It’s a damn shame that team-issued sets are mostly a thing of the past. Not only were they a great resource for players who might have been overlooked by the major card manufacturers, but many also included the now-extinct coaches card(s). This injustice became more evident to me as I was taking stock of my all-time roster project and noticed I have exactly one card of today’s subject. And because that card is shared with the rest of the coaching staff, I decided to do something about it: I took an image of a team-issued card off the internet, found some card stock at work that I thought would do the job and boom- I now have a replica of West Stock’s 1979 Seattle Mariners Postcard. I would love to have an original (not only of Stock, but the rest of the cards issued during the team’s infancy) but they are difficult to find and can command premium prices.
The decision to leave a club that had dominated the ‘70s for an expansion team might have been a difficult one for most men- but not Wes Stock.
Stock, who had been the pitching coach for the Oakland Athletics since the 1973 season, had seen, as The Sporting News called it, an ‘exodus’ take place within the organization. This flight from the Bay area was substantial for a team coming off a 2nd-place finish during the 1976 season (2.5 games behind A.L. West winners, the Kansas City Royals): seven players left as free-agents during the offseason- and that doesn’t include Reggie Jackson or Ken Holtzman, both of whom were traded to Baltimore at the onset of the 1976 season. But it wasn’t the roster turnover the team was about to undergo that led to Stock leaving for less-than greener pastures. It was a chance to go back home.
In this case, “home” was the Pudget Sound area.
The opportunity to go home actually came eight years earlier, when Wes, then a roving minor league pitching instructor for the New York Mets, was offered the position of pitching coach for the second-year Seattle Pilots. The homecoming never materialized, however, as the Pilots were sold to Milwaukee used car salesman Bud Selig, who would move the team to the Midwest just days before the start of the 1970 season.
The move must have been a disappointment for Stock, who was initially hesitant in taking the Pilots job- and only did so after Whitey Herzog convinced him to accept the offer. Nevertheless, Wes stayed in Beertown for three seasons before moving on to the World Champion Oakland Athletics for the 1973 season. While in Oakland, Wes inherited a staff that included Jim Hunter, Vida Blue, the aforementioned Ken Hultzman, John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom and Rollie Fingers. The group was quite a contrast to the collection of ragtag has-beens, never-weres and victims of the numbers-game that Stock would assemble his first season in the Pacific Northwest.
With the Mariners looking to build their foundation on team speed and young pitching, Stock knew the importance of bringing the younger arms along slowly. “The big danger in the early going is the tendency for the younger pitchers to throw too hard,” he said that first spring. Wes knew the temptation for the “greener ones,” as he called them, would be to try to impress he and assistant Mel Stottlemyer- and it was their responsibility to make sure that didn’t happen. An optimist, Stock believed the inexperienced staff only needed an opportunity to develop- even going so far as to invoke the name of a certain rookie sensation from the previous season. Had anyone heard of Mark Fidrych prior to the 1976 season, he asked rhetorically. “It is opportunity that makes stars,” the coach would wax philosophical.
After having time to assess the pitching staff once they reported to spring training, Wes was even more optimistic, being quick to point out how the Mariners pitchers were (physically) the biggest that he had ever seen. Three of the possible starters (Glenn Abbott, Frank MacCormack and Gary Wheeler) stood 6’3” or taller. He also couldn’t stop singing the praises of many of the arms in camp. Even Dodgers scout Charlie Metro came away impressed. “There are some very good arms in this camp,” the late MLB player and manager would tell The Sporting News.
Once the season began the pitching staff was very much like a ship at sea. There would be times when the waters raged, the wind- howling; and then, a calming. Injuries took their toll early in the schedule, as two of the most promising arms (Dick Pole- rib cage; Frank MacCormack- shoulder) spent time on the disabled list. Enrique Romo (their best reliever) pitched well, but was pitching through a hamstring injury. With a thin starting rotation, the bullpen started bearing a heavier load. The team was down to just one lefty- not ideal as they embarked on a trip to Yankee Stadium. By the time the starting rotation was getting healthy and starters were going deeper into the games, the pen began to unravel. The staff, which the organization thought would be a strength, did not live up to expectations. Nor would it in the coming years.
Lauded by many inside (and outside) the organization for having as talented a group of pitchers of any American League team, Seattle constantly found itself at or near the bottom of the league in just about every pitching category. And not just during its expansion season; it would plague the team throughout Stock’s tenure.
Wes’ final season as Seattle’s pitching coach came in 1981, the “Split-Season,” and would present yet more difficulties. The team entered the season with the second youngest rotation in baseball, with the average age of the five starters at just 24 years and 7 months old. As far as major-league experience, they were pretty green, as well, with an average of just 1 year, 111 days of service-time.
Working with the youngest staff he had ever coached, Stock called the experience “a challenge.” “You have to do a lot more teaching and you have to be patient with them. You tell them every time they do something wrong, but it is not because you are finding fault. You know they don’t have the experience and aren’t going to be perfect. But you push them to make them feel more confident. You do it because you want them to get better.”
That Maury Wills returned as manager in ’81, having taken over the job after the team fired Darrell Johnson on August 3, 1980, only exacerbated the situation. Though Wills would get canned in May, working under the inept manager became what Stock would refer to as a “chore.” The joy of the game would return under Wills’ replacement, Rene Lachemann.
Just over one month in to Lachemann’s captaincy, the player’s union staged the first mid-season strike in the history of major league baseball. While it would be one of the darkest periods in the history of the sport, the time off afforded Wes something he had not had much of previously: time to spend with his family. It also gave him a taste of the retirement from the game he would soon enjoy, however briefly. At the end of the season, the Washington native would announce his retirement.
“Everybody tells me I’ll never be able to walk away from [the game],” Stock told Tracy Ringolsby of his decision. “But I’m looking forward to the challenge.” With a job lined up in the construction business, Wes still spoke of his desire to remain connected to the game by attending games at the concrete mausoleum known as the Kingdom. And, should his new employer permit it, to work in some part-time capacity as a pitching instructor.
Stock’s return to the game saw him in the broadcast booth for select games during the 1982 and 1983 seasons, providing color commentary alongside Rick Rizzs and Dave Niehaus for KSTW, the independent television station that broadcasted Mariners and Sonics games. Following his brief career in broadcasting, Wes returned to Oakland, where he would serve as pitching coach from 1984-1986. After the arrival of Tony LaRussa in 1986, Wes found himself back in the minor leagues for the next eight seasons, retiring from the game for good following the 1994 season.