When I returned to the A’s beat in the spring of 2013, I hadn’t seen Bob Welch in about five years, maybe more.
I’d hit the road for a dozen-plus years in Seattle and he’d spent time away from the A’s working for the Arizona Diamondbacks but ultimately had been lured back to the Oakland organization by longtime buddy Curt Young.
We’d almost always gotten along well enough, although there are going to be rocky patches between reporters and players, and that’s never going to change.
We started talking, rehashing old times and I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Welch called longtime A’s photographer Michael Zagaris over from the far side of the clubhouse, put his arm around my shoulder and told Zagaris, `I want a picture with this guy.’ ’’
That’s sort of the way it was with Bobby Welch. He liked people. He loved baseball. And anything that brought the two of them together was all right by him.
So I wasn’t surprised when I got on the phones Tuesday to talk with some of his teammates and associates that they got emotional. And it got a little contagious.
Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley could barely talk they were so full of emotion.
Eckersley said he wasn’t sure he could hold it together, but “I have to talk so that people know how I felt about this man.’’
Stewart said he’d lost “one of the best men I’ve ever known.’’
They weren’t alone.
“Welchie was a special guy.’’ Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia said. Scioscia came up in the Dodgers organization with Welch and Stewart. “We lost a really good friend. So we have a heavy heart. First and foremost he was a friend, a talented pitcher and just a really good guy. I spoke with him a couple of months ago. I saw him in spring training a couple of times.
“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. 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.’’
Mark McGwire blossomed as a rookie in 1987, the year before Welch arrived in a three-way trade that cost the A’s Jay Howell and Alfredo Griffin.
“I wish there were more teammates like him throughout the game today,’’ McGwire told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday. “This guy would give you the shirt off his back. He was a fierce competitor. He was just a special guy.
“I’m pretty much as shocked as anybody. It’s a sad day.’’
Rick Honeycutt, the left-handed setup man for Dennis Eckersley with the A’s, was another longtime pal of Welch’s dating back to their shared time with the Dodgers.
“It’s unbelievable; very sad,’’ Honeycutt said. “He’s one of those guys you don’t get to see enough of. He was very much a team guy, always cheering and upbeat. He cared. He just cared about everybody. It always put a smile on your face when you saw him.’’
As for me, I never saw that picture. Too bad. It’d be a keeper.