Playing out of position, a whim of his manager, Wellington “Wimpy” Quinn headed out to the mound for his major league debut to face the bottom of the Boston Braves order. He was predictably wild, but it would be hard to tell if he was unusually nervous. Walking the lead-off hitter and hitting the second batter, Quinn settled down and got six of the next seven hitters out – including aging Hall of Famer Paul Waner. And so began the end of Wimpy Quinn’s chances of being a major league first baseman.
Wellington Hunt Quinn was born in Birmingham, Alabama to Allena (Hunt) and William Quinn on 14 May 1918. Allena was from Alabama, but William was from New Jersey – and one figures that there might be a great story there lost to history explaining how the Yankee landed a southern belle… William eventually took his family west, settling in Portland.
Wellington Quinn was doomed to be nicknamed Wimpy by his friends. During his youth, the Popeye cartoon strip was hitting its stride and the burger-eating character J. Wellington Wimpy was a frequent visitor in the popular comic. Articles covering his semi-pro teams prior to attending college already called him Wimpy, and for years afterward, writers penned J. Wellington Quinn in their articles even though his name was Wellington Hunt. Quinn never minded, though – he was tall, blonde, handsome, and confident.
By the time Quinn graduated from Grant High School, he was already a local baseball legend – and he was scooped up by the University of Oregon to play both baseball and basketball. In the winters, he was a backup guard to Ford Mullen. The two were infielders during the springs and summers. Quinn played semi-pro baseball for the Eugene Townies, Ballin Finance, the Hop Golds, and a state championship contender sponsored by Reliable Shoe where he played third base next to shortstop Johnny Pesky from nearby Lincoln High School.
Oregon was loaded with talent on both the court and diamond – winning the first ever NCAA Basketball Championship and then the Pacific Coast Conference North Division baseball crown. Joe Gordon had also come from Oregon and now it was a baseball hot bed – four Webfoot players on that 1939 team would get professional contracts. Three signed with the Detroit Tigers – seniors Bob Hardy and Busher Brown, and junior Ford Mullen. (Going with the comic strip nickname theme, Mullen’s nickname in the majors would be “Moon.”)
The fourth was seen as a hitter but a defensive liability – and that was Wimpy Quinn. Only days after teammates elected Quinn captain for the 1940 Oregon Ducks baseball team, he signed a contract to play third base for the Vancouver Capilanos replacing an injured Wayne McCue. Giving up his final season of eligibility, Quinn made an immediate impact by homering in his first two games, and then twice more in his fourth game. He wound up on the Western International League All-Star team and finished the season with a .330 batting average, 21 homers, 30 doubles, and 88 RBI in just 94 games. Along the way, he set a league record by hitting in 30 straight games.
He also made 44 errors – which prompted a position switch. In 1940, Wimpy would be a first baseman.
Nearing the end of the season, the Chicago Cubs took an interest in Quinn and offered Vancouver $5,000 for Quinn’s rights. The deal called for $2,500 to be paid immediately, and another $2,500 once Quinn made the majors. However, the league president didn’t like that there was no fixed arrangement for the second payment; the deal was nixed. The Cubs, who had a working arrangement with the Los Angeles Angels, simply changed the deal – Los Angeles signed Quinn from Vancouver instead.
The Angels liked Quinn but chose to see how Quinn would do as a first baseman – and the Cubs weren’t planning on using Quinn in the infield unless he was on the hill. Cubs manager Jimmy Wilson had done this once before with success. Plucking a middling third baseman from the Phillies, Wilson helped develop Bucky Walters into a successful and competent major league starting pitcher for the Reds. Wilson saw Quinn in training camp throwing the ball around the diamond and pulled Quinn over for a chat. “Okay kid,” Wilson told him. “You can plan on putting that first baseman’s mitt in mothballs soon. You’re going to be a pitcher.”
