St. Louis Cardinal legend Bob Forsch was born 64 years ago today in Sacramento, CA. The final public appearance he made on behalf of the Redbirds occurred when he was tabbed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. Ironically, in retrospect, he was filling in for Whitey Herzog, who was too ill to attend. A mere six days later, the pitcher known as Forschie was felled by a fatal thoracic aortic aneurysm.
Forsch's path to the majors began when he was selected in the 26th round of the 1968 draft and assigned to the Redbirds' team in the rookie Gulf Coast League. Forsch was drafted as a third baseman. The GCL team was managed by long-time Cardinal fixture George "the Professor" Kissell, who spent 69 years in the Cardinal organization. Forsch struggled in his inaugural season as a professional. A .224 batting average paired with minimal power (his only extra base hits in 143 at bats were five doubles) didn't bode well for a player drafted in a round where teams are generally taking guys whose primary role is to give the real prospects teammates to play with.
But Forsch was brought back in 1969 and opened the season with the Lewiston Broncs in the low A level Northwest League. Barely above the Mendoza line at .203, Forsch did display some pop with three doubles and three homers among his 15 hits and earned a promotion to the Modesto affiliate in the California League despite striking out in 32% of his plate appearances in Lewiston. In Modesto, Forsch became a teammate of fellow 19 year old, Al Hrabosky, but continued to struggle at the plate where he mustered only a .235 BA and a .549 OPS.
Back in Modesto for the start of the 1970 campaign, Forsch appeared in 16 games at third and an additional game in the outfield, perhaps alongside teammate Bake McBride. Forsch's BA deteriorated to a puny .149 while now striking out 39% of the time. Demoted back to Lewiston, he played seven games at third base, three contests at second, and three more at shortstop. More importantly, Forsch began his professional pitching career and pitched in seven games, five as a starter. Wild, (17 walks in 28 innings) he was getting them out with guile as he struck out only 15 hitters.
1971 saw Forsch with the Cedar Rapids Cardinals of the Class A Midwest League. Pitching exclusively, Forsch started in all 23 of his appearances. Promoted for the 1972 campaign to the Arkansas Travelers of the AA Texas League, Forsch teamed with Hrabosky to anchor the rotation as they led the team in innings pitched. Fellow teammates included McBride, Rich Folkers, Tommy Cruz, and Jim Dwyer.
1973 saw Forsch promoted yet again to the AAA Tulsa Oilers. Forsch led the staff in wins, starts, and innings, but never got the call all AAA players dream of. The 1974 edition of the Oilers was managed by Ken Boyer and featured John Denny and Forsch in the starting rotation and 20 year old prospect Keith Hernandez, Heity Cruz and Marc Hill in the batting order.
Forsch was promoted in July, 1974 to St. Louis and inserted into the starting rotation in the place previously occupied by veteran journeyman Sonny Siebert. Forsch took a tough luck loss in his debut in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. Center fielder Cesar Geronimo was Forsch's nemesis as he doubled in Dan Driessen in the second and hit a solo blast in the seventh to account for all of Cincy's runs and half of their hits off the rookie.
Five days later Forsch took the hill again and this time he twirled a complete game, four hit shutout as the Redbirds sent 13 men to the plate in a nine run first inning on their way to a 10-0 laugher over the Atlanta Braves. Batting stars included Lou Brock, Reggie Smith, Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, McBride, and Ken Reitz.
Forsch went on to win 72 games in the decade of the 70s (including 20 in 1977) and trailed only Hall of Famer Bob Gibson who earned 84 victories. The durable Forsch cemented his status as a Cardinal legend by topping the Whiteyball 80s decade with 91 wins, easily outpacing Joaquin Andujar (68), Danny Cox (56), and John Tudor (50).
Bob Forsch is the only man to have pitched two no-hitters while wearing the Birds on the Bat. The first occurred in April, 1978 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Controversial because of a questionable ruling by official scorer and long-time Post Dispatch beat reporter Neal Russo on a ground ball that got under Reitz' glove, it featured a prototypical line for Forsch that included only two walks and but three strikeouts. Five seasons later, Forsch faced off against Montreal Expos ace Steve Rodgers and a line-up that featured Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Gary Carter as well as future Hall of Famer ? Tim Raines. Only a hit batsman (Carter) and an error by Ken Oberkfell prevented a perfect game. In an intriguing bit of trivia, these were the only two no-hitters thrown in the 40 year history of Busch Memorial Stadium. Another well known trivia bit is that Bob and his brother Ken are the only two brothers to have each pitched an official no-hitter. (In an even more obscure minutiae of trivia, brothers Pascual and Melido Perez each pitched rain-shortened, unofficial no-hitters).
In 1982, Forsch earned a World Series ring as the result of the Cards edging the Milwaukee Brewers in the Fall Classic. Forsch set the tone for the postseason as he drew the Game 1 assignment in the NLCS against the NL West champion Atlanta Braves (and the afore-mentioned Pascual Perez). Forsch scattered three singles, walked no one, and didn't allow a runner past second base in a masterful 7-0 gem while singling twice and driving in a run with a sacrifice fly.
Forsch's style was very much that of a pitch to contact - make them earn their way on base approach. Foraying a bit into advanced statistics, the 1982 season saw 41 National League pitchers qualify for the ERA title. Forsch was 41st in K/9 with only 2.67 - more than half a K/9 behind the 40th place pitcher. He was 9th in BB/9 with 2.09. Of course, with Ozzie Smith as your shortstop, it makes sense to let them hit the ball.
Overall, the lanky (6' 4") right hander won 163 games with the Birds - good for third on the all-time list behind Hall of Famers Gibson (251) and Jesse Haines (210). His 168 (he had five with the Astros) career MLB wins ties him for 189th place all time with Dave Stewart - one behind Kevin Appier, Cardinal legend Bill Doak, Bill (Spaceman) Lee, and Kevin Millwood and one ahead of Mike Flanagan and Bret Saberhagen.
Forsch's final post in baseball was that of pitching coach for the Billings Mustangs (a Reds farm club) from 2009 - 2011. One of the pitchers benefiting from his tutelage is rising star Tony Cingrani. If you've somehow managed to read this far, you might be interested to note that both my children were born in Billings.
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