Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RIP, Bob Welch

I was stunned by the news I heard earlier Tuesday evening that former Major Leaguer Bob Welch had died of a heart attack on Monday. Welch was just 57 years of age. One moment and one season will always stand out in my mind about Welch.

The moment I am referring to is, of course, his one on one battle with Reggie Jackson in Game 2 of the 1978 World Series. The LA Dodgers had already won Game 1 and led Game 2 4-3 in the top of the 9th inning. Bucky Dent led off the inning with a single off of Terry Forster and Paul Blair drew a one-out walk.

Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda sent for Welch, a rookie at the time, with Thurman Munson and Jackson due up. Munson flew out to right on an 0-1 count, but Jackson and Welch battled through a nine-pitch at-bat. With the count 1-1, Mr. October fouled off three straight pitches before the count evened at 2-2. After another foul ball, Jackson worked the count full. Finally, Welch, the 20th overall pick just a year prior, blew a fastball past Jackson to put the Dodgers up two games to none.

I can see it as if it were yesterday. Jackson's body language expressed his frustration as Welch and his teammates celebrated. (The Yankees would go on to win the next four and in a small measure of revenge, Jackson hit a tape measure home run off of Welch in the finale.)

Welch's 1990 campaign with the Oakland A's was one of the best in baseball history. He finished 27-6 with a 2.95 ERA. It was the most wins since Steve Carlton won 27 for the 1972 St. Louis Cardinals. After he started the season 3-2, Welch reeled off 10 straight wins. He also had five-game and four-game winning streaks later in the season.

Welch won the Cy Young Award and was named to the second of his two All-Star teams. He also finished ninth in the AL MVP voting. He won two World Series rings (1981 Dodgers, 1989 A's) and won 211 career games over a 17-year career (10 in LA, 7 in Oakland). Welch earned a third ring as pitching coach for the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.

After his retirement in 1994, Welch wrote about a book, with George Vecsey, "Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Award-Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory". The tome discussed Welch's battle with alcoholism. He is survived by former wife, Mary Ellen, and three children.

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