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in memoriam: bob forsch, 1950-2011

you can't go home again.

the heroes of your youth had their meaning in a specific context, at a specific time in your life. and when you go back to revisit them, like a house you used to live in, they are changed. something new has moved in. not better or worse, just different and strange.

this is where my thoughts went when i heard about the death of bob forsch: perennial cardinal, author of two no-hitters, starting pitcher in three different world series.

bob forsch wasn't an all-star. he wasn't a cy young candidate. he didn't collect any gaudy array of awards. but he was a constant presence in the cardinals organization, spending the vast majority of his career in this organization. he started 21 games for the Astros in 1988 and 1989, along with some relief duty.

and he was a fixture in my childhood memories of the club. the first ballgame i ever remember attending was his second no-hitter. i was still a little boy who didn't yet understand baseball well, and no-hitters are by their nature uneventful, so i fell asleep. i remember waking up to the news that he had pitched a no-hitter, and trying to wrap my head around the concept. i didn't really understand what had happened, but i knew it was special.

from the adult world, looking back, forsch was a steady, unspectacular presence on the team. he was worth more than 4 wins above replacement as a pitcher only once. he was a pitch-to-contact guy who would have made dave duncan's heart sing. in the fast-paced, astroturfed, defense-first world of Whiteyball he found his calling.

the man had a career strikeout rate of 3.65 K/9, making jake westbrook look like pedro martinez. but he didn't walk many guys, leading the league in walk rate in 1980 with 1.38 BB/9 and with a career 2.68 BB/9. somehow, he translated his pitch-to-contact skills into a 15-season career.

he's not a hall-of-famer, though he's a decent candidate for the hall of the very good, especially in the jon garland sheer endurance division.

beyond endurance, his other real claim to fame on the statistical end of things was that he was an exceptional hitter, as pitchers go. he was worth a respectable, though unspectacular, 30.4 wins above replacement as a pitcher in his 15 seasons. however, he was worth a further 10.1 wins above replacement with the bat. we often forget to take a look at the offensive value of pitchers. while it's usually not determinative, it's non-trivial in many cases. in forsch's especially; there's a vast difference between being worth 30 wins and 40 wins over a career.

in 1976, he hit for a .363 wOBA; he hit for a .353 wOBA in 1980. he finished his career with a .249 wOBA. his only real career hardware - other than his 1982 WS ring - was a pair of silver slugger awards in 1980 and 1987.

he ranks 24th on the career list of most offensive runs earned above replacement among pitchers, trailing fellow cardinals bob gibson, jim kaat, and steve carlson.

in short, he's a decent candidate for the cardinals hall of the very good; maybe he even fits the starting rotation for their exhibition team.

but for me, he will be first and foremost a core member of the Whiteyball Cardinals.

along with willie mcgee, tom herr, and ozzie smith, he was a member of very select few to play on all three of the world series teams of the 1980s. in my mind, he is throwing no-hitters and blasting grand slams.

that is why it is bizarre for me to look back on those days and see him with new eyes, to try to judge him on sabermetric grounds. it's weird to think of a man who was larger-than-life to me in my youth as jon garland with jeff mathis's bat. instead, i'll acknowledge his limitations while remembering the glorious postseasons of the 1980s and the unique role he played in each one.

maybe i can't go home again, but maybe bob can.

thank you for the memories, bob. may the forsch be with you.