35th Anniversary Flashback – Bob Wolcott
Former Seattle Mariners pitcher Bob Wolcott, who was a key member of the 1995 Refuse to Lose team, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Mariners vs. Minnesota Twins game on Saturday, August 18 (6:10pm start).
If you tried to pinpoint the moment that the Mariners remarkable Refuse to Lose run began, an argument could be made for the bottom of the 9th, August 24, Mariners vs. New York Yankees.
Coming into the month the Mariners were 13 games behind the Division-leading California Angels. By August 24, the Mariners had lost eight of their last 12 games, and were trailing the Yankees 7-6 in the bottom of the 9th.
Then, Ken Griffey Jr. hit his first ever walk-off home run and the Mariners beat the Yankees 9-7. The Mariners went on to win 25 of their final 36 games to tie the Angels for first place.
Thrust into this improbable situation was a 21-year old rookie from Medford, Oregon named Bob Wolcott.
“That was a lot of fun. My main goal was to contribute, to pull my weight, do my part. Everyone was playing well and contributing at the right time,” said Wolcott.
Wolcott made his Major League debut on August 18, with a strong outing against the Red Sox, defeating Tim Wakefield 9-3.
It was tough to walk into the Mariners clubhouse as a rookie, said Wolcott. “I was like a fish out of water on that veteran team. Two months before I was at Double A and around 21-23 year olds. I think the average age of the team was 32, so it was a little different,” said Wolcott.
But the veterans embraced the rookie, including Jay Buhner, Norm Charlton, Joey Cora, Griffey, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Luis Sojo.
“That was a great team to be on. It was such a positive atmosphere, everyone got along, it was a ‘team’ atmosphere. It was something else.”
Wolcott’s second start—and win—was at Fenway Park, when Randy Johnson couldn’t get loose during his warm-up. Wolcott allowed just two runs in six-plus innings.
As the Mariners adjusted their roster, Wolcott was optioned to Single A Wisconsin on August 31. He was recalled a few days later and finished the season 3-2 over seven appearances.
On the strength of his pitching performances, Wolcott was named to the Mariners postseason roster, and manager Lou Piniella surprised the baseball world when he named the now 22-year old rookie his starter for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians.
“When I got the call, I was at my place in Federal Way. My parents were visiting, and I was building a fly rod. When I got off the phone, I went right back to building my fly rod,” said Wolcott. No pressure, no problem.
Piniella may have second guessed his decision when Wolcott walked the bases loaded in the first inning. But the rookie, who was facing the American League’s best offense, wiggled out of the jam like a veteran. He struck out Albert Bell, got Eddie Murray to pop up to third and Jim Thome to ground out to second. Wolcott scattered eight hits over seven innings, giving up two runs for the 3-2 win.
The Indians went on to win the series 4-2, ending one of the most memorable runs in Mariners and Major League Baseball history.
Wolcott pitched two more years for the Mariners, went to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1988 and the Boston Red Sox in 1999. He also pitched a year for the Kintetsu Buffaloes in Japan.
Shoulder surgery ended his baseball career, but opened the door to a new profession. While rehabbing his shoulder, he took a series of aptitude test that confirmed his interest in science and physics would be the right path for him. (Wolcott was offered a scholarship to Stanford, but he turned it down to sign with the Mariners in 1992.)
In 2001, Wolcott enrolled in Southern Oregon University, then went on to Oregon State, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Today, he is the owner of Wolcott Design Services, an engineering firm in Newberg, Oregon, just outside Portland.
Over the years, Wolcott has been to Safeco Field, including a 2005 reunion of the 1995 team. But he hasn’t stepped on a Major League mound since 1999. Wolcott says he’s looking forward to Saturday’s first pitch. He’s bringing the family to “show them what dad used to do.”