Don Welke, Padres VP of scouting operations, has died


#THFC #F1 #Gulls #Padres #Raiders
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA
RIP Coach.

Before following protégé A.J. Preller to San Diego, Don Welke was an influential voice in the Texas Rangers organization. It was there that Chris Kemp, then in his late-20s, was breaking into scouting.

One of Kemp’s early assignments with Welke — a veteran of more than 50 years in professional baseball — was to scout high-schooler Corey Seager. This trip, in particular, started with a back-door entrance to the game on their calendar.

If rival scouts noticed their arrival, “then the jig was up,” Kemp recalled. “If Don Welke was at a game, then his team was hot on that prospect. And he wanted to get to know the mother, the principal, the high school football coach. He wanted to know what made a player tick.

“To scout a player with Don Welke, you had to know everything about that player — not just that he hit .400 and looked good in a baseball uniform.”

Welke, the Padres’ vice president of scouting operations, died Wednesday in San Diego, two days before his 76th birthday. A cause of death was not disclosed.

“Don had a tremendous career in baseball, both as a talent evaluator and in the relationships that he built,” Preller said Thursday in a statement released by the Padres. “He was a visionary who knew and loved baseball, and he shared that knowledge and passion with me and countless other scouts throughout his five decades in the game. Beyond his accomplishments, Don was a loyal and generous friend. Everyone whose lives he touched were better for having known him.”

Welke joined the Padres in August 2014 shortly after Preller was hired. Mentorship of the Padres’ general manager began when the two crossed paths in Los Angeles and they worked closely together in Rangers GM Jon Daniels’ front office, where Welke was directly involved in bringing in Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar and bolstering the Rangers’ farm system ahead of consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

"It’s a tough day for a lot of people in the game, and certainly with the Rangers,” Daniels said in a statement provided to the Union-Tribune. “ ‘Coach’ was a pivotal influence on our organization and many of us individually. He helped us bring in some of the best players in our history. But more importantly he helped create the culture of competitiveness and desire to think big that has fueled us.

“On a personal note, he was big in my own development, and a dear friend and mentor. He lived life on his own terms. I’ll miss his quirks and passion for people."

A native of Illinois and a member of Carthage College’s Hall of Fame, where he played baseball and basketball, Welke began his scouting career with the Reds in 1965. He also worked for the Royals (1970-76), Orioles (1996-99) and Dodgers (1999-2004) and was Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick’s right-hand man with the Blue Jays (1977-95) and Phillies (2006).

He was in Gillick’s ear when the Blue Jays flipped Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter ahead of their back-to-back World Series wins, and hot on John Olerud’s trail after a brain aneurysm limited his looks before the 1989 draft.

Four years later, Olerud finished third in AL MVP as a third-round success story. The Blue Jays would have had another on their hands had a one-handed Jim Abbott signed with the Blue Jays as a 36th-round pick in 1985.

Instead, Abbott transformed himself into the No. 8 overall pick after a decorated career at Michigan.

“Welke was an out-of-the-box thinker — a lot of imagination,” Gillick said. “He was a visionary. He could not only project but he could imagine things for players.”

In San Diego, Welke was both a sounding board and an infectious personality on and off the field as Preller built out a young front office. He’d have a sticker in his pocket anytime he bumped into General Partner Peter Seidler walking his 6-year-old daughter around Petco Park, and an open ear for any of the up-and-comers in the Padres’ scouting and player development departments.

“He gave everyone his time,” said Ryley Westman, a minor league instruction coordinator who met Welke while with the Rangers. “He wanted to be around everyone and didn't expect anything in return.”

“It was like Santa Claus walked into the building,” Assistant General Manager Fred Uhlman Jr. said of Welke’s visits. “People just gravitated to him wherever he went.”

That was certainly the case, Uhlman said, when Preller sent Uhlman and Welke on a free agent run before the 2016 season. The two took a red-eye to Miami to meet Fernando Rodney at his gym. Hours later, Rodney, his family and friends joined Welke and Uhlman for lunch. He was signed to a one-year deal that February.

“We joked a lot,” Uhlman recalled, “about Fernando coming to live with Don in San Diego.”

In his five decades in the game, Welke had developed a mantra – solamente beisbol (only baseball) – that Preller took to heart as he began his career. In San Diego, seldom a decision was made without a conversation between the two.

They didn’t always agree. The discussions that ensued in those instances had been valuable as Preller charted a course forward for an organization searching for sustained success.

“When it was a player-specific discussion both of them were fearless,” Seidler said. “They would disagree on players when they had convictions and when their convictions lined up they would agree. They didn't let their friendship and mutual admiration get in way of hearty debates.

“ … I frankly admired that about both of them.”

The players that Welke liked he loved.

And vice versa.

That was as evident as anything when Padres Assistant General Manager Josh Stein traveled with Welke to Lake Elsinore shortly after his hire in the summer of 2014.

The Storm were hosting the Rangers’ California League affiliate. The teenagers and 20-something-year-olds on that roster gravitated to the long-time scout as he asked about their seasons, their families, even one of the player’s dogs he’d learned about in some living room in some far off place.

“To see the respect he’d earned in those kids eyes, it was rare,” Stein said. “He’d earned that. Don was definitely a loyal guy. If he put his neck out for you and vouched for you and were one of the people he brought into an organization, he was going to fight for you.”