Former A's, Dodgers pitcher Welch dies at 57
Right-hander last to win at least 25 games when he recorded 27 for Oakland in 1990
The power pitcher who gained greater prominence because of a final-pitch strikeout in a World Series game than he did for a seminal season and winning a Cy Young Award has died. Bob Welch, forever linked to Reggie Jackson for the strikeout that ended Game 2 of the 1978 Series, died Monday night in Seal Beach, Calif., his legacy tied to two California teams.
The A's, the second of the two clubs in Welch's 17-season career, announced Tuesday the passing of the strong-armed right-handed pitcher who was merely 57 years old. A subsequent release from the Dodgers, Welch's first employer, stated the cause of death was a heart attack. There had been no indication of heart weakness or trouble. Welch's death was quite unexpected.
"The Los Angeles Dodgers are saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Welch," Dodgers president and chief executive officer Stan Kasten said. "He was one of the greatest competitors to wear the Dodger uniform."
"This is a sad day for the entire A's organization," A's vice president and general manager Billy Beane said Tuesday. "Those of us who knew Bob as a teammate and a friend will miss him greatly. My condolences go out to his family."
When his playing career ended following the 1994 season, Welch had pitched 10 summers with the Dodgers and seven with the Athletics and produced a notable resumé. He had won 211 games and struck out 1,969 batters in 3,092 innings. Welch produced eight seasons in which he won at least 14 games, and in six of the eight, his winning percentages were .609 or greater.
Welch pitched as a starter and reliever as a rookie in 1978, reaching the big leagues less than a year and 13 days after the Dodgers had made him the 10th selection in the 1977 amateur draft. A native of Detroit, he had pitched for Eastern Michigan University. The Cubs had drafted Welch four years earlier, but he opted for a college career.
Welch was a starter exclusively after 1979, accumulating 57 of his career 61 complete games and 25 of his 28 career shutouts.
Welch's career peaked in 1990, his third season with the A's. He had been part of a seven-player, three-club trade that also involved the Mets. Having won 17 games in 1988 and '89, Welch exceeded the most grandiose expectations, earning more victories that any pitcher had following the 27-win season of Steve Carlton in 1972.
Pitching for a team that won 103 games and a third successive division championship, Welch also led the American League in winning percentage, .818, but in no other category. Indeed, his 2.95 ERA that season was the second lowest among A's starters. Dave Stewart won 22 games, produced a 2.56 ERA, made one more start than Welch, pitched 29 more innings, had four shutouts to Welch's two and 11 complete games, nine more than Welch.
Just the same, Welch received 15 of the 28 first-place votes in the balloting for the AL Cy Young Award, and his point total (107) exceeded that of Roger Clemens by 40 and Stewart's by 64. Welch, one of six A's to place among the top 12 in balloting for the AL MVP Award -- Rickey Henderson placed first -- was ninth, one place behind Stewart, three places behind Dennis Eckersley and, respectively, two and three places ahead of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
For all he accomplished as a member of the A's, Welch's epic seven-minute confrontation against Jackson in the second straight Dodgers-Yankees World Series was the most prominent episode of his career. Jackson's three-home run attack in the deciding game of the 1977 World Series served as a prequel for Oct. 11, 1978, when Welch was summoned to face the Yankees slugger with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth inning of Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers led, 4-3.
Welch retired Thurman Munson on a fly ball to right field and then threw fastballs exclusively in the protracted battle with the player who already had taken the name Mr. October. After the final swing and miss had provided the Dodgers a 2-0 advantage in the series, Jackson turned toward the visiting dugout, barking profanities in an animated walk. After he disappeared into the runway behind the dugout, he inadvertently walked into Bob Lemon, teammates said, pushing aside the Yankees manager.
"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," Kasten said.
Anyone who witnessed the confrontation and had an allegiance to either team will recall the moment. The integrity of the moment remains even though the Yankees swept the subsequent four games and that Jackson contributed a single against Welch during the rally that decided Game 4 and hit a home run against Welch in Game 6.
"It was a moment ... or a few minutes that people enjoyed," Jackson said years later. "I didn't enjoy it much. But it was good for the game. It gave people something to hang on to. It took a real competitor [Welch] and someone who was comfortable in the moment and had a history of delivering. They remember it because it was me striking out. I guess that's a compliment. But I wish I'd had a few more whacks and then delivered."
Welch's career in the game didn't end when he retired as a player. He served as the pitching coach for the D-backs in 2001, the year they defeated the Yankees in the World Series.
"This is a tragic and sad day, as Bob Welch will be remembered by everyone who knew him as a great teammate and a great friend," said D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall, who had worked for the Dodgers earlier in his career.
"Though he was on our coaching staff for just one season, it was certainly memorable, as he guided our pitching staff to a world championship and will always be a part of our history. Not only did he have a distinguished playing career, but as a coach at Arizona State University and then with the D-backs, he impacted many people's lives in a positive way and he will truly be missed."
Welch had served as a special instructor for the A's in recent years, working on the Minor League level as well as visiting the big league camp during Spring Training.
Welch had two other claims to fame. He was to have started Game 3 of the 1989 World Series against the Giants, but the earthquake that postponed the game, delayed the series and did extensive damage to the Bay Area also prompted a revision of the A's rotation. Welch never pitched in the A's sweep.
Later, Welch and George Vescey, then of The New York Times, collaborated on a book entitled "Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Award-Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory." The book chronicles Welch's battle with alcoholism.
Welch is survived by his sons Riley (23 and the A's 10th-round selection in the 2008 Draft), Dylan (25), daughter Kelly (18) and former wife Mary Ellen. Memorial services are pending. Welch's passing is the third among members of the Dodgers team that lost the '78 World Series to the Yankees. Johnny Oates and Glenn Burke also have passed.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.