When we last left our intrepid hero, Louisiana native and legendary Negro Leagues manager Winfield Welch, he was wrapping up his first season as the pilot of a major New Orleans team, the Black Pelicans, in 1930. That season ended in somewhat of a fizzle, with the Pels enduring a brutal trip to Bogalusa and a no-show in a home contest with the Houston Black Buffalos.
But Winfield regrouped in 1931, taking what was left of the previous campaign’s Black Pelicans and transforming them into his own squad, known as Welsh’s Travelers. (The Louisiana Weekly consistently misspelled his name early on in his career.)
Welch’s creation, however, didn’t put an end to either the Black Pels nor Welch’s connection to his former team. Entrepreneur A.L. Moss took over the Black Pelicans name as president of a whole new squad under that moniker — rights to the Black Pels name changed hands numerous times over the decades — by Welch and his Travelers continued to travel in the Pelicans bus from 1930.
The name Welsh’s Travelers was apparently bestowed upon Winfield’s 1931 aggregation by Earl Wright, sports editor of the Louisiana Weekly newspaper. The aggregation was led by a robust pitching rotation, paced by Boguille, “Iron Man” Moseley, “Black Diamond” Pipkin and our old friend “Iron Claw” Populus.
The Travelers quickly became one of the elite African-American barnstorming squads in the NOLA region, beginning with, ironically, a trip to Bogalusa, the site of an ugly confrontation with an allegedly “dirty” Bogalusan squad and a local, racist police officer.
After that 1930 contest, Welch indignantly declared, “We will be experiencing zero weather in July and August before I take a baseball team or any other aggregation to play against one representing Bogalusa in that town again.”
Welch’s umbrage with that troubling affair apparently didn’t last long, though — his Welsh’s Travelers began the 1931 campaign with an early April trip to … Bogalusa. The NOLA clan ended up splitting the resulting two-game series, dropping the first tilt 15-3 when the local squad, according to Wright, “knocked the cover off the ball” on hapless Travelers hurler Dickie Mathews over five innings.
Wright added that the Bogalusan “big bats did overtime duty and the Tigers shelled [Mathews] from the hill …” Travelers fireman “Squatter” Benjamin came in and stopped the bleeding, but it was too late.
The second contest, turned out to be a flip from the first one, with Welch’s clan turning the tables for a 12-8 triumph behind the batting prowess of Labat, going 6-for-6. A player named Muse starred in the field for the NOLA aggregation. Wrote Wright:
“Monday found ‘Red’ Boguille holding down Bogalusa and Welsh’s hirelings whanging the agate at a merry clip. They won this game, 12-8, and knocked Payton out of the box and worked on Laurent, something awful.”
“Whanging the agate at a merry clip.” Gorgeous early 1930s sportswriter prose. 🙂
But, most important, Welch found this jaunt to Bogalusa much more pleasant than the previous year. Scribbled Wright:
“The visiting team from New Orleans was well satisfied with the treatment accorded to it in Bogalusa.”
The Travelers’ performance up through that point seemed to impressed officials with the Texas-Louisiana Baseball League, who welcomed Welch’s squad into the fold in late April. The Travelers opened league play with a massively successful trip to Port Arthur, Texas, where they swept the locals in a three-game series.
From there, it was on to northeast Louisiana to face the Monroe Monarchs, a burgeoning Southern powerhouse. The Travelers didn’t fare very well, however, going 1-2 against the home squad. Boguille secured the visiting clan’s only triumph in the series.
The historical marker noting the location of the Monroe Monarchs’ famed Casino Park, where Winfield Welch’s teams would have played when they visited Monroe.
A month later, the Travelers rebounded by taking two of three from the Dallas Black Giants on the road, then again journeyed to Monroe to square off against the tough Monarchs, who had become something of a farm team for the big-time Kansas City Monarchs.
Welch’s bunch had better luck on this trip to northeast Louisiana, beating the host squad 4-3 in the first game of a twin bill and staying knotted at 0-0 in the second, rain-shortened clash.
The Louisiana Weekly contended that “Welsh’s Travelers [were] continuing their brilliant playing,” thanks partially to the influx of “five college men from various Southern institutions. They play fast baseball and when couple with the older heads … form a formidable nine.”
In late July, the Travelers took a 5-4 decision from the Corpus Christi Big Hits when Iron Claw Populus relieved his brother, Adam, the team’s starting twirler who got shelled early and often. The Claw plugged the leaks and guided his squad to the triumph.
Early August brought this result, reported the Weekly, which also had apparently renamed the squad yet again:
“‘Lucky’ Welsh’s Black Pelicans went a long way toward squaring the count with the Natchez Giants, or Coca-Colas as they’re known in some sections of Mississippi, by taking a pair of the three-game series played with the invaders Saturday and Sunday in Heineman Park.
“The two victories made up for for the pair the Pels dropped to the Giants in Natchez last week …”
Winning hurlers for the NOLA bunch were Iron Claw and “Lefty” Degree, while hard-luck Adam Populus took the only loss of the three-game set.
The following week, Welch’s squad engaged a local NOLA sandlot team, the Melpomene White Sox, in what turned out to be a contest divided into two distinct halves. The Sox maintained a somewhat surprising 5-3 lead into the seventh frame, but then the rechristened Black Pelicans went on an overwhelming hitting spree to cap off a 17-5 victory in the first game of a doubleheader despite a pair of controversial calls by the umpires.
The second contest … What can be said about the second contest other than, “Wow!” Twenty-two runs in two innings. That’s how badly the Welshmen spanked the hapless Sox. And that, apparently, is all they needed, because a Melpomene pitching change plugged the Pels up after the merciless barrage. Reported the Weekly:
“With a 22-0 score staring him in the face ‘Lefty Lee’ pitched like a fool and stopped the Birds dead in the midst of their barrage. They didn’t get a hit off him in the five innings he pitched, nor did a man reach second base.
“The Sox tried feebly to catch up with the Welshmen, even to the extent of raking up four runs in the second semester, but all to no avail. Welsh’s luck peice [sic] had seen to it that the left-handed twirling wizard was found too late and the game simply ended 22-5.”
The Weekly’s coverage of Welch’s 1931 aggregation dropped off after that, and 1932 brought the skipper’s move to Shreveport, where the Napoleonville native took the helm of that city’s Black Sports. Thus launched another phase in Welch’s climb to the top rungs of the Negro League managing world, and that’s where I’ll pick up next time.
But in one final note for this post, it’s worth mentioning how shifting the sand was upon which the NOLA blackball scene was built. While the Negro Leagues remained a vibrant, crucial piece of African-American life in the city, the fact that, for example, the Black Pelicans name changed hands twice during the 1931 campaign, and that Winfield Welch was able to so easily appropriate the 1930 Black Pels lineup for his Travelers — and then Pelicans again — squad at the start of ’31 season reflects the malleability of said hardball scene.
That slippery reality is, perhaps, one reason why the Crescent City never really became a nationally known hotbed of blackball activity despite the fact that it was indeed a very lively, exciting and wonderfully varied atmosphere. Because of that, the national black press might have had a hard time covering Big Easy baseball because grasping onto something solid and stable was almost impossible at times. Thus, I think, is one of the tragedies of NOLA blackball …