Forsch was an underappreciated pitcher

Bob Forsch was one of those pitchers who only hometown fans learn to appreciate: a workhorse who grinds out innings year after year, the kind of pitcher who never contends for Cy Young Awards but gets the most out of his talent. Forsch didn't have a blazing fastball or knee-bending curveball, but he lasted 16 years in the major leagues, threw two no-hitters and won 168 games.

Not bad for a guy who never struck out more than 114 batters in a season.

Forsch died Thursday at the age of 61, just a few days after he'd thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at Game 7 of the World Series. His wife, Jan, said he suffered an aneurysm in his chest.

When he threw out his first pitch, I was in line at a concession stand at Busch Stadium, surrounded by Cardinals fans. The PA announcer introduced him as "Cardinals legend Bob Forsch," which maybe was a bit of an overstatement, but as the guy in line next to me said, "You know, he was a good pitcher for a lot of years."

Indeed, he was. He made 30-plus starts 10 times and topped 200 innings seven times. He was never an All-Star, but won 20 games in 1977 and went 15-9 with a 3.48 ERA for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals. The highlight of his Cardinals career may have been after the initial Game 1 of the NLCS that year was rained out, leaving Forsch to start the second Game 1. He pitched a three-hit shutout against the Braves and went 2-for-3 at the plate with a sacrifice fly and run scored.

His first no-hitter came in 1978, albeit with a bit of controversy, when an eighth-inning shot by the Phillies' Garry Maddox glanced off the glove of third baseman Ken Reitz and was ruled an error. "You've got to be lucky to pitch a no-hitter," Forsch said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing." (When his brother Ken later threw one, they became the only brothers with big league no-hitters.)

Except for him it wasn't. On Sept. 26, 1983, he pitched his second no-hitter, against the Montreal Expos, striking out six, with a second-inning hit batter and error ruining the perfect game.

His control and pitching knowledge allowed him to survive despite averaging just 3.6 strikeouts per nine innings over his career. Forsch actually began his minor league career in 1968 as a third baseman, moving to the mound in 1970. He retained some of that hitting ability, belting 12 home runs in his career and winning two Silver Slugger awards.

He had the type of career you rarely see anymore -- the league-average pitcher who stays with one franchise for more than a decade. Today, those types of guys drift from team to team, rarely staying for long in one place, their value always an underrated commodity.

"I consider myself a guy who didn't have quite as much ability but who always worked hard," Forsch once said. It was enough to turn him into -- yes -- a Cardinals legend.