Until last fall, Bob Welch and C.C. Sabathia had one thing in common – the Cy Young Award, as the best pitcher in his league one year.
Now they have something else – rehab.
Near the end of last season, Sabathia sought out a treatment center to face the addiction to alcohol that he was ready to acknowledge.
“I started reading a lot while I was in rehab,” Sabathia wrote on March 7 in the Players Tribune website.
“The first book I read was called Five O’Clock Comes Early. It’s by a former major league pitcher named Bob Welch, and it hit so incredibly close to home. Bob became a professional when he was only 21 years old and dealt with a lot of the same anxieties that I had felt, so he’d turn to alcohol for confidence. He ended up checking into a rehab facility, and when he came out on the other side of treatment he was a changed man. He ended up going on to have a great career after he got help.”
Riley Welch read Sabathia’s story and alerted me. Riley is a ball player himself, a college and minor-league pitcher, now coaching pitchers in Honolulu. He’s always been proud of his dad, who died suddenly in 2014 at the age of 57.
“It brings my family and me great pleasure and joy to see that now, almost thirty years after Five O'Clock Comes Early's initial release date, it is still helping someone live a healthier life,” Riley wrote to me. “I’m very proud that the book was able to provide inspiration for someone during a rough period in his life.”
In 1980-82, before Riley was born, I helped Bob write his book, when his rehab was still raw and he needed to reinforce it every day – to verbalize that he was choosing not to drink when the guys were getting hammered in the back room of the clubhouse.
Over the years, I’ve received dozens of letters from readers – almost always men – who said they were staying sober – that day – because of what they learned from Bob.
I don't know if C.C. Sabathia knew Bob Welch. Bob won the Cy Young in 1990 with Oakland; Sabathia won his in 2007 with the Yankees. But baseball is a fraternity with frequent lodge meetings, and Sabathia grew up in the Bay Area, Bob’s long-time home, so maybe they did know each other.
More importantly, Sabathia is taking an example from a pitcher who saved his career, his life, when he was just getting started. I can only imagine Bob’s enthusiasm when he heard that a colleague had taken the big step.
Bob’s book was reissued in electronic form last year, with a new chapter I wrote after Bob’s passing. C.C. Sabathia’s testimony reminds Riley Welch that his dad is with us, with lessons to teach anybody with “the problem.” Riley added:
“I know my father would be proud of C.C. for getting help when he needed it.”
* * *
Riley also enclosed a recent story by Barry Bloom, about how Bob Melvin, the Oakland manager, has put the bench commemorating Bob in a prominent spot at the spring ballpark.
3/10/2016 03:21:17 pm
3/10/2016 06:01:23 pm
Dear Altenir, thank you. It is nice to know the book lives....35 years after we started working on it. Bob was a character....saved his life by getting sober. Some young people (or not so young) doing self-destructive things could relate to him.
3/10/2016 08:38:45 pm
Everyone benefits by an inspirational pick-me-up, every day. This was wonderful to read. But it is even more wonderful to know that someone I admire had a hand in helping an accomplished human get through his life's deepest trouble. If your children don't listen to you, George, they deserve a spanking no matter how old they are. I suspect they know, and very much appreciate. I have no doubt Bob Welch loved his very personal collaboration with you on his story, as much as CC did in reading it.
3/11/2016 08:14:42 am
Brian, thanks for the nice words. My family got to know him. David was 12 or 13 when I went to Montreal for a Dodgers series. Bob was giving a narrative of the drinking/social habits of people at other tables at dinner. He could read people so well. Very intuitive, very hilarious, part of the package.
mike from whitestone
3/10/2016 10:22:44 pm
GV, thanks for this piece, another reminder, another lesson, another winner. A Bill W friend of mine, sports fan, was so pleased when I forwarded the link. We agreed, CC, stay centered, stay focused.
3/11/2016 08:20:26 am
Mike, thanks. I got lucky, that Bob had time to visit "his" rehab center where I went for a week as part of the book, and I had to participate. He gave me a guided tour of the place, with anecdotes of how he tried to fight the system. At the end, they give you a medal with the Serenity Prayer on it -- chemical stuff never an issue for me, but the prayer gets me through a lot of other stuff, day by day. Too bad you never met Welch. But you got a feel for him from the book. best. GV
3/11/2016 12:23:50 pm
My dad, RIP, embraced the program at age 61. It changed his and my family's lives so positively. I am thankful. I find myself rooting for athletes who confront and conquer the addiction disease. Plus I'm a lifelong Yankees fan!! Thanks George.
3/11/2016 07:56:45 pm
Dear Michael: Thanks so much. I've seen people combat addiction in later years, and bring healing in outward circles. The key is day by day -- and it's never too late. I root for people who have taken it on -- not just athletes, but other public figures and more private people. I appreciate your comment. GV
8/14/2018 06:19:18 pm
Thanks for the information! My husband, Bryan, and Bobby were best friends their entire life! Best man at his wedding and even in Scottsdale for the memorial. I am proud to know that Riley reached out to C.C., and even prouder that Bobby's story is still impacting people.
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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.