My friend Bob Welch keeled over and died on Monday. He was 57.
Bob was a terrific pitcher but far more important he was a pioneer in rehabilitation from substance abuse.
I have heard from dozens of people – some in my profession – a few famous names -- who were sober, day by day, because Bob Welch, star pitcher, had gone public about his addiction to that dangerous drug called alcohol, and how he took treatment for it.
Bob was intense and sweet, goofy and smart. He picked good people to admire – Dusty Baker, his teammate, and Sandy Koufax, on his visits to the Dodgers. Writer-friends like Lyle Spencer and me would roll our eyes at Welchie’s nervous energy, but then he would drop some words of wisdom from that puppy-dog presence.
The day in Los Angeles in 1985 after Jack Clark won the pennant with a home run, I visited the Dodgers’ clubhouse, which was close to empty.But there was Bob, fidgeting in his locker, tossing stuff around, keeping busy.
He whispered to me: “A lot of the guys are out in the back getting hammered. I choose not to.”
That was the language of The Meadows, the place Bob had gone to save his life, when he was 23 and already suffering blackouts from binge drinking. The Dodgers had intervened, via wise club officials like Al Campanis and Don Newcombe keeping an eye on him, and using the contact with their oil sponsor to send him to rehab.
Bob went off to Arizona for treatment and accepted the fact that he was a drunk, would always be a drunk, and needed to make choices, day by day.
Later, while I was helping him write his 1982 book, “Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Young Man’s Battle with Alcoholism,” I stayed at the Meadows for a separate family week, That week was great for me, clearing up some stuff, not that substance was a problem. I saw plenty of myself in Bob, the nerves, the fears, the desire to succeed, like The Band song by Robbie Robertson about Bob Dylan, “Stagefright” – “But when we get to the end/ He wanna start all over again.”
Bob was wonderful to work with -- smart and intuitive and demanding, just like Martina Navratilova, the other athlete I helped write a book. They both thought like writers, like editors.
Bob and Mary got married and were living in San Francisco, the city he loved so much, when he pitched for the A’s. The night before he was supposed to pitch the third game of the 1989 World Series, the four of us went out to dinner. He was twitching even more than usual. He confided that during the workout he had pulled a groin muscle (taking grounders at short, the big kid) and did not know if he could pitch.
The next day he was getting treatment in the clubhouse at Candlestick Park, jittery, praying to his late mother, whom he loved so much, to get him through this injury. Suddenly, the stadium began to rock, plaster falling on the training table.
“Mom! I didn’t mean this!” he blurted. When the region recovered from the earthquake, he never did pitch in the Series. The new home in the Marina District had a huge crack in it, and yellow emergency tape across the door. It took them many months to move in.
We kept in touch after the marriage broke up. He loved coaching, for the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, and with young players after that.
I would hear from people who played golf with him, who saw him at old-timers events. He looked great. He was sober. He was still nuts. Every few months I would track him down, in Arizona or California, and he would tell me about his athlete’s joints falling apart, about the three kids, about how he was keeping sober, day by day.
I am heartsick, but I know other people who are sober because he went public so early, so openly. That’s far better than his Cy Young Award.
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Bob Welch's funeral will be Saturday, June 14, from 2-4:30 at the Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona. In lieu of flowers, the family will suggest a donation to a charity. More information shortly.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.