Death of former Eastern Michigan standout Bob Welch ruled accidental fall, authorities say

John Hickey and Elliott Almond
San Jose Mercury News

The death of former star pitcher Bob Welch (Eastern Michigan) has been ruled an accident from a fall in his bathroom, the Orange County (California) Coroner’s office said Thursday.

Welch, a famed right-hander for the A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, died June 9 from a broken neck “with epidural hemorrhage due to hyperextension of neck,” according to an autopsy report.

Authorities found Welch’s body on a bathroom floor in his home in Seal Beach in June after receiving a call for medical aid. He was 57.

The Dodgers said in a statement in June that Welch had suffered a fatal heart attack, but authorities had not officially ruled on a cause of death at the time.

Welch was working as a minor-league pitching coach for Oakland when the accident occurred.

A hard-throwing right-hander, Welch broke into the major leagues in 1978 with the Dodgers. He went 7-4 with a 2.92 earned-run average in his rookie season.

Welch’s reputation soared during the memorable 1978 World Series against the New York Yankees. He entered Game 2 in the bottom of the ninth with one out and the Dodgers holding a 4-3 lead in Chavez Ravine.

Welch got Thurman Munson to fly out, then struck out Reggie Jackson in one of the more indelible at-bats in World Series history.

A week later, Jackson, baseball’s “Mr. October,” slammed a home run off Welch in the series’ decisive Game 6 at Dodger Stadium.

For the first 10 years of his career Welch was one of the Dodgers’ dominant pitchers, going 115-86 with a 3.14 ERA through the 1987 season.

Los Angeles traded him to the A’s before the ‘88 season began. Welch, Dave Stewart and Mike Moore anchored a starting rotation that would lead Oakland to the postseason four times in five years. The Athletics reached three consecutive World Series starting in 1988, including a four-game sweep of the Giants in the earthquake-shattered championship in 1989.

Welch was listed as the Game 3 starter at Candlestick Park on Oct. 17, 1989, but a 7.1-magnitude temblor struck just after 5 p.m., forcing the Series to be postponed for 10 days. When it resumed, Stewart and Moore — winners of the first two games — completed the sweep.

Despite struggles with alcoholism, Welch was well liked by teammates.

“He touched me and I’m touched now,” Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley said. “Bobby connected with everybody. You hear people talk about guys being good teammates. Bobby was. He had major energy.”

Stewart recalled a lifelong bond with his former pitching ace from the minor leagues to the Dodgers and A’s.

“Bobby was always trying to teach me how to play golf,” Stewart recalled. “Every time I tried to give it up, he said, ‘You’ve got to keep playing.’ That was Bobby, a glass-half-full guy.”

The 1990 season saw Welch at his finest. After a terrible spring training and 3-2 start, Welch had a 10-game winning streak to earn his second All-Star Game berth. He finished 27-6 to win the American League Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher.

The 27 victories were not only a career high, but the last time any major leaguer has won 25 or more games in a season. He was the first pitcher since the Phillies’ Steve Carlton in 1972 to win 27 games.

Welch’s career ended after the strike-shortened 1994 season when Oakland cut him in spring training in ‘95. In 17 years, Welch was 211-146 with a 3.47 ERA and 1,969 strikeouts in 3,092 innings. He won 137 games in the 1980s, the third most that decade behind Jack Morris and Dave Stieb.

Welch was in and out of baseball after his retirement, and won a World Series ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks as their pitching coach in 2001.

In 1981, Welch and former New York Times writer George Vecsey co-wrote “Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Young Man’s Battle With Alcoholism.” The book described a drinking problem he said began when he was 16. A decade later, the book was updated with the new title, “Five O’Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Award Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory.”

“I would get a buzz on, and I would stop being afraid of girls,” Welch wrote. “I was shy, but with a couple of beers in me, it was all right.”

Welch would battle alcoholism the rest of his life.

Welch is survived by his sons Dylan, 25, and Riley, 23, daughter Kelly, 18, and former wife Mary Ellen.