A tribute to Bob Tate

A friend remembers all the lives touched by this coach, Navy man, diehard Mariners' fan, and civic figure

It had not been in local newspapers. I got the news Wednesday afternoon via the Mariners-Baltimore Orioles game broadcast. Dave Niehaus announced that Bob Tate, 83, an active member of the Mariners RBI Club (a group of diehard season-ticket holders, to which I also belong), had died.

At my age, deaths of friends and colleagues are an almost daily occurrence. But Bob Tate's death really struck home. He was far more than a devoted Mariners fan. His career affected the lives of thousands of men and women in the Greater Seattle area. A memorial service will be held Sunday, June 28, at the Don James Center, University of Washington.

I first became aware of Bob in 1950. As a Bellingham High School student who served as official scorer and public-address announcer at games of the semi-pro Bellingham Bells, I watched second baseman Tate, playing for a visiting team, hit three home runs and a triple, participate in three double plays, and make several outstanding fielding plays. (A few months ago, knowing I was from Bellingham, he brought to lunch a news clipping he had saved recounting his exploits that day.)

Bob had been an outstanding high school athlete in his hometown of Portland. Later he would star in both baseball and basketball at the University of Washington and, after college, play a year of professional baseball in the California League, where his manager was Vince DiMaggio, a former major-leaguer best known for being the brother of Joe and Dom. Bob was offered a Pacific Coast League contract for the following season but DiMaggio counseled him against taking it. He was "a major league infielder," DiMaggio told him, but "too well educated and smart" to spend a life in then-low-paying baseball.

He moved on to a storied career as a teacher, administrator, and highly successful coach at Garfield, Queen Anne, Cleveland, and Mercer Island Island High Schools. Fifteen of his Garfield High School team members went on to play varsity athletics at the University of Washington. Bob retired as a U.S. Navy captain after 34 years active and reserve service, and was recognized for his contributions to Naval aviation. He also maintained a lifelong interest in community and public service. A couple years ago he brought me a pile of documents relating to what he thought was an inadequate environmental impact statement associated with a rebuild of the Evergreen Point Bridge.

In recent years Bob had a couple medical close calls. Once he collapsed on a sidewalk while walking. But he had the good luck to collapse near the front door of a nurse, who saw him fall, rushed from her home, and revived him. A few weeks ago I saw him at an RBI Club session. He apologized for moving slowly, said he'd been hospitalized briefly, but then remarked on the bright green turf at Safeco Field and went through the motions of fielding a grounder and flipping the ball for a double play.

Bob Tate was a truly good man. His memorial service will be filled with the many people hereabouts whose lives he touched. He never made it to the major leagues, although he could have. But he was a major leaguer in all respects.

Ted Van Dyk has been involved in, and written about, national policy and politics since 1961. His memoir of public life, Heroes, Hacks and Fools, was published by University of Washington Press. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


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