Former major league pitcher Bob Welch died of a heart attack Monday night. He was only 57 years old.
Welch, who pitched for 17 years in the Major Leagues, was drafted by the Dodgers in 1977 out of Eastern Michigan University. He made his major league debut on June 20th, 1978, after just a 25 game stint in the minors. One day later, Welch notched his first major league victory by pitching two innings of scoreless relief. He was later made a starter and finished the season with a 7-4 record. Although Welch was a fresh face, it didn’t take long for him to become part of Dodgers history.
It was game 2 of the 1978 World Series versus the Yankees at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers were nursing a one run lead in the top of the ninth inning. With one out and Yankee runners on first and second, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda pulled his left-handed closer Terry Forster and brought in the right-handed Welch to face catcher Thurman Munson. Munson hit a fly ball for out number two and Reggie Jackson stepped to the plate.
It ended up becoming a David-versus-Goliath story. Jackson kept fouling off pitch after pitch and worked the count full. In what turned out to be a seven minute at bat, Welch finally got Jackson to strike out and secure the victory. You can see it here. Years later, Jackson would quip that the real reason for the strike out was that a camera flashbulb went off just as he began to swing and he lost sight of the pitch. That single at bat even inspired some poetry.
Welch had a solid 115-86 record with a 3.14 ERA in his 10 year Dodgers career.
Welch was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1987 as part of a deal that would bring pitcher Jay Howell and infielder Alfredo Griffin to the Dodgers. The trade obviously helped both teams – the Dodgers defeated Welch’s A’s in the 1988 World Series.
Welch would help pitch the A’s to a World Series championship in 1989. He won 27 games in 1990 and earned a Cy Young award. Welch added a third World Series championship ring to his trophy case as the pitching coach for the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sort of odd that each of Welch’s World Series championships were somewhat tempered by stories off the field. 1981, when the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in the fall classic, was the year a baseball strike upset fans and split the season into two halves. In 1989, an earthquake interrupted the Giants-A’s World Series and, of course, the 2001 World Series became a band aid of sorts towards helping the country recover from 9/11.
Welch detailed both his career and struggles with alcohol in the book “Five O’clock comes early: A young man’s battle with alcoholism.”
“The Los Angeles Dodgers are saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Welch,” said Dodger President and CEO Stan Kasten. “He was one of the greatest competitors to wear the Dodger uniform. Dodger fans will always remember his confrontation with Yankee great Reggie Jackson in Game 2 of the 1978 World Series, when the 21-year-old rookie struck out Jackson to end the game. “
Welch leaves behind three children-Dylan,Riley, and Kelly. Funeral services are pending.