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ANAHEIM – Bob Welch left such an impression on so many people associated with the A’s, and that made it a somber afternoon Tuesday for those grieving the death of the former Oakland pitcher.
Welch died Monday night inside his home in Seal Beach at age 57, with the official cause of death yet to be released. The news rocked those with both current and past ties to the A’s organization.
“He had such an infectious personality,” said Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, an A’s teammate of Welch from 1988-94. “To have this happen at such an early age, it just hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Welch was a mainstay of the A’s 1989 World Series championship team and a Cy Young winner in 1990. His connections ran deep with Oakland’s current coaching staff. Pitching coach Curt Young and third base coach Mike Gallego played alongside Welch with the A’s, as did general manager Billy Beane.
Manager Bob Melvin coached alongside Welch on the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks team that won the World Series. In the opposing dugout Tuesday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia also reflected on Welch. They were battery mates with the Dodgers.
“You never heard a bad word said about him,” Melvin said quietly. “He was as generous a guy as you’ll ever meet. A class human being. There’s some heavy hearts.”
Eckersley considered his bond with Welch a special one. Both battled alcoholism early in their careers, and Eckersley was thrilled to finally meet Welch in 1988 when the A’s acquired Welch from the Dodgers in a three-team trade.
“We had such a major connection, a bond for life,” Eckersley said in a phone interview. “When you started talking about baseball, he was so passionate. He was just an excitable guy. When you walked away, you were affected by him.”
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Eckersley, of course, built his legendary career as a closer for the A’s. But leading into the 1988 season, he had designs on returning to a starting role. That was until then-A’s manager Tony La Russa called and informed him the team had acquired Welch.
“He said, ‘You’re staying in the bullpen,’” Eckersley recalled with a chuckle. “Thank God I did.”
Welch co-authored a book about his struggle with alcoholism, “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” that provided inspiration for others to overcome their addictions.
Scioscia spoke admirably of Welch both on and off the field.
“He had a great arm, but what made him so special at a young age was the way he could command the corners with his velocity,” Scioscia said. “He was a great talent, but that wasn't really what he was about. Bobby was a guy who, every time there was a roadblock in the way, he got over it. He didn't take the easiest path, but he was a solid guy.”
The Dodgers released a statement saying Welch died Monday night of a heart attack, though authorities hadn’t confirmed that as of Tuesday evening.
Longtime A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich sat in the visitor’s clubhouse at Angel Stadium on Tuesday afternoon and reminisced about a golf outing with Welch shortly after the A’s traded for him.
“You could just see he was a different person, a special person,” Vucinich said. “he was always the friendliest guy. It didn’t matter who you were. He was talking to you.”
Welch spent the past couple seasons working as a special instructor with the A’s during spring training. He also helped out some during instructional league, and he made quite an impression on A’s closer Sean Doolittle, who attended instructional league as he was transitioning from first base to pitcher.
“He was so positive,” Doolittle said. “It’s one thing for a guy to come back to an organization after having a career like that, and just kind of show his face -- put the uniform back on. But man, he got in there and he did everything, every (pitcher’s) drill. It was infectious. It was awesome.”