Bob Welch will be remembered by most as one of the most successful right-handed pitchers of the 1980s, but to a generation of Oakland A's minor league prospects, Welch was much more than a former Cy Young-award winner.
The entire A's organization was rocked by the news that Welch passed away suddenly on Monday evening in Seal Beach, California. Welch spent the 1988-1994 seasons pitching for the A's, and the past several seasons as a special instructor in the A's player development program. He was a fixture at the A's minor league complex at Papago Park during much of the spring, summer and fall. He touched the lives of hundreds of A's farmhands during his tenure as a coach.
Welch was widely respected not only for his baseball knowledge, but also for his humor, wisdom and his ability to see the best in everyone. In May, OaklandClubhouse correspondent Kimberly Contreras authored a profile of Welch, in which A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman had this to say about the 211-game winner:
"The players love him and no role is out of the realm for him," Lieppman said to Contreras. "Whether in the bullpen in an Arizona Summer League game or in the major league dugout he remains the same with attitude and presence. He's funny and willing to self-deprecate in order to get his point across.
"He is very humble and the players recognize that he never brags about himself for pride or ego rather he uses his past to help players understand the game as he unselfishly presents his story. He is a great story--teller and brings the history of the game to the present with his description of events and moments from his career and others he's been associated with."
On Twitter, there was an outpouring of grief and remembrances of Welch from A's major league and minor league players, as well as former A's teammates of Welch. To view many of those tweets, please view the @oakclubhouse Twitter timeline.
One-hundred-and-forty characters is often not nearly enough to express what a person meant to someone. Below are more extended thoughts on Welch from several members of the A's minor league system:
From LHP Chris Kohler: Bob was honestly the best coach I've ever had. The bond that any player has with him is extraordinary! The way he taught you about the mental and physical sides of the game you can't find very often.
Even his life lessons that he taught us were extremely helpful, whether it be about family, a girlfriend, or even the littlest things like a bad start to the day, he would always tell us to get it out of the way before practice because once you get to the field, it's baseball time. And nothing should get in your way of getting better. Welchie wasn't only a coach, but a friend that will be missed so much but always there with me with what he's taught me.
RIP Welchie. YOU MAN!!
From C Iolana Akau: Welchie would always joke around, saying crazy things and one thing I'll always remember is that every time any of the players would say "What's Up, Welchie," he'd yell out: "YOU MAN." I guess you would have to know him well in order for you to understand what that meant.
He'd sometimes wrestle or pretend to put up his hands and box with us in the clubhouse. The list goes on but just my experience with him in the Arizona League was one to remember. Always watching after us, always making us laugh. He made us enjoy the game but at the same time he taught us his ways of the game.
From C Kyle Wheeler: Gosh, there are so many memories, and I only knew him for a year and half. He was just the definition of a true leader. He believed in what he preached and stuck by it. Whenever someone needed just the slightest bit of help, Welchie was always there!
He made bad days good, and good days great. I loved showing up to the field and looking for him to just say hello. He always responded, "what a pleasure it is to spend my days with such amazing athletes! I wish I was half as good and tough as you guys! I am truly honored to be in your presence!" And he meant every word.
He was the most inspirational man I have ever met, and I will keep number 35 with me through out my life. My thoughts and prayers to his family! RIP Welchie!
From RHP Tucker Healy: Welchie was always one of the first guys I would see on the field in spring training. He was regularly with my group during stretch, always telling stories and keeping the guys upbeat and loose. He brought his unbelievably positive attitude and big smile everyday to work. That in itself was more worthy than any baseball knowledge you could ever ask for.
Whether you performed well in the baseball drills or during the game that day or not, Welchie always had our back and was always offering encouraging words to us. As I sit here writing this I simply can't even put what he meant to all of us into words. It's not even fair to him to really try to...
The way I see it he was just simply: The Best!
He was there for you when you had a question, when you needed to blow off steam, when you were down on yourself, when you needed someone to play catch with...he did it all.
I'm very grateful for the short time I got to sped with Welchie. He not only taught me a lot about life and baseball but helped me become a better person as well.
From RHP Seth Frankoff: Bob Welch had an infectious personality. His enthusiasm and love for the game was contagious. It didn't matter if you were a first round pick or a 50th rounder, he cared about all players careers equally and did everything he could do to help us in the game of baseball and in life. He was greatly appreciated and will be deeply missed.
From RHP Dan Straily: Bob was a great guy to have around in spring training. He was always great at instilling confidence in you, and teaching you with everything he said. A man with his experience does not have to be out there in the early mornings of spring but he was always there with a smile on his face and ready to share his knowledge of the game and always trying to get the most out of each player he came in contact with.
He will be greatly missed, as the baseball world and the Oakland Athletics lost a great man. But he will not be forgotten.
From LHP Jeff Urlaub: Bob Welch was not just a baseball player. He was a man of integrity, perseverance and honor. Sure everyone remembers him from when he won 27 games in one season or his World Series rings but the side of Welchie no one got to see was him working with minor league players. That man had more dedication, remembering every single player, all 150 of us pitchers, by our first name. He was a man that looked you right in the eye and told you what he felt would make you a better player and a better human. He treated every player like his own son.
He didn't just talk baseball with you; he talked about life and how to handle yourself off the field. The biggest thrill for him was watching each player succeed on the field and he did whatever anyone ever asked of him. The man loved baseball and he gave everything he had every single day whether he was playing, coaching, or mentoring players. He had more energy at 57 years old at 6am than any player would have at 7pm for a game.
I know I can speak for all of A's minor leaguers and say that a simple thank you isn't enough for everything he did. I'll never forget every morning at the breakfast line saying, "What's up, Welchie?" and him always responding with "you man, you chuckin today?" I know I will always have a little of Welchie inside of me.
From C Nick Rickles: I didn't get to interact with him as much as the pitchers did, especially when it came to instruction, but he was the kind of guy to go out of his way and introduce himself and make you comfortable around him. It was unbelievable the amount of advice just about the game of baseball and life that he had for all of us on a daily basis. It almost seemed never-ending.
Even after I had my surgery, he was the first guy to say "Hey Rick, how's your shoulder? Hurry up and get better!" Not to mention the sense of humor he had; he was one-of-a-kind, for sure. He always knew how to make us laugh and "wow" us with his stories.
There isn't enough time to describe what he meant to all of us and the impact he has had on so many of our careers, but he will live through us in our hearts and "in our arms" for the rest of our lives. He gave us stories of our own to tell for many days to come and he will be missed but also be remembered everyday.
Robert Lynn Welch
November 3, 1956-June 9, 2014