NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 53: BOB FORSCH
With their 18th round pick of the 1968 MLB Draft, the Houston Astros took Ken Forsch, a right-handed pitcher out of Oregon State University. Eight rounds and 195 picks later, the Cardinals drafted his kid brother, Bob Forsch, an-all city pick from Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, California.
Scouts liked the younger Forsch’s bat enough to believe he’d someday make a fine major league infielder.
But while Ken made a quick jump to the big leagues in less than a year, Bob struggled in the minors for nearly four seasons. He was three-and-a-half years his brother’s junior, for one, but he also wasn’t catching up with pro pitching, even at the low-A level. Bob’s best season at the plate was in 1969 when he hit .223 with 77 strikeouts in 193 at bats.
But Bob Kennedy, the Cardinals director of player development and later general manager for the Chicago Cubs, changed the course of the younger Forsch’s career by converting him to a pitcher.
He was with the Cardinals in St. Louis by July 1974, shutting out Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in just his second start.
Apart from 1976, when he pitched through shoulder pain to an 8-10 record, Forsch got progressively better. In 1975, his first full year in the bigs, he threw 230 innings and won 15 games with a 2.86 ERA.In 1977, his 20 wins were tied for the third most in the National League behind only Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver.
Forsch was brilliant early in 1978. His third start was on April 16, a windy and overcast Sunday in St. Louis with a game-time temperature of 43 degrees. Fewer than 11,500 fans filed through the gates of Busch Stadium II to see the Cardinals and Phillies. Forsch didn’t feel much like being there himself, saying later than he felt his arm had been spent during a four-hit win over the Pittsburgh Pirates the start prior.
But just three Philadelphia batters reached base that day — Richie Hebner and Greg Luzinski on walks and Garry Maddox on a ground ball booted by third baseman Ken Reitz.
Forsch struck out three along the way and, at age 28, had thrown the first no-hitter in the city of St. Louis since Jesse Haines blanked the Boston Braves in 1924.
Speaking to the Associated Press, his beaming older brother, by now a ninth-year veteran for the Astros, called the kid’s no-no “one of the greatest moments of my life.” But less than a year later, Ken Forsch no-hit the Braves, completing a feat not even the Cardinals’ famed Dean brothers, Dizzy and Paul, could match. The Forsches remain the only brothers each to have thrown major league no-hitters.
With a week left in an otherwise frustrating 1983 season, Bob joined the exclusive list of just 30 major league pitchers with multiple no-hitters when he blanked the Montreal Expos. Gary Carter was hit by a pitch in the third inning, followed by Chris Speier, who reached on an error. Forsch was otherwise perfect in the 3-0 Cardinals’ win.
Never much of a power pitcher, “Forschie” just three times topping 100 strikeouts in a season, but his ability to keep batted balls on the ground was a perfect match for new skipper Whitey Herzog and the rangy, sure-handed infield he assembled. By 1982, Forsch was the last surviving member of a starting rotation that Herzog rebuilt in his winter of wheeling and dealing.
His 15 wins matched Joaquin Andujar for best on the staff and his masterful three-hit shutout of the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NLCS became the first step toward the Cardinals’ first World Series championship in 15 years.
Forsch otherwise was not great in 12 total postseason games (five of them starts). But he certainly had his moments.
In Game 1 of the 1987 NLCS, San Francisco Giants outfielder Jeffrey Leonard blasted a home run off Cardinals starter Greg Matthews and took a much-too-leisurely trot around the bases with his left arm slung at his side. “One flap down,” he explained, “like an airplane.”
Asked after the game to comment on Leonard’s antics and the lusty chorus of boos they drew from the Busch Stadium throng, teammate Chilli Davis scoffed that St. Louis was a “(expletive) cow town.”
Leonard did the one-flap-down thing again in the fourth inning of Game 2, earning a shower of cow bells from the bleacher bums as he assumed his position in left field. When he reprised the routine a third time in Game 3, this time at Candlestick Park, Forsch had seen enough.
He entered the game in relief of starter Joe Magrane in the bottom of the fifth. With one on, one out and trailing 4-0, he connected a first-pitch fastball with the numbers on Leonard’s back.
“That’s the last time (Leonard) did that,” second baseman Jose Oquendo told media after the game. “He only had one flap left.”
The purpose pitch inspired the Cardinals to rally to a 6-5 win. Herzog said it turned the momentum of the entire series, which St. Louis went on to win in seven games.
Forsch was 9-4 with a 3.73 ERA through 30 games in 1988 when the Cardinals traded him to Houston for Denny Walling. He retired the following season and remains the third winningest pitcher in Cardinals history. Considering his inauspicious beginnings as a converted infielder, it’s ironic that Forsch won two Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitting pitcher in the National League.
On Nov. 3, 2011, just 61 years old, Forsch collapsed at his Florida home and died. Just six days earlier, he had walked to the mound at Busch Stadium III to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 7 of the World Series, which the Cardinals won over the Texas Rangers.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1974-1988
163-127, 3.67 ERA with Cardinals | WS ring | 21.4 WAR | Cardinals HoF ‘15
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.99