Welsh: Sweet Science’s salty dog

May 3, 2005 4:27 AM

Former GamingToday boxing columnist Jack Welsh, who covered virtually every major fight in Nevada since the 1960s, died last week. He turned 80 on April 5.

For about 10 years beginning in the early 1980s, Welsh wrote a weekly boxing column for GamingToday.

Prior to moving to Las Vegas, Welsh covered boxing for newspapers such as the Philadelphia Journal and Evansville (Indiana) Courier.

Most recently he freelanced for Ring Magazine, Boxing Monthly, Flash, Boxing Update and a variety of web sites, including boxinginsider.com and ringtalk.com.

"Jack’s been a character all the years I’ve known him," wrote the late Chuck Di Rocco, founder and publisher of GamingToday, in a column five years ago. "Across the years and across the board, Jack and I shared friends and stories about newspapering and racetracks."

Di Rocco "rescued" Welsh from a racetrack in Mexico about 25 years ago, and gave him a job as a columnist and cartoonist.

That was about the time Welsh had lost his post with the Philadelphia Journal while covering a fight in Puerto Rico.

The nature of how he lost his job with the Journal is something right out of the classic newspaper film, "Front Page," as Welsh’s style of journalism was a throwback to the salty Hildy Johnson character.

"Throwback? Boy, could he throw ’em back," says GT columnist Michael Katz, a Hall of Fame boxing writer in his own right. "He could drink with both hands and still take notes."

Katz recalls covering a fight held in a brewery in Puerto Rico about 25 years ago. "The night of the fight it poured, turning ringside into a swamp, and there was no Jack," Katz recalls. "He showed up between the fifth and sixth rounds, on all fours, crawling through the muck and mire to reach his seat. Then he disappeared with some senorita, with his anxious editors in Philadelphia unable to find him."

After losing his job with the Journal, Katz says, Welsh drifted to Laredo, Texas, and eventually fell in love with a Mexican senorita across the border. Shortly after that, Di Rocco found him and resurrected his newspaper career.

Katz says drinking hard was part of the ex-Marine’s M.O. back then. But the booze never affected Welsh’s craft as an award-winning boxing writer. "Funny thing, when he was able to write, even under the influence, he was clear as a bell," Katz says. "Next thing I heard, he had moved to Las Vegas and gone on the wagon. Only Jack could move to a town where the bars never close and give up drinking."

Except for an occasional glass of beer or wine, Welsh stayed pretty much sober for the past 20 years. But the lack of alcohol never diminished his appetite, which he satisfied mostly through press room buffets and other free meals.

One time a few years ago, a group of Las Vegas sportswriters were being courted by a couple of New Jersey characters, Tony Atiyeh and Vinnie Reo from Phillipsburg, which is across the Pennsylvania state line from Whitehall.

No one knew much about the pair, except that they wanted to publish a "sports betting newspaper" and that the feds had indicted Atiyeh on bookmaking and money laundering charges but couldn’t get a conviction.

While dining at a fancy Strip restaurant, Welsh ordered what seemed like everything on the menu — from the escargots and crab cocktails to soup, salad, entrees and dessert. After most of them were finished, he was still half-way through his meal, in no hurry and content to make everyone wait as he savored every bite.

Actually, Welsh’s public eating displays were by necessity. He probably never ate at home. His modest apartment on Cambridge Avenue just off of Twain resembled an attic in dire need of a yard sale — the place was cluttered with piles of newspapers, press clippings, notebooks, programs and who-knows-what else.

Welsh’s kitchen was a catch-all for papers that spilled over from the living room. His dining table was set up for writing, and his refrigerator probably contained more press clippings and notebooks than food.

Even though Welsh ate well in the press room before last Saturday’s fight at Caesars, his friends say he had been wasting away for months, his clothes seemingly three or four sizes too big.

Katz says Welsh was too proud to accept Social Security, unless at the very end, when he was taking pain killers regularly. "He was broke, but we understand he still managed to send money on occasion to his only living relative, an elderly lady cousin in his hometown of Louisville," Katz says.

Katz adds that boxing promoter Bob Arum probably handled Welsh’s funeral arrangements, as he had often helped Welsh with his rent or other expenses.

"A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at Mandalay Bay," Katz says. "Referee Richard Steele, an ordained minister will preside. He promises not to stop it too soon."