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.”
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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.
There is no consolation for losing a friend way too young, but at least Bob Welch’s book on his alcoholism has a new life – in electronic form.
Bob died suddenly in June of 2014 at the age of 57. I wrote a tribute to him, how he went through rehab in 1980, at the age of 23, after nearly wrecking his pitching career. He stayed sober and wound up winning the Cy Young Award, but his real victory was sobriety. He set an example for others, particularly young people who think they are immune to being alcoholics at such an early age.
Bob gives examples -- frightening, graphic, and illuminating -- of the acts and cover-ups of the alcoholic.
His son Riley was the driving force behind the re-publication of Bob’s book. He wanted his dad to be remembered, for all the right reasons.
I have written a new prologue and epilogue to cover the main points of Bob’s life after pitching. (There are also some links to stories about Bob, as well as a couple about alcoholism.) Bob always reminded people – and himself – that alcoholics need to be vigilant, day by day.
I’m not an alcoholic, but I surely learned from Bob and my other friends that you don’t have to drink, at this moment.
Of all the books I have written, this one has done the most good. Alas, the earlier versions of Bob’s book are out of print, but I hope anybody interested in “the problem” – particularly in the young -- will consider clicking off an e-copy of Bob’s book, via Open Road Integrated Media:
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