The Obit For Johnny Welaj

John Welaj: Played major-league baseball in '40s, executive for Rangers

The Dallas Morning News

08:36 PM CDT on Saturday, September 13, 2003

Arlington resident John Welaj, who spent 63 years in professional baseball as a player, manager and executive, died Saturday at the Autumn Leaves of Arlington Assisted Living Center. He was 89.

Funeral arrangements have not been set.

Mr. Welaj played in the major leagues in the 1940s with the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics. After his retirement as a player, he worked for the Senators and the Rangers for 43 years as an executive.

"The minute you met John Welaj, you knew he loved baseball," said Rangers broadcaster Tom Grieve, who will speak at a memorial service for Mr. Welaj on Wednesday. "The Senators and then the Rangers became his life. He loved the game."

Mr. Welaj was born May 27, 1914, in Moss Creek, Pa. After graduating from high school in Bound Brook, N.J., he went on to play semipro baseball before joining Albany of the International League in 1936.

In 1937, his contract was sold to the Senators. Mr. Welaj made his Major League debut in 1939. That same season, residents of his hometown, Manville, N.J., honored Mr. Welaj when the Senators visited the New York Yankees on July 4 at Yankee Stadium. That was the same day Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig made his retirement speech to the Yankee Stadium crowd.

Mr. Welaj played with the Senators through 1941, then briefly with Philadelphia in 1943, compiling a .250 batting average in 293 career games. He spent three years in the armed services during World War II, then returned to play eight more seasons in the minors.

He managed in the minors for three years before joining the Senators as sales and promotions director in 1957. He held the same position until the Senators moved to Texas in 1972. He took over as director of stadium operations at Arlington Stadium in 1973, a position he held until he retired in 1984.

But even in retirement, he stayed active. He took a part-time role as the Rangers' spring training director, coordinating logistics and ticket sales in Pompano Beach and Port Charlotte, Fla. He retired from that position in 1999.

"About six years after his full-time retirement, I had somebody come up to me and ask me what John Welaj did for the organization," said Mr. Grieve, who was the Rangers general manager at the time. "Well, he certainly didn't look like somebody who was retired. He'd be here at 9 a.m., and he never missed a game. He was in incredibly good shape and always looked 20 years younger than he was. He just loved to be around the park, and I think that kept him young."

His wife Pauline died in 1996.

Mr. Welaj is survived by his daughter, Janet Welaj Klaer of Stamford, Conn.