The Oakland Athletics announced today that Bob Welch died at the age of 57. That is too young.
Welch had a remarkable career that featured World Series appearances as a player in three different decades and as a coach in a fourth.
He battled alcoholism that nearly derailed his career and came back to have his finest seasons.
In 1977, he was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers from Eastern Michigan University. Less than a year later, he was in the majors and contributing to a defending pennant winner.
The pitching staff he broke in with included Hall of Famer Don Sutton and stars like Tommy John, Burt Hooton, stable veterans like Terry Forster, Doug Rau and knuckleballer Charlie Hough.
(His future A’s teammate Dave Stewart was also on that team. More on him later.)
He made his mark with the 1978 Dodgers and saw himself on the mound during one of the great tense stand offs in World Series history.
With the Yankees trailing 4-3 in the 9th, Dodger reliever Terry Forster let the tying and go ahead runs on base with only one out. Dodger manager Tom Lasorda brought in the 21 year old Welch to face Thurman Munson. He got him out but faced Jackson.
Reggie had won the 1977 World Series MVP, capping off the clincher with three home runs against the Dodgers. In 1978, he picked up where he left off with a homer and in Game 2 had driven in all 3 Yankee runs.
Now he and Welch faced off in an epic 9 pitch at bat that had the Dodger Stadium crowd screaming with every pitch. Eventually Welch struck him out and gave the Dodgers a 2-0 series lead. (The Yankees would win the next 4 to win the Series and Jackson would later homer off of Welch, but let’s not dwell on that.)
Not as remembered as the Jackson game was Welch coming in to pitch in the 1981 NLCS. The Dodgers had a 2-1 lead in the 5th and final game in Montreal and Fernando Valenzuela on the mound. With 2 out and nobody on, he walked Gary Carter and Larry Parrish.
Lasorda brought in Welch to pitch to Jerry White with the tying and pennant winning runs on base. White grounded out and sent the Dodgers to the World Series, where they would win against Reggie Jackson and company.
After the 1987 season, Welch was sent from the Dodgers to the A’s in a complicated three team deal that also involved the Mets.
He revived his career that had sagged while he dealt with alcoholism. He joined Dave Stewart (another 1981 Dodger reclamation project) to create one of the best pitching tandems in baseball. They won the pennant in 1988, where ironically they were topped by the Dodgers.
Joined by Mike Moore in 1989, the A’s won it all. Welch was scheduled to pitch in the World Series but when the Earthquake cancelled game three and caused 10 days of postponements, Tony LaRussa started Stewart and Moore instead. Either way, Welch got ring number 2.
In 1990, he won 27 games, and so far is the last pitcher to win as many as 25. He won the Cy Young and the A’s won another pennant.
He never pitched again after the 1994 strike but emerged as a coach on the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks squad, earning ring number 3.
Bob Welch had a remarkable career filled with highlights, lowlights, redemption and titles.
It was a baseball life worth celebrating.
Please enjoy Welch clinching the 1981 NLCS.