I was getting ready to leave work the other day when I noticed the ESPN note about Bob Welch’s passing. Welch had an interesting playing career that in many ways intersected with the baseball card hobby.
Just 21 years old at the time, Welch fanned Reggie and even though the rest of the series was not as good for him, the memories of that moment lasted throughout the off-season. It was believed Welch would become the next Dodgers star in their seemingly never ending parade of good pitching which began with their move to Los Angeles in 1958.
Because of his performance there was some interest in his rookie card which arrived in the 1979 Topps set but if that World Series had been just one year later, it probably would have absolutely exploded out of the chute. Why? Because between 1979 and 1980 both the first Beckett annual price guide and more importantly for rookie cards, the first monthly card pricing magazine (Card Prices Update) were released and the first run of rookie card mania was well on its way to taking over the hobby.
Welch’s career would continue for more than a decade as would his brushes with incredible moments. He was scheduled to be the Oakland A’s starting pitcher during Game 3 of the 1989 World Series when an earthquake struck, postponing it for several days.
Amazingly, Welch would actually have a second run as a minor hobby hero after he won 27 games in 1990. His season wasn’t as dominating as Steve Carlton’s 27 wins in 1972 but Welch is still the last pitcher to win more than 25 games in a season.
Since that year was during the height of the Bash Brothers and the A’s were in the midst of winning three straight pennants, the 1979 Welch card started to get real popular again, especially in northern California.
Welch also had a scarce 1989 Topps Variation (or as scarce as a 1989 variation can be) and then to top it off the 1991 Score set had a photo of Welch holding a baseball without showing his face. And yes, that card was as silly as any that were produced in that wild and wooly era.
So. while the tributes come in honoring a life cut way too short, I think of his baseball card history, what was, and what might have been.