CARLSBAD, Calif. -- It's impossible to miss Don Welke's impact at this week's General Managers Meetings.Among the sport's 30 current GMs, three worked directly with Welke in Texas. The other 27 -- and, essentially, the rest of the baseball world -- revere the longtime scouting executive, who passed away in
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- It's impossible to miss Don Welke's impact at this week's General Managers Meetings.
Among the sport's 30 current GMs, three worked directly with Welke in Texas. The other 27 -- and, essentially, the rest of the baseball world -- revere the longtime scouting executive, who passed away in September at the age of 75.
So it was only fitting on Wednesday night that the meetings paused for a celebration of Welke's life at a nearby restaurant. Welke spent more than half a century in baseball, serving in an assortment of scouting roles with the Padres, Rangers, Phillies, Dodgers, Orioles, Blue Jays, Royals and Reds.
Known fondly as "Coach," Welke was feted Wednesday by more than 100 baseball people. The common theme? Welke's love for the people who make up the game.
"He was always willing to listen, and he always was willing to teach," Twins general manager Thad Levine said. "He had an affinity for people that transcended age. He was as comfortable with the intern out of college as he was with the 30-year veteran scout."
"He had such an impact in the game, and for a lot of individuals in that room, he was so significant," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller, who worked with Welke at every stop.
Added Rangers GM Jon Daniels: "He was just always a really big believer in people."
That includes Daniels himself. Daniels recalled a particularly rough stretch for the Rangers during the 2008 season.
"We were in Year 2 of a rebuild, and there were some really frustrating moments and some times where I maybe questioned things a little bit," Daniels said. "He pulled me aside, and he squared me up. He said, 'I don't know what you're hanging your head over. We've got a lot of good stuff going on here.'"
As usual, Welke's evaluation was accurate. The Rangers won 87 games the following season, and they made the World Series in each of the next two years.
Welke's most celebrated signings include Dave Stieb, Pat Hentgen and John Olerud, who helped bring consecutive World Series titles to Toronto. In Texas, he helped land Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, whom he had previously scouted for the Dodgers.
But Welke's most visionary scouting moment came in the mid-1980s in Michigan as he evaluated a prospect the Blue Jays drafted but wouldn't sign. Of the prospect, Welke famously wrote:
"Left-handed pitcher. 6-foot-3, 180 pounds. Great arm. Good changeup. Makings of a breaking ball. Natural cutter. Big competitor. Good athlete. Plays football. Good hitter."
Then he added one final line to describe Jim Abbott: "Has no right hand."
Indeed, Welke saw past what many scouts couldn't, mostly because he saw the person. He convinced the Blue Jays to draft Abbott, who instead attended the University of Michigan before pitching 10 seasons in the big leagues, throwing a no-hitter in 1993.
"He did things in a maverick sort of way," Daniels said. "He wasn't one to roll with the pack. He never needed confirmation from anybody else. He knew what he believed in, and he was willing to take some chances. He never looked back either. We were going to hit on some, miss on some, but we're going to power through."
At every stop, Welke's affable personality proved infectious. He became a staple on golf carts at the Rangers and Padres Spring Training complexes over the past dozen years.
"If you spent a game watching with him in the stands, the volume of things you'd learn was as much as you could learn anywhere else," Levine said. "A lot of it came in very curious riddles where you'd need a decoder ring. After some time, it would finally sink in."
Those stories were rehashed on Wednesday night in Carlsbad. Both Preller and Daniels formally addressed those in attendance at the private ceremony. But the tone of the event was casual and light-hearted. Everyone, after all, had a Welke story to share.
"He always wanted to do his way," Daniels said beforehand. "And he did."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.