Bob Welch, a star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s in from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, is dead at age 57, the Oakland organization announced Tuesday. While pitching for the pennant-winning 1990 A’s team, Welch compiled a won-loss record of 27-6, winning the American League Cy Young Award and making him, to this day, the last Major League Baseball pitcher to win more than 25 games in a season.
Though he pitched for 17 years in the Major Leagues and compiled an overall record of 211-146 with a career ERA of just 3.47 and 1,969 strikeouts, the fireballing right-hander is best remembered for a single at-bat.
As a 21-year-old Dodgers rookie, Welch ended Game 2 of the 1978 World Series by striking out feared New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson after a nine-pitch battle. That at-bat is captured in the following video.
But Welch said that his most important win came not on the baseball field, but in his battle with alcoholism. His 1991 book, co-written with sportswriter George Vescey, Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Award-Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory, recounted Welch’s struggle with alcohol from age 15, and how an intervention in 1980, arranged by the Dodgers organization, set him on his road to recovery.
In his book, Welch recounts showing up drunk for games and even sneaking beers while games were going on. But when the Dodgers sent him to an Arizona rehabilitation facility in January 1980, he stuck with his recovery for the remaining 15 years of his career.
After the Dodgers traded him to the A’s after the 1987 season, Welch became a key member of a pitching staff on an A’s team that won three consecutive American League championships, from 1988 to 1990, and the World Series in 1989.
That series, in which the A’s swept the San Francisco Giants in four straight games, was memorable for a 10-day interruption due to the October 17 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck the Bay Area just a half-hour before the scheduled start of Game 3.
Welch did not get an opportunity to pitch in that World Series, though he pitched in four other World Series in his career, starting three games and pitching three in relief. He also served as pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, when that team won its first and, to date, only World Series.
No cause of death was announced for Bob Welch, who passed away Monday night in Seal Beach, California.
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Bob Welch,” A’s team President Michael Crowley said in the announcement of the former pitcher’s passing. “He was a legendary pitcher who enjoyed many of his best seasons with the Oakland A’s. He will always be a significant part of our franchise’s history, and we mourn his loss. We send our greatest sympathies to his family and friends.”