Longtime Midwest League president George Spelius died Wednesday night at the age of 83, the league confirmed.
Spelius was elected president of the Midwest League in 1987 and served in that position until 2015, when he transitioned into a "president emeritus" role with the Class A circuit. He previously worked as the league's vice president after breaking into the Minors as one of the founders of the Beloit Snappers.
"We are very sad to say that George Spelius has passed away," the Snappers posted on their Facebook page. "George was the driving force behind bringing Minor League Baseball to Beloit back in 1982."
Spelius was a fixture in the league for decades while he and his wife, Nancy, owned and operated a local flower shop in Beloit, Wisconsin. He assumed the presidency after the death of the league's previous president, Bill Walters, and handed over the reigns last January when Richard "Dick" Nussbaum II took over.
"Sometimes I think back on all of this and wonder how the heck I got so involved, but I did!" Spelius told MiLB.com in 2013 when reflecting back on his career in baseball.
Last year, Spelius said he would continue to work as the league's director of umpire development. It was a position he enjoyed, especially since his son-in-law, Marty Foster, is a Major League umpire.
"Umpires are human beings, too, so I was an umpires advocate," Spelius said last year. "And now I think, if I didn't support umpires, my son-in-law would shoot me. But I have tried to be like a father to them."
Spelius' life in baseball began on the field when he was a catcher for a Camp Zama Ramblers club that won the Far East Championship in the summer of 1958 while he was enlisted in the U.S. Army in Japan. Before serving in the military, he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
His career in baseball administration included his role on the MiLB/MLB Rules and Policy Review Committee, which was believed to have reduced the number of physical incidents or confrontations between players at the Minor League level. He was given the Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as a league president in both 1997 and 2010, and the MWL last season unveiled a newly designed championship trophy named in his honor.
As news of Spelius' passing spread Thursday, teams and officials offered their thoughts and condolences.
"Sad day as we learned last night of the passing of my friend and longtime MWL president George Spelius," said Fort Wayne TinCaps president Mike Nutter via Twitter. "A true legend of [Minor League Baseball] has left us."
"A great friend and [Minor League] legend, George Spelius, passed. He meant so much to so many," tweeted Mike Birling, the general manager of the Triple-A Durham Bulls. "Thoughts and prayers to his wonderful family."
"Mr. Spelius always told his umpires, 'I have your back, as long as you're always honest with me,'" recalled former Midwest League umpire Bob Bainter. "Simple truth. Really going to miss him."