clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts: Shorty Wetzel

New, 2 comments

Cloaked in mystery, George "Shorty" Wetzel may never have been who we thought he was.

The team that did Shorty Wetzel no favors, the 1885 Baltimore Orioles.
The team that did Shorty Wetzel no favors, the 1885 Baltimore Orioles.
Baseball Researcher

For many ball players, Philadelphia becomes merely a second home. What we aim to do with the "Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts" series is take a look at those who are born within Philadelphia city limits before they set off on their grand baseball adventure somewhere else in the vast, horrible world.

Past entries:

William "Yank" Robinson

Harry "Socks" Seibold

John Francis "Phenomenal" Smith

Alan Strange

Ed Sixsmith

Oyster Burns

Highball Wilson

Eddie Stanky

Zeke Wrigley

Abraham Lincoln Wolstenholme

***

Shorty Wetzel

DOB: 1865

What was happening in Philadelphia at the time: A bitter January caused the Delaware River to freeze, allowing ecstatic foot travelers to cross over to New Jersey on a whim, only to realize they were now in New Jersey and also it was bone-crackingly cold outside. Great idea, everybody - exactly how I wanted to spend my Saturday. Welp, I guess it's back to work tomorrow for another 19-hour shift at the foundry, if it hasn't exploded today, killing everyone inside.

Of course, the mood following the wretched winter did not improve when the president who had kept the country together during the still-recent Civil War was shot in the head upon the arrival of spring. On April 15, word spread quickly through the city that Abraham Lincoln, the namesake of last week's PBG, was dead. His body was brought to Independence Hall on April 22 by mourning citizens and military personnel.

On June 27, the city's regular catastrophic fires and explosions resumed, starting with a... fireworks store on South Delaware Avenue?! Guys, come on.

MLB career: 1885 Baltimore Orioles; 8.47 ERA, 27 H, 16 ER, 6 SO, 9 BB, 3 HBP, 2 BK, 9 WP, -0.7 WAR, 1 CG over 17.0 IP in 2 G

Bio: George "Shorty" Wetzel remains, in many ways, an ambiguous silhouette on the foggy plains of baseball history. His birth date is listed only as "1865," meaning the actual date is unknown, or he put his mother through the longest, most awful year of her young life. His dominant hand is also a mystery, leaving historians and writers scrambling for scraps of information on his life for a post no one will read, with nothing but question marks when it comes to imagining him on the mound.

Wetzel's first start for Billy Barnie's Baltimore Orioles came on August 26, 1885, against the New York Metropolitans. The season was nearly over, and the O's and Mets were battling it out for second to last place. Baltimore, with 34 wins, had the advantage over plummeting New York, who had yet to win their 30th.

He was a mere 20-year-old, facing a mostly harmless lineup, but one that did include Dave Orr, who had gotten where he was - among the league leaders in most offensive categories (he would finish as the league's top triples hitter with 21 and most monstrous slugger with a .543 SLG) - by disconnecting his massive jaw around pitchers like Wetzel and devouring the top and bottom halves of their bodies in two bites. This dude was slashing was hitting .342 with a .901 OPS on a team where his closest competitor in BA was Steve Brady, who lagged close to 50 points behind and survived as mostly a singles hitter.

Wetzel took the mound anyway, and proceeded to put together one of the lamest pitching lines I have ever seen. He must have opened his eyes a week later and seen that, after making two starts (the other came days later on September 2 against the Philadelphia Athletics), he had some how balked twice, hit three guys, chucked nine wild pitches, and walked more batters than he'd struck out. And clearly, his coach hated the crap out of him, because he was also forced to stay out there long enough to complete his start against New York.

"Very wild in his delivery" read Wetzel's politely composed scouting report after his debut. Fortunately, his September 2 start would see a more consistent approach, until the Athletics scored 10 unearned runs in the eighth inning, a feat possible only if every other member of the team was devoured by Dave Orr (who would have had to travel from wherever the Mets were playing that day to feed his terrible hunger), or if the pitcher in question were Phenomenal Smith and everyone on the team hated his stupid face enough to blow the game on purpose.

Wetzel wound up slipping into a few more minor league uniforms over the years, bar tending to make ends meet, and hopefully doing so with slightly more control than he was able to summon while pitching. He is reported to have died in 1899 of Bright's Disease, a sickness that attacks and inflames the kidneys, but that may be a lie - hell, his name may not have even been "Shorty."

"At one time was assigned an 1899 death date, but it turned out to be the wrong man. It is still not certain that 'Shorty' was his nickname and not the exclusive property of William Shakespeare Wetzel, a nineteenth century minor league infielder."

--David Nemec, "The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball"

Wetzel may still be out there somewhere, hitting people with baseballs as a 131-year-old man.

What addressing a defense that just gave up 10 unearned runs might been like:

SHORTY WETZEL: Guys

ENTIRE 1885 BALTIMORE ORIOLES: ...

SHORTY: Turn off the phonograph for a second

1885 ORIOLES: Oh man we can't hear you

SHORTY: I know, that's why I asked you to--

[A clearly annoyed Shorty storms across the clubhouse and yanks the needle off the record, causing a literal record scratch.]

1885 ORIOLES: Aww, man, you're gonna damage it

SHORTY: What the hell happened out there, guys?

1885 ORIOLES: Oh, you know. The sun was pretty bright.

SHORTY: "The sun was..." You guys implode hard enough to allow double digits in runs and you come to the pitcher of record with the excuse of "the sun was being the way it always is?!"

1885 ORIOLES: Also the wind...

SHORTY: ...was what? Blowing?!

1885 ORIOLES: ...

SHORTY: ...

1885 ORIOLES: ...yes

SHORTY: YOU GUYS SUCK

ORIOLES MANAGER BILLY BARNIE: [Brushing illustrious mustache] Whoa, whoa, whoa... George, buddy. Reel it in.

SHORTY: Sorry.

BARNIE: You've been here, what, five days?

SHORTY: Six.

BARNIE: Six! My goodness. Well, I hate to tell you this, but yelling at the team just isn't something that happens at the Major League Level. I mean, who do you think these guys are? Your wife?

SHORTY: I'm not married.

BARNIE: Any woman, then. You can't just legally take your frustrations out on them with no repercussions just because you feel like it! Save that for some unaccompanied female passerby on the street!

SHORTY: Sorry everybody.

1885 ORIOLES: It's okay. We're sorry too. [Turns phonograph back on]

SHORTY: Thanks.

BARNIE: See that? And let's be honest, you've hit a lot of batters in these first two starts; it's not like you aren't to blame in any of this.

SHORTY: I guess not.

BARNIE: Good. Now.

[Barnie throws an arm around Shorty's shoulders, continuing to brush his mustache with the other hand].

BARNIE: Pack your bags, you're fired for sucking at pitching.

Further reading:

"The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball" by David Nemec

"Early Exits: The Premature Endings of Baseball Careers" by Brian McKenna