€
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.
â€œWhen accidents and sickness took their toll and Weilenmannâ€™s name was stricken from the active playing list, he returned to us the same cheerful affable fellow that he was when he left,â€ wrote the Hamilton Evening Journal. â€œEgotism was something about which he knew nothing and the fact that he was a ‘big leaguer’ never affected him.â€
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. Â 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 theÂ 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 â€œstrange form of influenza.â€ 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, â€œdying without pain and with the same calm attitude which had marked his career on earth.â€
The Hamilton Evening Journal expressed the shock of Weilmanâ€™s death, writing â€œHe 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.â€
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:
â€œIt 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.â€
Other letters of condolence poured in to Weilmanâ€™s family â€“ he left a wife, Lucy, whom he married in 1914, and a daughter, as well as his parents, five sisters and a brother â€“ 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 â€œthousands of dollars to meet a debt.â€ This game would be different from other benefit games, though, in that it would be played by scouts â€“ Weilmanâ€™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 â€“ Sept. 26 at Sportsmanâ€™s Park â€“ it was a team of scouts against the Browns.
The scouts would win the game 11-5 â€“ the St. Louis Globe-Democrat calling it a â€œfarcical eventâ€ â€“ and ended after eight innings when the megaphoned announcer declared it was called â€œon account of weakness.â€
The day wasnâ€™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, â€œBrownâ€™s quartet and Johnny Adamsâ€™ trio furnished several snappy song hits.â€
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 Brownsâ€™ business manager. In addition, 65-year-old St. Louis native Theordore Breitenstein, who pitched for the American Associationâ€™s and National Leagueâ€™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 Brownsâ€™ 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 Weilmanâ€™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 Weilmanâ€™s life. And in the end, the game ended up paying him back.