In 1982, Spelius became one of the founders of the Beloit Brewers, the franchise now known as the Beloit Snappers. Over the next several years, he rose through the Midwest League’s ranks, becoming its president in 1987. Spelius served in that role through the 2014 season, and guided the league through rapid change along the way, ultimately ensuring that the Midwest League rose to its status among the most successful circuits in the minors.
“When he became president, there were 12 teams. There are now 16,” said Midwest League president Richard Nussbaum, who succeeded Spelius before the 2015 season. “We represent some of the strongest franchises in Minor League Baseball, not just Low-A. He leaves a tremendous legacy of success and transition from the days where Minor League Baseball was a mom and pop shop operation, to a situation with sophisticated ownership groups.”
As we noted when Spelius retired, many of the Midwest League’s most successful teams were established under his watch. Additionally, the league broadened its geographical reach, as it now stretches from Appleton, WI in the north, Burlington, IA in the west, Bowling Green, KY in the south, and Eastlake, OH in the east.
News of Spelius’ passing prompted an outpouring of tributes from the league’s teams, including the Snappers. “We are very sad to say that George Spelius has passed away,” the team wrote in a statement on Facebook. “George was the driving force behind bringing Minor League Baseball to Beloit back in 1982. In addition to being on our Board of Directors and an original founder of Beloit Professional Baseball, he was the President of the Midwest League for 28 years. You could always find him in the very front row of Snappers games. His upbeat attitude and humor will certainly be missed around Pohlman Field, Beloit, and the Midwest League.”
Nussbaum began working with Spelius when he became the league’s attorney in 1993. He says that his personal and professional relationship with Spelius influenced him in several areas. “One was watching him work and the way he handled people. The other how was the way he worked with me and how he always respected by work. More than that, he brought common sense to the whole process and showed how to be able to lead and be a great friend and guy at the same time.”
Upon his retirement, Spelius was named the Midwest League’s president emeritus and director of umpire development. Spelius had an active role in umpire development throughout the minors, as he once served on MiLB/MLB Rules and Policy Review Committee. With his help in crafting on-field behavior policy, Spelius was credited by Minor League Baseball with helping to greatly reduce “the number of physical confrontations at the Minor League level.”
“Anytime we would have umpires who go through the Midwest League, they would tell you it was one of the best if not the best experience they had had in Minor League Baseball,” said Nussbaum.
Spelius received the Warren Giles Award for outstanding service by a minor league president in both 1997 and 2010.
George Spelius was survived by his wife Nancy, daughter Nancy and son H. George and their spouses Marty and Mindy, as well as grandchildren Teddy and Nicholas.
A visitation will take place Monday evening in Beloit. A memorial service will be held at Pohlman Field on Tuesday morning beginning at 10:00 a.m., and will be immediately followed by a burial service. Flowers can be ordered from Beloit Floral. Those wishing to make a contribution in George Spelius’ name can donate to UMPS Care Charities.
Image of George Spelius courtesy of the Midwest League.