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by Editor, Rick Cabral

 

Sacramentan Bob Forsch Pitched "Nervous Enough"

(to throw 2 no-hitters, win a World Series...)

After turning 21, some men venture down a path from which they never return. That happened to Bob Forsch.  

He went from a struggling hitter in the minor leagues to the pitcher's mound, and abruptly reversed his life's course by becoming one of the top starting pitchers in the National League. 

The turnaround saved his baseball career. 


 

Bob Forsch learned the fundamentals of baseball from his father, Herb, and older brother, Ken. At night, after dinner, Mr. Forsch would take his boys out to their sizeable backyard and play "pepper" with them for hours. He would have one boy stand in front and the other in back, and when the first fielder muffed or dropped a ball, they traded places, which helped to form a competitive spirit between the brothers. 

Bob, four years younger, followed Ken to Hiram Johnson, where both were standout players.
Dan Piacentini, who played with Bob throughout youth leagues and at Hiram Johnson, remembers he was good, but not a superstar player.
"Bob was like Larry Bowa," Dan says of another Sacramentan who enjoyed a long career in the major leagues. "They both blossomed when they got to the major leagues."

In The Summer of Love (1967) Forsch and Piacentini played for Fort Sutter American Legion team, where they lost in the local playoffs to Dusty Baker's Fair Oaks Legion team. Forsch recalls giving up a home run to Baker. "Some things never change," he muses about his battles with Baker, who played for the Braves and Dodgers throughout the '70s and '80s.  

In 1968, Bob led Hiram Johnson to a Metro League Championship, making All-City as a pitcher with a 5-1 record and 0.21 ERA. Ron King, who scouted for the Pirates in the '60s, remembers Bob making his mark as an infielder. King credits Mr. Forsch for developing the talents of his two sons. "The old man (Herb) taught those kids well. They really knew how to play."

Bob was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round as an infielder/pitcher. The Cardinals designated him as a third baseman, and in his first three years of Single-A ball Bob could muster only a .126 batting average.

At 21, Forsch faced the reality that his professional career may be over. The Cardinals suggested he move back to the mound to resurrect his chance at the majors. In 1971, pitching for Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, he started 23 games, forged an impressive 11-7 record and 3.13 ERA. 

Two and a half years later, the Cardinals brought Forsch up to the big club in mid-season. On the Cardinals that year were veterans Joe Torre, Lou Brock, Tim McCarver and the legendary right hander, Bob Gibson. Forsch's first starting assignment came at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium on Sunday, July 7, 1974 against the Big Red Machine. 

Warming up in the bullpen, Forsch remembers being so nervous that he threw a number of balls past the catcher that clattered against the backstop and rolled past the home team's dugout, causing additional embarrassment. Before the game, Cards' Manager Red Schoendienst assured the rookie that he would be up with the big club for at least a few games. He advised the 6'4", 200 pound right hander to relax. "That made me feel a lot better," Forsch chuckles in remembrance of that day.

As he made his maiden voyage to the mound, Bob Forsch reminded himself not to look up in the stands to avoid the intimidation that a large, vociferous crowd can have on a visiting pitcher, especially a rookie. 

 Forsch_Pitching

Things started smoothly. His first major league hitter was Pete Rose, who swung at the first pitch and flied to left. One pitch, one out. Ken Griffey, Sr. and Joe Morgan both grounded out, for a 1-2-3 inning. He left the mound thinking, "This is pretty cool." 

In the next inning, Forsch was staked to a 1-0 lead on a Ted Simmons' home run. But in the bottom of the second, Bob forgot his own cautionary advice. "I looked up in the stands, and there were people everywhere. Then it hit me and I started getting nervous." As the nerves churned, the Reds tied the game.  

Forsch cruised until the bottom of the seventh. With the score still tied, he gave up a home run to Cesar Geronimo and the Reds won the game 3-2. Forsch allowed only four hits and five walks over 6 2/3 innings. "That was pretty good against that team," he marvels.

Asked if he ever approached Gibson for advice, Forsch recited the rookies mantra of that time. "Rookies weren't supposed to say anything. So, I just watched how they carried themselves, their demeanor; Gibson especially. On game day, he kept to himself pretty much, and got meaner as the night went on." 

Forsch admits that having a successful older brother in the majors was a huge help to his career. When he was first called up, Ken advised him, "Umpires are going to test you early. You'll throw the ball right down the plate, they're going to call it a ball and look out just to see what your reaction is." Forsch says. "That's exactly what happened. That's the best advice I got." 

In the last series of the season in Montreal, Forsch was slated to pitch with a playoff berth in the balance. While nerves and butterflies were battling his stomach he sought solace in the bathroom. Splashing water on his face, Gibson addressed him for the first time all year. "'Nervous?'"  

Gibson_Pitching

"Man, I didn't know what to say, 'Yeah, a little nervous.'" 

"'That's a good thing,'" Gibson assured the rookie. "'I always pitch better when I'm nervous. There's a difference between nervous and being scared. You don't want to go out there scared.'" Gibson noted. "'But it's always good to go out there nervous.'" 

