Our condolences to the family and friends of Bob Forsch, the enduring and terrific Cardinals' pitcher who died of an apparent heart attack on Thursday night at the age of 61.
The sad news comes only a week after such a happy occasion: Forsch throwing the ceremonial first pitch at Busch Stadium before the Cardinals' 6-2 victory over Texas in Game 7 of the World Series. It was great to see the Cardinals' organization salute Bob, who has been part of the baseball scene in St. Louis for so long. More recently, Forsch had been working as a minor-league pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds and former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty.
Though fully appreciated locally, Forsch had an underrated career nationally. He spanned 16 seasons. He won 168 games overall, including 163 for the Cardinals between 1974-1988. The total puts him third on the list for most victories in Cardinals history, trailing only Bob Gibson (251 wins) and Jesse Haines (210.) Forsch won 20 games in 1977, and also threw the only two no-hitters in Busch Stadium II history.
And Forsch was one of the better and more dangerous hitters that you'll ever see for a pitcher. He had a career batting average of .213 with 12 homers. He batted .295 with three homers and five doubles in 1980, hit .308 in 1975 and batted .298 in 1987. That's pretty amazing.
I arrived in St. Louis in 1985, when Forsch was winding down in his career. But he effectively filled a role on Whitey Herzog's NL pennant winners in 1985 and 1987, making a combined 49 starts and winning a total of 20 games during those two seasons. Of course, Forsch was a vital rotation presence for the 1982 World Series-champion Cardinals, pitching 233 innings and winning 15 games.
I'll remember Bob Forsch on a more personal level: quick with a good-natured jab (delivered with a devious twinkle in his eye), refreshingly honest, never short on an opinion. Forsch was a cut-through-the-bull kind of man, and I liked that very much. A guy's guy all the way. And as they say in baseball: a true professional.
Broadcaster Bob Costas, after being informed of Forsch's death, remembered a momenth that wouldn't qualify as one of the pitcher's career highlights. After the Cardinals and Joaquin Andujar imploded in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series at Kansas City, Forsch was brought in to pitch. It was a lost cause, and it was an embarrassing evening for but that meant nothing to Forsch.
"When Bob Forsch took the ball, a sense of professionalism, pride and dignity was restored," Costas told me Friday on 101 ESPN.
Al Hrabosky told us that Forsch changed the course of the 1987 NLCS by throwing a brush-back pitch at San Francisco's Jeffrey Leonard. Leonard had hurt the Cardinals with his hitting and insulted them with his "one flap down" showboating.
"Bob Forsch took care of that with one pitch," Hrabosky said. "He sent the message that the Cardinals to control this series."
This is just awful news. I know how much Bob Forsch meant to all Cardinals fans but especially a certain generation of Cardinals fans -- those who were coming of age in the mid-1970s and into the 1980s. Forsch was one of the players that created special memories for an untold number of young Cardinals fans who began to fall in love with baseball and the franchise during that time.
Forsch was such a durable, sturdy figure for so long, it makes his death even more shocking. In retrospect, it was sweet to see Forsch appear at the mound before Game 7, tossing in that first pitch, happy as could be, and greeted warmly by the crowd. No one knew it at the time, and certainly not our friend Bob Forsch, but it gave him a chance to take a final bow, and to feel (again) the love and appreciation of Cardinals' fans.
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* As part of their managerial search the Cardinals presumably will explore and investigate reports/rumors concerning a leading candidate, former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. This stuff could be enough to scare Cardinals management away from Francona. Or the Cardinals' bosses could use the rumors as justification to hire a lesser candidate that can be controlled by management, especially if the fix is in for Jose Oquendo.
Speaking to Boston sports-radio station WEEI last week, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon offered a vigorous defense of former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Maddon was obviously upset at the mud thrown at Francona after he was forced out as Boston manager. Francona allegedly (A) lost control of the clubhouse; (B) had a problem with pain-killer meds; (C) was distracted by marital problems and the separation from his wife.
"Terry did nothing wrong. Terry is wonderful. Terry as a manager is excellent, and as a person he is even better than that," Maddon said. "To have people saying this stuff is really disappointing. It's almost criminal. It reeks of a set-up. It smells bad. I feel badly for the guy. I don't know him really well, but I know him. I know the players and how they think about him. it's a shame that he has to go through this."
WEEI.com asked Maddon to provide his theory as to why the Red Sox collapsed in September. He went around the question to defend Francona again.
"The biggest surprise is how anybody could say anything bad about Terry Francona. That just blows me away. It's not just a manager defending a manager, but this is a guy who has done wonderful things for that organization and that city. Somebody else who was a good teammate should have said something earlier. Of course it's Terry's responsibility ultimately, but if everybody is doing their job that stuff is squashed well before it got to that point. That's just true. For me, to have Terry in any shape or form be victimized or become this polarizing figure just makes no sense. That's the part that I find disturbing. I do consider Boston a wonderful baseball town with a great history and a lot of intelligence about the game. That part to me makes no sense. There's a great disconnect there for me, and that's the disappointing aspect that I've been reading about."
* By the way, Maddon was adamant in expressing his desire to remain with the Rays. "Honestly, I love where I work and who I work with," he told WEEI. "Right now, at this point in my life, there's no other place I would rather be than the Tampa Bay Rays. I mean that sincerely. Ownership. Front office. Players. Coaching staff. I can not ask for a better situation. There isn't a better situation. And it isn't always about money. For me it isn't always about money. I really am humbled by that thought, but at the end of the day I am a Ray and I want to be a Ray."
Moving On ...
* In an excellent interview with Tim McKernan at InsideSTL.com, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan was asked about the Oquedo-Pujols theory. There's no shortage of people that believe that free agent Albert Pujols will stay in St. Louis if the Cardinals choose Oquendo as manager.
Here's Duncan's blunt response to that: "I think Jose will get legitimate consideration. I think that's a judgment call on the front office's part. There's a lot of things that have to be taken into consideration. I keep hearing people say 'They'll hire Jose because Albert will come back.' That would be the worst thing that could possibly happen for Jose to have to deal with a clubhouse that thought he was there just because of him being there gave the team a better chance of bringing Albert back. That would be a terrible thing for him to deal with. That would not be the reason to hire anybody."