Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bob Forsch, Cardinals pitcher: 1950-2011

Bob Forsch, 1950-2011.
Bob Forsch won 163 games for the Cardinals from 1974-1988, and he threw two no-hitters.
Bob Forsch on the Cardinals Leaders card from the 1986 Topps set.

Bob Forsch, a right-handed pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1974-88, died on Thursday at the age of 61. Forsch threw out the first pitch at Game 7 of the World Series just a week before he died. This just makes me really sad. I never saw Forsch pitch, but he was a player I was very familiar with through my baseball card collection and my fondness for the Cardinals. I’m a Minnesota Twins fan through and through, but the Cardinals are my second favorite baseball team. As a kid, red was always my favorite color, and the cardinal was always my favorite bird, so it was inevitable that I would like the Cardinals. I was rooting for the Twins during the 1987 World Series, though. Even at age 6 I had to support my hometown team. It always makes me sad when someone who played baseball during the 1980’s dies, as it serves as a continuing reminder of my own creeping mortality and it also means that my childhood has been over for a long time. Forsch was also way too young to die at 61. He looked very healthy and vital when he appeared at Game 7. Forsch died of an aneurysm, which sounds like the kind of thing that could happen to pretty much anyone his age.

Forsch wasn’t a Hall of Famer. Heck, he was never even an All-Star. But he was a good, solid, steady, dependable starter for 16 big-league seasons, from 1974-1989. (After pitching for the Cardinals, Forsch finished up his career pitching for the Houston Astros in 1988-89.) Forsch won 168 games and lost 136, with a lifetime ERA of 3.76. Those are really good career numbers, but not great. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate players like Forsch more. It’s so unbelievably hard to just make it to the major leagues, let alone to be a consistent starting pitcher for 15 years, that I tip my hat to Bob Forsch. I was looking through my set of 1988 Fleer baseball cards a couple of weeks ago when I came across Bob Forsch’s card. I said to my wife, “You know, Bob Forsch wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he had a pretty darn good career. Winning more than 150 games is really impressive.” That I randomly picked Bob Forsch’s card out and had been thinking about his career recently is definitely one reason why I’m writing this post. It’s easy to like the superstars and the Hall of Famers. They’re the best of the best, and they will never lack fans. But for every Tom Seaver, there are a lot of guys like Bob Forsch, players who did the best with what they had and made the most out of their talent, even if it didn’t carry them all the way to Cooperstown. As a baseball fan, I’m in awe of anyone who made it to the major leagues, since I would probably sell my soul to get just one major league hit. 

Forsch won 20 games once during his career, in 1977, when he went 20-7 with a 3.48 ERA. His best season might have been his second, 1975, when he went 15-10 with a 2.86 ERA. Forsch also threw 4 shutouts that year. Forsch was not a strikeout pitcher, as he only had 3 seasons in which he topped 100 strikeouts. Forsch consistently threw 200 innings a year for the Cardinals, with a high of 233 and 2/3 innings pitched in 1978. All told, he had 7 seasons over 200 innings. Besides 1977 and 1975, he had just one other year in which he won 15 games, 1982, when he went 15-9. Forsch had a lot of seasons where he won 11 games. He must have been injured in 1984, and in 1985 he wasn’t used very much as a starter. Forsch did get a lot of post-season playing time, as he was with the Cardinals when they had a resurgence in the 1980’s. Forsch pitched in the 1982, 1985, and 1987 World Series. He threw a shutout against the Braves in the 1982 NLCS, giving up just 3 hits. Forsch started Games 1 and 5 in the 1982 World Series, but lost both starts. The Cardinals won the Series in 7 games against the Brewers. Like the rest of the Cardinals, Forsch didn’t do well in the 1985 World Series, getting an early exit from his Game 5 start. But he did pitch an inning of scoreless relief in the disastrous Game 7, which the Cardinals lost 11-0 to the Royals. Oddly enough, Forsch was only used as a reliever in the 1987 post-season. He pitched scoreless relief in Games 2 and 3 of the NLCS against the Giants, and he got the win in Game 3, but then blew up in Game 5, giving up four runs without retiring a batter. The Twins hit Forsch hard in the World Series, tagging him for seven runs over six and a third innings pitched. But Forsch pitched well enough in Game 4 to earn the win, his only World Series win. 

Forsch was also a good hitter for a pitcher, hitting 12 career home runs and winning two Silver Slugger awards at pitcher, in 1980 and 1987. He hit .295 in 1980, .298 in 1987, and .308 in 1975! In August of 1988 Forsch was traded to the Astros and finished his career there as a spot starter and long reliever. Forsch started 422 games in his career, which puts him at 99th on the all-time list. That’s pretty impressive, that only 98 guys in the history of the game ever got the call to start more than Bob Forsch. Forsch ranks 3rd on the all-time Cardinals win list with 163, he’s only behind Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Jesse “Pop” Haines. Forsch threw 19 shutouts in his career, which is 15 more than Andy Pettitte threw. Of those 19 shutouts, two were no-hitters, putting Forsch on a short list of pitchers with more than one no-no. Bob’s brother Ken was also a pitcher and threw a no-hitter, making the Forsches the only brother combination to both throw no-hitters. Bob’s no-hitters came against the Phillies in 1978 and the Expos in 1983. In both games, he faced 29 batters, just two more than a perfect game. He gave up two walks to the Phillies, and against the Expos he hit Gary Carter with a pitch and the next batter, Chris Speier, reached on an error. The 1983 Expos were a very good hitting team; the heart of their lineup was Andre Dawson, Al Oliver, Tim Raines, and Gary Carter. Dawson, Oliver, Raines and Carter had a combined total of 10,214 hits in the major leagues, so holding all of them hitless for a game is pretty darn impressive. 

From what I’ve read about Bob Forsch it sounds like he was also a really nice guy, in addition to being a pretty awesome pitcher. It sounds like he was very humble and down to earth, and was a great mentor for younger pitchers as his career wound down. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not an expert on Forsch’s career and I never saw him pitch, so there are certainly lots of people out there who know more about him than I do. But I have very fond memories of him through my baseball card collection, and I think it’s important for baseball players like Bob Forsch to be remembered.

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