"I knew I was nervous enough," Forsch chortles.  

Forsch went out and tossed a three-hit, one-run gem in less than two hours to improve his rookie record to 7-4. Unfortunately, on the last day Gibson lost a heartbreaker 3-2 and the Cardinals finished second in the NL East division. 

Forsch_Pitching1

From the start, Forsch was a power pitcher. His blazing fast ball and sharp curve helped him get past the tough lineups in the National League. Harry Dunlop, long-time major league coach with the Cubs, Reds and Padres, saw Forsch on many occasions. " He always had decent control when I'd see him pitch in the big leagues. When he pitched good games against (us), it was always because he could get that curve ball over almost any time he wanted," Dunlop remembers.

Early in his career, Forsch developed a pinched nerve in his shoulder, which reduced the velocity on his fast ball. "That forced me to (learn to) pitch," he admits. He sought advice from brother Ken, who by that time had established himself as a top NL starter with the Houston Astros. Ken showed Bob how to grip a slider. He also credits teammate Claude Osteen with showing how to throw a change-up. After working on the two new additions, Bob Forsch had doubled his repertoire of pitches. "(Each year) you always tried to come up with something that (hitters) hadn't seen before."

He also got advice on how to doctor a baseball from the old southpaw, Jim Kaat, who joined the Cardinals' staff in 1980 at the end of an illustrious career. Kaat showed Forsch how to apply a "little bit of pine tar, here and there, that was made in America. I checked the label," Forsch drawls tongue-in-cheek, "because you can't put a 'foreign substance' on the ball." He credits Kaat with the lesson and the joke.

Pitching in spacious Busch Stadium (the second iteration) with fleet-footed outfielders such as George Hendrick, Vince Coleman and Willie McGee was a pitcher's dream. "They'd pretty much run down anything out there in the outfield," Forsch remembers. And on a damp April 16, 1978, Forsch attained the ultimate pitcher's dream when he spun the first no-hitter ever at the Cardinals' home park against the Phillies.  

Two other Sacramentans figured prominently in the outcome, as Forsch defeated Cordova High's southpaw Randy Lerch, while Phillies' infielder Larry Bowa made two errors for the visitors. In fact, Bowa made the final out on Forsch's no-no.  

In 1983, Forsch joined an exclusive pitching fraternity when he pitched his second no-hitter versus Montreal, also at home (Bob is the only Cardinal ever to toss a no-hitter at Busch Stadium). 

Interestingly, those great memories take a backseat to Bob's penultimate moment in the majors, when Bruce Sutter threw a fast ball by Gorman Thomas of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cardinals won the 7th game of the 1982 World Series. "There's nothin' like it. That's what everyone plays for," he says proudly. 

With Forsch as the staff ace, St. Louis twice more returned to the World Series, losing to the Kansas City Royals (1985) and Minnesota Twins (1987). Over his career, Forsch compiled a 3-4, 5.79 playoff pitching record. 

In 1977 he won 20 games for the Cards, and was awarded Silver Slugger Awards in 1980 and 1987 for posting the best batting average for pitchers. Ironically, for a guy who didn't hit in the minor leagues, Forsch compiled a .213 lifetime batting average, excellent for a hurler. 

When Forsch retired in 1989 after 16 seasons in the majors, he staked out some rare real estate in St. Louis Cardinals history by finishing third in wins (163), ERA (3.67) and strikeouts (1079). Those above him on the list—Gibson, Jesse Haines and Dizzy Dean, are all in the Hall of Fame.  

When Bob retired, he figured he would take a couple years off to enjoy the good life: hunting, fishing and golfing, and then get back into the game. "Two years turned to 20," he said. About five years ago, Forsch moved from St. Louis to the rural town of Weeki Wachee on Florida's gulf side. 

Two years ago, the Reds organization hired him as the pitching coach of the Billings Mustangs, a Pioneer League Rookie affiliate. He quickly learned that minor league instruction is much different today than when he came up. It's not uncommon for a young pitcher to develop unorthodox, unusual mechanics from improper instruction in Little League and even high school. But instead of telling a pitcher "'This is the way you do it,' you have to tweak what they have," Forsch says of the challenge of coaching today's upcoming pitchers.

 Forsch_Billings

Bob Forsch
Billings Mustangs


"It sounds awful, but you really can't instruct these kids until they have some failure and want to listen. When they're most vulnerable is when you can do the best teaching." With technological advances in video, today's professional ball players can see their mechanical deficiencies almost instantly, something that was unavailable in Forsch's time.  

While prospects have the advantage of improved technology, there's nothing more valuable than an old-timer's advice. One nugget Forsch continues to pass along is the pearl offered by Bob Gibson. "I tell my pitchers 'there's nothing wrong with being nervous,'" he relates, "but if you're scared to throw the ball over home plate, you're not going to win.'" 

Sage advice from one of the top National League pitchers of his time, and one of the best ever to come out of Sacramento.

 



Uploaded 07/30/10

All contents © Rick Cabral, 2010 

 

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