Lucky Number 27

How is Bob Welch assigned card #151 in the ’93 Finest checklist? He should be card #27. That number, after all, is one that appears several times in his career.

Welch threw a complete game shutout against the Atlanta Braves in 1980. What makes this game interesting is that he faced exactly 27 batters. Although Larvell Blanks tapped a single to centerfield in the 4th inning to become Atlanta’s sole baserunner, he was followed by a player grounding into a double play. 27 up, and after a brief fourth inning pause, 27 down.

A decade later Welch would win the American League Cy Young Award. He nabbed the honor after posting a 27-6 record for Oakland. No pitcher since has won as many games and it may be the high-water mark for generations given the game’s movement towards reducing pitcher workloads. Welch was a fine pitcher, though his fielding independent pitching rating shows he was only slightly better than an average hurler. Still, the average pitcher doesn’t last as long as Welch or pitch as many innings. He was pretty good and managed to accumulate 200+ wins and nearly 2,000 strikeouts. Overpowering seasons were rare, though it should be pointed out that he still put up higher fWAR in the 1980s than Fernando Valenzuela (35.3 vs 33.3).

Bill James has referred a few times to Welch when looking for an example of luck in win-loss records. In 2017 he cited luck as playing a large part in Welch’s famed 1990 W-L record and that year’s Cy Young Award voting. James posits that Welch would have posted a 14-13 record if not for fortunate events all falling in Oakland’s favor.

Welch was nearing the end of his career when Topps included him in the 1993 Finest set. He would only play one more season, retiring after a 3-6 strike-shortened effort. Perhaps it wasn’t really Welch playing at that point. The photo on the back of the card looks more like a middle-aged guy dressed up as Bob Welch for a Halloween party. There’s even a tree without leaves in the background.

This card has historically been a rather easy to find refractor, though that may be changing. Within the past year there has been notable interest in the common ’93 refractors of Welch and his teammate Terry Steinbach. Auctions for these cards have experienced heavy bidding with the cards reaching rather aggressive three-digit prices in the back half of 2023. My guess is someone is building a mini-hoard of these cards.