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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

Welker & Killebrew


Commie Bashing Baseball Talent Scout

The passing of the great Harmon Killebrew recently caused a few Idaho political, history and baseball junkies to reflect on another guy from Payette, Idaho – one-term wonder Sen. Herman Welker.

Welker is mostly forgotten to history these days, and probably deserves to be, except for two or maybe three footnotes in history. The Welker footnotes:

1) Welker’s nickname, Little Joe from Idaho, references his bosom buddy status with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Commie hunting, red-baiting politician from Wisconsin who had an entire era of politics – McCarthyism – named after him. Welker was just about McCarthy’s biggest defender, even as Joe was censured by the United States Senate.

2) Welker’s re-election was derailed in 1956 by a fresh faced young Idaho Democrat by the name of Frank Church, proving my old theory that Democrats only win statewide in Idaho when Republicans screw up. One campaign sign suggested Idaho need a “sane and sober” Senator. Welker didn’t fit the bill and Church beat “Little Joe” and launched a distinguished 24 year career. (The charge against Welker was both true and unfair. He died a short time later from a brain tumor.)

3) Welker “discovered” Killebrew, then a fresh-faced teenager in Payette. Al Eisele, an editor-at-large of the D.C. paper The Hill had a nice piece recently on the Welker-Killebrew connection. As was widely reported, along with the news of Killebrew’s death from cancer, was the detail that he was scouted by Welker. The lawmaker told Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in 1954 that he should sign the big kid from Idaho who “was the greatest slugger since Mickey Mantle.” Griffith acted on the tip, sent a scout to Idaho and rest, as they say, is Hall of Fame history.

Eisele wrote: “Welker, who often attended Senators home games, once almost came to blows with Senators manager Charlie Dressen when he shouted during a game at Griffith Stadium, ‘You, Dressen, why aren’t you playing my boy?’ Dressen responded, “Why don’t you run your U.S. Senate and let me run the Washington ball club?'”

Here is another tidbit, not so benign, from Eisele’s piece on the obscure Idaho Senator.

“There is a bizarre footnote to Welker’s Senate career. In 1954, Democratic Sen. Lester Hunt of Wyoming, a bitter enemy of McCarthy, fatally shot himself in his Senate office, ostensibly because of despondency over poor health.

“But muckraking columnist Drew Pearson later reported that shortly before Hunt killed himself, Welker and Republican Sen. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire met with Hunt and warned him that if he ran for reelection that fall, Republicans would disclose that his 20-year-old son had been arrested for soliciting prostitution from a male undercover police officer in Lafayette Square.

“Pearson’s allegation was never proven, but the incident was believed to have been the inspiration for Allen Drury’s 1959 best-selling novel, Advise and Consent, in which a senator who opposes a nominee for Secretary of State who has lied to conceal his past Communist association, commits suicide after receiving anonymous threats that his past homosexual affair will be exposed unless he stops blocking the nomination.”

If the Pearson story is true, and we’ll probably never know for sure, then the contrast between the two men from Payette, Idaho, whose names were recently linked again, could not have been more different.

Harmon Killebrew celebrated in death as a greater human being than baseball player, and he was some kind of baseball player, and Herman Welker, the man who discovered the great Killebrew, not much of Senator or judge of character, but thankfully a fine judge of baseball talent.

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