Melvin J. Welles, 90

NLRB Chief Judge, Baseball Fan Assigned Self to '81 Strike Talks

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Melvin J. Welles, 90, former chief administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board and an ardent baseball fan who assigned himself to the 1981 baseball strike negotiations, died Jan. 28 at his home in Alexandria of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Welles worked at the NLRB from 1946 until he retired in 1993, serving the final 12 years as chief judge. He led a corps of more than 100 judges who heard and decided cases arising under the National Labor Relations Act.

Mr. Welles never missed an opening game of the Washington Senators and missed only one Senators game against the New York Yankees between 1946 and 1971, the year the Senators left town. He also attended Yankees great Lou Gehrig's 2,130th consecutive game in 1939 and the 1995 game when the Baltimore Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. matched the feat.

"The only other person, who I know of, who was at both was Joe DiMaggio," Mr. Welles told his college's oral history project interviewers in 1999.

When major league baseball players went on strike in 1981 and the NLRB was called upon to hear the case, Mr. Welles, "as a public service," assigned it to himself, he said. "It was the only decent thing I could do."

He wrote a decision in the case, but the day that briefs were due, the baseball owners and players settled the 50-day strike. "Nobody in the world but me knows the decision of that case," he said.

Melvin J. Welitoff was born in Jersey City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. After graduating from Rutgers University, he changed his name to Welles at his mother's suggestion because of anti-Russian sentiment in society at the time.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's law school in 1942 and then entered the military during World War II. He served in Army intelligence and in the Judge Advocate General's Office in Fort Lewis, Wash.

Mr. Welles was an expert poker player and an avid golfer but particularly excelled at contract bridge, in which he was a life master who participated in national and international tournaments.

He was a ringer on an American team that went to London in 1984 and 1985 to play members of the British Parliament in a charity match.

Other teammates included U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and five members of Congress. The Americans lost both years.

Mr. Welles also weighed in publicly in 2008 on the case of D.C. administrative law judge Roy Pearson, who sued a Washington dry cleaner for $54 million over a lost pair of pants.

"If I were adjudicating the case, I would not only grant a motion to dismiss it but would also order Mr. Pearson to reimburse the owners of Custom Cleaners for all their expenses in defending it and to pay them several million dollars for their mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," Mr. Welles said in a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post.

A daughter, Carolyn Welles, died in 1979.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Dorothy Welles of Alexandria; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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