Several years ago I served on a panel with Rangers super scout Don Welke. While we knew of each other, we had never met. Don walked in and said, “John Rhadigan, Brighton High School class of 79…Brighton is the same school that produced former Cowboys quarterback Drew Henson.” He was right – on all counts. I knew immediately that this man was a great scout. He scouted me before sharing a dais.
Welke is now leaving the friendly confines of Globe Life Park in Arlington to work with A.J. Preller in San Diego. The man we called coach will be missed. Not just because he is a great scout, but because he is a great guy. Welke has been a breath of fresh air in an industry that is full of stress and pressure. Projecting whether 16-18 year-old kids can become major leaguers is an inexact science. Those who make those projections feel the stress of only being as good as the last hit. They also know they are often remembered more for their misses than for their hits.
Don can cut that tension by simply walking in a room. You see he dresses ridiculously, he wears loud pants and even louder sports coats which typically don’t match the pants. He is a walking fashion faux pas. Many of the rest of the people in baseball operations come from the Ivy League and are known to dress for success. They get a chuckle when Don walks in the room. Don knows this and he does not care. He may not have an eye for fashion, but he does have an eye for talent.
He honed that eye while working with Hall-of-Famer Pat Gillick. When both were in the Toronto organization in the mid-80s, Coach tried to talk his boss into a 6’4” left handed pitcher from Flint Central High School in Michigan. He was a great prospect who was also the quarterback on the football team. He lead both teams to the state playoffs. Gillick was reluctant to take a chance on the young man because he was born without a right hand. To Welke that did not matter because Jim Abbott passed the eye ball test. History shows that Don’s vision was true. After the Blue Jays and every other team passed on Abbott, he went to Michigan to play college baseball, then won an Olympic Gold Medal and also the Sullivan Award in 1987 given to Americas best amateur athlete. The Angels took Abbott in the first round of the June draft in 1988. Abbott had a 10 year big league career highlighted by a no hitter with the Yankees in 1993.
Don is also credited with spotting Dave Stieb, Pat Hentgen and John Olerud. More recently he insisted that Elvis Andrus be a part of the Texeira trade. He also found Jurickson Profar and I remember one year at spring training when he breathlessly introduced me to a 16-year old from Colombia you may have heard of, catching prospect Jorge Alfaro.
A.J. Preller was a good friend of Jon Daniel’s at Cornell, but yesterday he hired a Harvard man. Welke went to Harvard High School in Harvard, Illinois. He is in the Hall of Fame there. He is also in the Carthage College Hall of Fame where he played baseball and basketball. Hey I can do some scouting too. Godspeed Coach, we will miss you!