In Leggett’s case, it was the 1976 College World Series as an infielder for Maine, which lost 2-0 to Welch and Eastern Michigan in their CWS opener.
“When we faced Bob Welch, he was throwing about 95 (mph),” Leggett said in 2010. “It looked like a meteor was attached to the ball in the back of it. I took three of the best cuts I ever took in my life. I still can’t believe they didn’t go out. But I didn’t make any contact.”
He wasn’t alone.
The dynamite pitching tandem of Welch and Bob Owchinko brought national attention to Ron Oestrike’s team from Ypsilanti. The town, as Sports Illustrated noted, was “principally known heretofore by the ditty, ‘When love is cold, do not despair, try Ypsilanti Underwear.'”
EMU had been beating the pants off opponents since 1970, when Oestrike led EMU to the NAIA championship. Five years later, after moving up to NCAA Division I in 1971, EMU reached the College World Series. They finished fifth.
“Those years were instrumental in putting Eastern baseball on the map,” Jim Streeter, EMU’s retired associate athletics director for media relations, said in 2014. “Recruits saw what we achieved with a limited season and bad weather. By the mid-1970s, we had sent a number of kids to the majors and minors. Incoming players knew they didn’t need to go to Arizona or California to find success.”
That included two more future major-leaguers, Glenn Gulliver and John Martin, who helped EMU return to the CWS in 1976. But Welch and Owchinko led the way.
Welch posted a 10-3 record in 1976 with a 1.82 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 94 innings to earn All-American honors. Owchinko was 14-3 and named team MVP for the second consecutive season.
After beating Maine, EMU handled Clemson 3-2 in 10 innings. Then, in the moment judged the greatest in school history, EMU beat Arizona State 2-1 to reach the CWS finals.
EMU defeated a Sun Devils team that featured a record 13 future major-leaguers. But the Sun Devils also lost their next game to Arizona, setting up the final between EMU and the Wildcats.
Arizona, which handed EMU its only other loss of the CWS (11-6), won again 7-1 to clinch the championship. But Owchinko and teammates Dan Schmitz (2B) and Brian Petroff (3B) made the all-tournament team.
It remains the high point of EMU baseball, but the 1976 team left a lasting impression.
Owchinko pitched 10 years in the majors and was a reliever on the 1984 Cincinnati Reds when Pete Rose became player-manager.
Martin won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 but did not play.
Gulliver finished with more walks than hits in his career. His only career home run came with the Baltimore Orioles against Hall of Famer Don Sutton of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 162nd game to decide the AL East champion. The Orioles lost, 10-2.
Oestrike, who died in 2014, finished with 657 wins at EMU.
And two years after the 1976 College World Series, Welch found himself in another World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 21-year-old rookie faced Reggie Jackson with two on and two out in the ninth inning of Game 2. Welch struck out Jackson to preserve a 4-3 victory, but Jackson and the New York Yankees went on to win the series in six games.
Welch, who also died in 2014, went on to a 17-year career, winning the Cy Young Award with the Oakland A’s in 1990. He won 27 games that year, the last pitcher to win at least 25 games in a single season. He played for three World Series champions and finished with a 211-146 record with a 3.47 ERA and 1,969 strikeouts.
He also was pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
“Bobby never bragged about his athletic abilities — he just had a drive to be the best,” Schmitz said in 2014. “He also had an amazing ability to make friends, not just with his teammates, but with everyone. He was a great teammate and a fun-loving guy.”
Above: Bob Welch compiled a 17-6 career record and led Eastern Michigan to consecutive appearances in the College World Series. (Courtesy Eastern Michigan University Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Drexel and Duquesne
• Tuesday: East Carolina and East Tennessee State
• Wednesday: Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky
• Thursday: Eastern Michigan and Elon
• Friday: Ferris State and Florida Atlantic