MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Welch tribute sits well with Melvin

A's manager honors late friend by addressing media from memorial bench

Welch tribute sits well with Melvin

MESA, Ariz. -- This is all you need to know about the kind of mensch Bob Melvin is: In honor of his friend Bob Welch, the A's manager decided to conduct media interviews this spring on a bench dedicated to the late right-hander's memory.

The green wood-slat bench reads "In memory of Bob Welch; A's pitcher and coach; Cy Young Winner 1990."

When Melvin spied the bench after the A's opened camp this spring at Fitch Park, he decided to sit on it during his daily talks with the assembled media. At his suggestion, it has since been moved to the right corner of the A's dugout at HoHoKam Stadium.

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"When I saw that over at Minor League camp, I started doing my pressers there," Melvin said from that perch in the dugout Sunday before his club ventured across the valley to play the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex. "It just made sense to move it over here as a tribute to him. It seems to be well received."

Welch passed away suddenly on June 9, 2014. He was 57. Welch pitched 17 years in his big league career, the first 10 for the Dodgers and last seven for the A's.

Former A's, Dodgers pitcher Welch dies at 57

It has been a very tough few years for the A's family. Dave Henderson died on Dec. 27 after a lengthy illness. He was also 57. Only last month, on Feb. 17, Tony Phillips had a heart attack and passed at 56.

Welch, Henderson and Phillips were all members of the 1988-89 A's that won American League pennants and swept the Giants in the 1989 earthquake-interrupted World Series. Current A's pitching coach Curt Young also pitched for those Tony La Russa-managed teams.

Phillips was traded to Detroit and didn't play with Oakland in 1990, the year Welch was 27-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 35 starts and won the AL Cy Young Award. The A's completed their AL pennant trifecta that year, but they were swept by the Reds in the World Series.

On Saturday, the A's honored Henderson and Phillips with a moment of silence prior to their game at HoHoKam against the Brewers. Both teams stood on the base lines outside of their dugouts to pay respects.

"It's been a rough period, it really has," Melvin said. "It's hard losing one guy like that -- let alone three -- at such a young age. All of them were so impactful for this organization. Everybody you talk to [says] these were great friends on top of it."

Melvin, 54, never played with Welch. He's a San Francisco Bay Area kid picked by the Tigers in the first round of the 1981 Draft. A catcher, he was traded to the Giants in 1985 and was Bob Brenly's backup for four seasons. Melvin was not a member of the team that lost to Oakland in the 1989 World Series, having been shipped to Baltimore beforehand.

Melvin, though, said he later became friends with Welch.

"He had so much impact on people, on this organization," said Melvin, beginning his fifth full season as A's manager. "Everybody he touched felt like you were a good friend of his. He was a really good friend of mine and Curt's. And I lived in Arizona for quite some time. We'd mountain bike and play golf. He was one of the guys I saw regularly."

Melvin is well known for his various superstitions, like keeping pins aligned on a board the same way every day or changing how he addresses the media depending on whether the team wins or loses. He has been known to sit on the dugout bench for his question-and-answer session one day and then stand the next because of a defeat. Likewise, if Melvin's team is on lengthy losing streak, he'll insist on doing those interviews from exactly the same spot every day.

But that's not the case with the Welch bench. Win or lose, Melvin is intent upon conducting his media sessions this spring there, no matter what.

"Nah, that's not about superstition," Melvin said. "It's about a tribute to Bob Welch. We were such good friends."

Whether the bench travels north with the A's when they return to Oakland to open the season on April 4 against the White Sox is still a question.

Melvin said there's a matter of logistics.

"You know, I haven't gotten that far yet, and it isn't [my decision]," Melvin said. "It's theirs over there, but who knows? I'm not sure where we'd put it at home."

Surely, he'll be able to find a spot.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.