ANAHEIM -- A's pitching coach Dave Duncan knew Bob Welch could get a little hyper when he was on the mound, so before Welch was to start Game 3 of the 1988 World Series against the Dodgers, Duncan handed him a piece of paper with a single word written on it.
Welch looked at the word, "relay," and wondered what it meant.
He pitched five innings that night in Oakland, giving up one run in a game the A's would win 2-1. Afterward, he went to Duncan to ask him about "relay."
Welch had misread the word. It was "relax." And for the next few seasons with the A's, Welch would have "relax" written on the tongue of his baseball shoes so whenever he was in a jam, he could look down and remember what it was he needed most to do.
Duncan and the other members of the A's family reacted with shock Tuesday at the news of Welch's passing. Welch, 57, died at his home in Seal Beach. No cause of death was given, but the Dodgers, the team with which Welch broke into the majors, said it was a heart attack.
"It's a terrible shame,'' Sandy Alderson, who as the A's general manager engineered the trade that acquired Welch in 1987, told this newspaper. "He was a big part of our success in the late 1980s and 1990s and a terrific person to be around. It's a tragedy to see someone like that pass so early in life.
"He was so positive and fun-loving and a very talented baseball player.''
A mainstay with the Dodgers for a decade and then with the A's teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Welch left a deep impact on A's baseball both as a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher and as a minor league instructor.
A's coaches Mike Gallego and Curt Young were so broken up about the news that they couldn't talk about it. Manager Bob Melvin, whose relationship with Welch dated to the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks when both were coaches, couldn't talk about Welch long without walking away after saying "there are a lot of heavy hearts in here today.''
The A's had hoped to see Welch later this summer at a Coliseum reunion of the 1989 World Series championship team. Welch won 17 games that season. He was supposed to pitch in Game 3 of the World Series in San Francisco, but that got derailed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
"He will be there in spirit,'' four-time 20-game winner Dave Stewart said of the July 19 get-together.
Stewart and Welch came up together in the Dodgers system, and both reached their peak with the A's. They were workout partners, they ran together, they even owned twin cardio workout machines they used year round.
"I've just lost one of the best guys I've ever been around in my life,'' Stewart said. "I talked to him two weeks ago. From what I heard, everything was all good. That was common for Bobby. He always sounded great.
"We were teammates through the minor leagues, then the big leagues, first with the Dodgers, then moving on to Oakland. Bobby was always trying to teach me how to play golf. Every time I tried to give it up, he said, you've got to keep playing. That was Bobby, a glass-half-full guy. I never heard him say a negative word about anyone.''
Talking about the 1989 reunion that will go on without Welch, former A's closer and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley said from Boston, "maybe we can make it about Bobby.''
"I am totally moved; I didn't realize how affected I'd be. He was an incredible guy, and we had a special connection. So now there's so much sadness. He touched me, and I'm touched now. I loved the guy. He was one hell of a guy. Bobby connected with everybody.
"You hear people talk about guys being good teammates. Bobby was. He was a top-step guy. He had major energy.''
It wasn't just the old-timers who saw that. Welch had been an instructor with the A's for the last few years, and as such he helped current A's closer Sean Doolittle make the transition from hitter to pitcher.
"He was so positive and upbeat, even when he was working with players at Single-A," Doolittle said. "You could see the passion Bob Welch had for the game by the way he loved working with young pitchers. I was one of those, and I soaked it up. I only knew him a few years; I can only image how the guys he played with feel.''
Welch, who broke in with the Dodgers in 1978, reached the summit of his game in 1990 when he won 27 games and the Cy Young Award in his third year with Oakland.
"It's hit me real hard,'' A's batting coach Chili Davis said. "He was a special person. I can tell you though that (as a hitter) he wasn't a bundle of joy to face.
Welch, who went 61-23 in his first three years after leaving the Dodgers for the A's, last pitched in 1994. He'd spent some time as the pitching coach for the Diamondbacks but in recent years was working for the A's as a minor league instructor. He was with the A's in spring training in Phoenix.
Welch first garnered national acclaim by striking out Reggie Jackson with two on and two outs in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 1978 World Series when Welch was just 21.
"That was a seminal moment, against Reggie,'' Stewart said. "When it came to the game of baseball, he would come at you with everything he had.''
After a prolonged battle with alcohol, Welch wrote a book, "Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Ballplayer's Battle With Alcoholism," in which he was frank about his drinking and his efforts to quit.
Eckersley walked the same path. He, like Welch, had to fight his way out of alcoholism. And that formed a link that still endures.
"I look at what a brave dude to do what he did about his alcoholism and write about it,'' Eckersley said. "We had such a bond being alcoholics. Man, this news hurts.''
Bob Welch was 61-23 in his first three seasons with the A's, winning a Cy Young Award.
Team Years W L ERA
Dodgers 1978-87 115 86 3.14
A's 1988-94 96 60 3.94
Career totals 211 146 3.47
All-Star games: 2 (1980, 1990)
Cy Young Award: 1 (1990)