He provided the Dodgers with an iconic moment: a fresh-faced rookie blowing away baseball’s most feared hitter in a David vs. Goliath World Series duel before a roaring capacity crowd in Chavez Ravine.
Bob Welch striking out the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson in Game 2 of the 1978 World Series announced the arrival of the young right-hander early in his career, but he went on to pitch for 17 seasons, winning the American League Cy Young award with the Oakland Athletics in 1990.
FOR THE RECORD:
Bob Welch: An obituary of former Dodger pitcher Bob Welch in the June 11 LATExtra section reported that he grew up in Ferndale, Mich., southeast of Detroit. In fact, Ferndale is north and slightly west of central Detroit.
Welch, 57, died at his home Monday in Seal Beach, the Dodgers and A’s reported. The Dodgers said in a statement that Welch died of a heart attack. Lt. Jeffrey Hallock, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, said an autopsy had been performed, but an official cause of death would have to await toxicology tests.
Welch played on five teams that advanced to the World Series, two of which won championships — the Dodgers in 1981 and A’s in 1989 — and was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitching coach when they won the World Series in 2001.
“I wish there were more teammates like him throughout the game today,” said Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire, who was a teammate of Welch with the A’s. “This guy would give you the shirt off his back. Fierce competitor.
“He was just a special guy.”
The 6-foot-3 Welch battled alcohol addiction early in his career, becoming sober after the Dodgers sent him to rehab. In 1982, with George Vescey he co-wrote “Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Ballplayer’s Battle With Alcoholism.”
He was born Robert Lynn Welch on Nov. 11, 1956, in Detroit and grew up in Ferndale, about 12 miles southeast of Motown. After three years starring at Eastern Michigan University, the Dodgers took him with their first-round pick in the 1977 draft.
He threw a blazing fastball and shot through the Dodgers system, getting called up in the summer of 1978 and helping the Dodgers to the National League pennant. That set the stage for his classic confrontation with Jackson only four months after his major league debut.
Davey Lopes, then the Dodgers second baseman and the team’s current first-base coach, said the right-hander appeared cool as could be. Welch was 21.
“To be thrust into that situation — a national television audience, in front of 50,000 fans, you’re playing the Yankees in the World Series and you’re called on to face Reggie Jackson, the premier home-run hitter in baseball at the time — if he was scared, he didn’t show it,” Lopes said.
The Dodgers were clinging to a one-run lead and the Yankees had two runners on. There were two outs and a full count on Jackson when Welch struck him out with his ninth pitch of the at-bat — all fastballs — to save the victory.
“That was one of the greatest confrontations I have ever witnessed,” Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ manager, said Tuesday from New York. “That was the most exciting thing. It was really something to behold.”
Welch spent 10 seasons with the Dodgers, then was traded to the A’s before the 1988 season. The teams ended up meeting in that year’s World Series. The only game the A’s won in the series was the game Welch started, though current Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt came on in relief to earn the victory.
“This is unbelievable,” Honeycutt said of Welch’s death. “Very sad. Just an upbeat guy. Great teammate. One of those guys you don’t get to see enough of.”
Welch won his Cy Young for the A’s in 1990 at age 33, posting a 27-6 record with a 2.95 earned-run average. Though best known for his World Series moment with Jackson, Welch considered that season his greatest accomplishment. He was the last major-league pitcher to win at least 25 games in a season.
A two-time All-Star, he ended his career after the 1994 season with 211 career victories, tied for 90th on baseball’s all-time list.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia played with the right-hander in the minors and throughout Welch’s time with the Dodgers.
“He was a special guy, and we lost a really good friend,” Scioscia said. “I’m sure I’m speaking for a lot of people here, too, that knew him. He’s a special person, and we have a heavy heart.”
As recently as this year, he did some coaching with the A’s. He was with the team during spring training, and then at their extended Arizona camp, where he worked with young pitchers.
The A’s said Welch is survived by sons Dylan, 25, and Riley, 23; daughter Kelly, 18. His marriage to Mary Ellen Welch ended in divorce.
Times staff writers Bill Shaikin and Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.