Not right away. Los Angeles had Ripper Collins, so they optioned Quinn back to Vancouver to play first base and learn to pitch a little. Quinn had pitched before, but not a lot – he was a relief pitcher on rare occasions in high school, college, and semi-pro teams but his main job was to mash. Quinn would be doubly successful – batting .342 with 27 homers, 39 doubles, 15 triples, and driving in 150 runs in 140 games. Along the way he met Edna Templeman and they married that August. In the off-season, he finished his college degree – and was president of his fraternity.
Los Angeles wasn’t ready to make Quinn a pitcher, despite the wishes of Jimmy Wilson, and in spring training prior to the 1941 season, Quinn was given a chance to win the first base job for the Angels. Batting around .400 for the spring, and displaying a knack around the bag for reaching all kinds of wayward throws, Quinn earned the job. However, for the first time ever, Quinn started slowly. Los Angeles pulled Phil Weintraub out of retirement and sold Quinn to the Cubs. That one slump was just the excuse Wilson needed to start making Quinn a full-time pitcher.
Arriving in Chicago, Quinn was put under the wing of recently retired Dizzy Dean, as well as other Cub flingers like Claude Passeau and Bill Lee. After six weeks of training, Quinn gave up two runs on a hit in two innings against Boston and was dispatched to Madison, WI for regular work.
Quinn did his best – but he wasn’t very good. He finished his tour with Madison by going 1 – 4, walking 56 batters in 63 innings, and allowing 55 runs to score. However, he helped out in other ways. As a pinch hitter and occasional outfielder, he pounded Three-I pitching to the tune of a .361 batting average and slugging nearly .600.
When called back to the Cubs in September, you’d think someone would have let him play first base or right field or something. Instead, he made two more appearances on the hill. Wimpy was swatted around once, and pitched two scoreless innings in his last appearance on September 25, 1941. He struck out the last two batters he’d face – Chuck Aleno (swinging) and Ray Starr (looking). Wilson broke out slow motion film and showed how Quinn had made changes and improved his control, then expected him to focus on his mechanics and come back ready to pitch in 1942.
(Edited 19 March 2019 – Flagstaff Films posted film of Quinn pitching to Twitter. Here’s the link.)
Eugene Register-Guard scribe Dick Strite wrote, “Wimpy is slightly under weight after the long summer campaign, weighing in at 180 pounds. But with his wife a very attractive little brunette at the cook stove, Wimpy predicts he will soon be carrying 190 pounds or better on his 6 foot 2 big-boned frame…”
Sent back to Madison, and presumably with a few more pounds on his frame, Quinn improved to 7 – 7, pitched 126 innings – but his 101 walks and 6.29 ERA proved only that the Cubs had wasted two years of Quinn’s professional hitting development on some failed experiment to see if Jimmy Wilson could recreate his success with Bucky Walters.
Quinn, in limited at bats, hit .388 for Madison. Giving up on Quinn the pitcher, Quinn the hitter was allowed to head back to the Los Angeles Angels and play first base.
Quinn played the whole season for Los Angeles – 157 games – but for some reason he stopped hitting in the last two months. A solid season ended with a thud – he’d bat just .236 with 11 homers and 30 doubles. His 80 RBI would be third behind veteran Charley English and young prospect Andy Pafko. Lefty O’Doul provided a good scouting report. “That kid is a marvel tending that sack,” Lefty said. “He is gifted with an unusually long reach and comes up with everything thrown in his direction. At bat, he has looked bad on low balls, but he has lots of power.”
Quinn took up his part for the war effort in the off-season, working in a shipyard. He wasn’t alone – a number of west coast ballplayers took similar jobs. Those jobs also paid better than many baseball salaries. When the 1944 season began, Quinn chose to remain in the dockyards building boats for the Navy. Charlie English did the same – and both wound up suspended by the Angels for insubordination. Offers to keep their wartime jobs and play in only home games were dismissed by Angels President Don Stewart.
Within weeks, though, Quinn was inducted into the service and joined the Marines. Private Quinn helped with the closing year of the war, and with efforts to maintain and then shut down structures in the Pacific. He also played baseball with the troops. Billy Herman, who managed Quinn on a Navy team in Hawaii, proclaimed him ready for the majors after hitting .366 in a military league. Harry Hughes, a military manager compared him to George “High Pockets” Kelly.
