A's Bob Welch was OK in my book

A's Bob Welch was OK in my book
June 11, 2014, 2:45 pm
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Welch helped me immensely that day. He didn't have to. But that's the kind of man he was.
Monte Poole on Bob Welch

After getting the news that more than a dozen kids on a high-school baseball team were suspended after getting drunk during a spring tournament, I sought out someone who might be familiar with the subject.

Walking into the A's clubhouse at the Coliseum with a specific individual in mind, I approached the guy sitting quietly in front of his cubicle at the end of the row, nearest the dining nook, and asked if he had a few minutes. He said he did.

And then Bob Welch asked what I wanted to talk about.

When I told him what happened with the San Ramon Valley High baseball team, Welch turned his chair toward me and slowly lifted his chin.

This was in 1988, my fourth year on the job, and went to Welch because I was aware of his past. He had endured a raging battle with alcohol, a demon that set up camp in his soul during his youth in greater Detroit.

[RELATED: Former A's Cy Young winner Bob Welch passes at 57

Welch, who died on Tuesday at age 57, told me he started drinking during his junior year in high school. He did because "everybody else was doing it." He did it feel better. He did it fit in.

He continued to drink at Eastern Michigan University and after beginning his professional career with the Dodgers in the late 1970s. He entered rehab in 1980, emerged sober and, along with the writer George Vecsey, authored a book about his experience: "Five O'clock Comes Early."

By the time we talked in the A's clubhouse, Welch had been sober eight years.

He was saddened by the events at San Ramon Valley. He spoke freely and comfortably about the pitfalls of youth. When he said he understood how it happens, I felt his compassion. He was reluctant to give advice to the boys, other than saying, "if they're good kids, with good families, they could get past" this episode.

That Wolves team, as I recall, finished the season with junior varsity players. The coach, a man named Rick Steen, had to explain to the parents what had happened and why he felt suspensions were necessary.

Welch helped me immensely that day. He didn't have to. But that's the kind of man he was. I understood why Dave Stewart, the staff ace, who had come up with Welch in the Dodgers system, was so fond of his teammate. The manager, Tony La Russa, called him "Welchie." Pitching coach Dave Duncan called Welch, "Bobby."

[RELATED: Bob Welch's legacy will live on in death]

His teammates had plenty of sarcastically endearing names for Welch, who was hyperactive and could spend minutes on his own planet. He could pitch a bit, too.

One more tidbit that provides a glimpse of Welch is a gesture extended by Mike Thalblum, who still manages the visiting clubhouse at the Coliseum.

Thalblum joined the A's as a teenager in the 1980s. He has worked both clubhouses over the years, encountering thousands of athletes. His two favorites: Stewart and Welch. So Thalblum and his wife, Janine, named their first-born son Stewart Robert.

Thalblum surely was rocked by the news of Welch's death. So was I. But I'll always remember how willingly he helped a young sportswriter navigate a delicate subject. I thought about that every time I saw Welch and, more than once, thanked him.

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