The Angels took Quinn back and made him a first baseman for the 1946 season. By May, though, Quinn started showing signs of an illness – he played very little after mid-summer, and would miss the entire 1947 season. It wasn’t announced at the time what kept Quinn out of the game, but papers noted that the illness was something serious that Quinn had first contracted while a member of the Marines.
Healthier in 1948, Quinn got himself in shape and was signed to play for Pocatello in 1948. A month later, though, he would be back in California – the Idaho club sold Quinn to Fresno in the California State League. By the end of the season, Quinn’s bat was showing signs of life. when not playing baseball, Quinn managed a small ranch in Topanga Canyon, CA.
In 1949, Quinn was one of the four veterans on the Bakersfield Indians – California State League rules called for a limited number of veteran players to help show the ropes to fifteen or twenty kids, most of them under the age of 21. Quinn, now passing his 31st birthday, was mentoring players like pitcher Don Mossi, and pounding the baseball against the kid pitchers. Playing every inning of the 139 games, Quinn hit a pair of grand slams in the final week, including the game winner in the pennant clinching game. His .343 batting average was among the league leaders, as was his league record 298 total bases.
Temporarily loaned to San Diego, he spent a week there before signing to play with Tacoma in the Western International League in 1950, batting .315, and in one Sporting News Note (24 January 1951), he set a league record with a ten RBI game. In 1951, he returned to Bakersfield to manage and play first base – but survived just the one season on a team he guided to a record some 30 games below .500. While there, he participated in the first ever triple play in Bakersfield history. With the bases loaded, San Jose pitcher Stan McWilliams grounded to pitcher Mike Gazella, who fired to catcher Joe Borich, and then Borich fired to Quinn. However, San Jose’s Ed Sobczak kept going around third trying to trick Quinn, and Quinn returned a throw to Borich to get the third out. The Cleveland Indians ended their association with Bakersfield at the end of 1951 and with that, Quinn’s baseball career was over.
Let’s try to give you a picture of the fine first baseman. As a young man, he was tall, 6-foot-2, and fit with a long mop of blond hair usually combed and slicked back. He had long arms and could just about fall into full splits to stretch out for throws. He could run some when younger – as he got older and filled out, he was a bit thicker, but still trim. He played ball between 180 and 190 pounds. His arm was very good – he had a major league fastball and was able to throw well from the outfield when asked to play there. He carried with him an easy personality and confidence. One writer found him sincere and serious, but not melodramatic, and was focused on his baseball career. He had one odd habit – if he went into a slump he’d saw off the end of bats. Sometimes, he’d saw off his bats, and apparently once in a while he sawed off those of his teammates. Otherwise, he was genial and displayed a natural sense of leadership.
Quinn returned to his Topanga Canyon ranch, but something else returned – illness. Walt Little noted at the time of his passing, “Very few Bakersfield Indians knew at the time, but ‘Wimpy’ Quinn, who was a big factor in the local club’s only pennant team and who managed the nine in 1951, suffered from cancer.” Just 36 years old, Wellington Hunt Quinn passed to the next league on 1 September 1954 under the care of the staff at Sawtelle Veteran’s Hospital in Santa Monica.
In addition to his wife, Edna, Quinn left behind a son, Jack, and two daughters, Jill and Judy. In that way, Wellington was like his father. Allena Hunt Quinn was a widow when Wellington was in high school. Edna Templeman Quinn was a widow with an eleven-year-old son, and two daughters aged seven and six. Jack Hunt Quinn passed away two months before his 60th birthday in October, 2003. Julia (Jill) Hunt Quinn married Raymond Jones in July, 1969 barely one month after her sister, Judy Yvonne Quinn died – Judy was not yet 21.
Online Public Records (through Ancestry.com):
California Birth Records, Social Security Death Records and other notes for Wellington Hunt Quinn, Jack Hunt Quinn, Julia Hunt Quinn, Judy Yvonne Quinn.
1930 United States Census
1940 United States Census
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