April 16, 1978: Bob Forsch throws the most controversial no-hitter in Cardinals history

A misplayed ground ball by third baseman Ken Reitz and a judgment call by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Neal Russo led to the most controversial no-hitter in St. Louis Cardinals history.

In a Sunday afternoon game on April 16, 1978, Bob Forsch worked around two walks and a disputed error call to no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the Cardinals’ first no-hitter since Bob Gibson achieved the feat in 1971 – even if the Phillies weren’t willing to give him full credit for the performance.

“I think Bob Forsch deserves all the accolades that go with pitching a one-hitter,” Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt said.[1]

The contentious play led off the eighth inning, as Philadelphia center fielder Garry Maddox hit a ground ball to Reitz’s left. The ball went under Reitz’s glove, and while accounts differed as to whether Reitz got leather on the ball, there was no doubt that the ball skipped past him and into left field.

“I thought the ball was hit a lot harder than it was,” explained Reitz, who won the 1975 National League Gold Glove three years earlier. “I put down my glove, double pumped, and when I came up with the glove the second time, the ball hit the webbing of the glove and went by me. I make that play 99 out of 100 times, but this was the 100th time.”[2]

Maddox was certain the play would be ruled a hit. It wasn’t until he returned to first base and realized that a hit had yet to be posted on the scoreboard that he realized he may not have broken up Forsch’s no-hit bid.

“I thought it was a hit all the way,” he said. “So did (first base coach) Tony Taylor. That was the first thing he told me. And the umpire at first base (Harry Wendelstedt) thought it was a hit, then when I saw they didn’t put it up right away, I said, ‘Uh, oh,’ and figured it was being discussed before they made a decision. I looked up at the press box and saw (Cardinals announcer) Mike Shannon give a thumbs-down sign and I knew they were gonna call it an error.”[3]

It was common at the time for newspaper beat writers to serve as official scorekeepers for the games they covered. In fact, the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves were the only two National League teams that didn’t use local newspaper reporters as scorekeepers that season.[4]

Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote that Russo briefly discussed the play with Cardinals public relations official Jim Toomey before ruling it an error.[5]

“Very simply, it looked as if he should have fielded the ball,” Russo said. “It was not a routine play, but it was not anything as difficult as some people think it was.”[6]

Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, who won the Gold Glove in 1976 and 1977 and would go on to win another of his 10 career Gold Glove awards that season, saw things differently.

“He goes to his left, puts the glove down and it goes through without him ever touching it,” he said. “There’s no way in hell you can give the man an error on a play like that.

“To me, it was just like a line drive to left field. You don’t give the shortstop an error for jumping and missing the liner, do you? You’ve got to follow your guidelines for a hit, and the guideline here has to be whether the guy touches the ball.”[7]

Reitz said that he indeed touched the ball, but Phillies manager Danny Ozark argued that even if Reitz did manage to get leather on the ball, he never could have thrown out the speedy Maddox.

“There’s no question that it was a hit,” he said. “You tell me that if he catches it, he’s going to throw him out?”[8]

Phillies third base coach Billy DeMars had arguably the best vantage point to see the play. Perhaps not surprisingly, he also thought the play should have been ruled a hit.

“Remember, this was Maddox running, not (catcher Bob) Boone,” DeMars said.[9]

Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons came away with the opposite impression.

“The ball was hit right to Reitz, and it wasn’t hit hard,” he said. “The ball wasn’t juiced. It hit off his glove. If it wasn’t an error, I’d say so. That’s the way I am.”[10]

Cardinals manager Vern Rapp agreed, and pitching coach Claude Osteen said, “We were sitting right in line with the play. There was no question in my mind that it was an error. It was not a case of Reitz having to reach for the ball. It went right under his glove. I would have flashed the error button right away. I’d say the same thing if he had pitched a 12-hitter.”[11]

Davey Johnson, a reserve infielder for the Phillies who would go on to a 17-year managerial career, noted that it was the sixth no-hitter he had seen (actually the fifth), and each time the pitcher got some assistance from a friendly ruling from the scorekeeper.

“I suppose he figured that if somebody got a solid hit later, he could always change the error to a hit then,” Johnson said.[12]

Whether Forsch got assistance from the scorekeeper or not, he was entirely willing to admit that a friendly wind helped to keep Schmidt in the ballpark in the first inning.

“I thought (it) was going to hit the Stadium Club,” Forsch said. “I think that’s a home run easy on a normal day here. And he hit the other two good. I don’t know if they would have been homers, but they might have been trouble.”[13]

Nine days earlier, Forsch held the Phillies to one run on five hits in a season-opening 5-1 victory.

“The guy pitched a helluva game, but I don’t think he threw as good as he did in Philly opening day,” Ozark said. “We hit a lot more balls hard today. Schmidt might have had three homers if this game was in August.”[14]

Phillies pitcher Randy Lerch kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard until the fourth inning, when Simmons doubled into the left-field gap and scored on a two-out single by Reitz. Two innings later, pinch hitter Roger Freed hit a bases-loaded double into right field to drive three runs home.

In the eighth, Jerry Morales and Simmons chased Lerch from the game with consecutive singles. Gene Garber entered the game and intentionally walked Keith Hernandez before retiring the next two Cardinals. With two outs, pinch hitter Dane Iorg drew a bases-loaded walk to make the score 5-0.

While Forsch’s teammates avoided him out of respect for the long-standing superstition regarding no-hitters, the right-hander kept ducking into the clubhouse to escape the chilly 41-degree temperature. There, the radio broadcasters unintentionally kept him apprised of how close he was to history.

“They were saying on the radio that no no-hitter had been pitched by a Cardinal in St. Louis in 54 years,” Forsch said.[15]

After Reitz’s error, Forsch escaped the inning, getting Boone to hit into a ground-ball double-play and Ted Sizemore to line out to shortstop Garry Templeton. Forsch retired the side in the ninth on consecutive ground balls. With the final out retired, Simmons engulfed Forsch in a bear hug.

 

“Once the game started, everything seemed to fall in place,” Forsch said. “The ball was moving good. All my pitches were working. Simmons again called a tremendous game. I never shook him off. He knows me better than I know myself.”[16]

Forsch needed just 96 pitches.

“He looked like an accomplished artist out there,” Rapp said. “He had complete control of his pitches and complete poise. In a word, he was sensational.”[17]

Five years later, on September 26, 1983, Forsch recorded the second no-hitter of his career against the Montreal Expos. This time, there were no controversial error calls to cast doubt on the accomplishment.

“A lot of people said that (the first no-hitter) was tainted,” Forsch said after holding the Expos hitless. “This one I don’t think there was any question about.”[18]


[1] Bob McCoy, “Phils Dispute Maddox Ruling, Credit Forsch With One-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[2] Neil Russo, “Forsch Avoids Jinxes, Gets No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C1.

[3] Bill Conlin, “The Forsch Is With Cards,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 17, 1978: Page 68.

[4] “Scorer Explains Ruling On Error,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[5] Bill Conlin, “The Forsch Is With Cards,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 17, 1978: Page 68.

[6] “Scorer Explains Ruling On Error,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[7] Bob McCoy, “Phils Dispute Maddox Ruling, Credit Forsch With One-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[8] Bob McCoy, “Phils Dispute Maddox Ruling, Credit Forsch With One-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[9] Bob McCoy, “Phils Dispute Maddox Ruling, Credit Forsch With One-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[10] Neil Russo, “Forsch Avoids Jinxes, Gets No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[11] Neil Russo, “Forsch Avoids Jinxes, Gets No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[12] Bob McCoy, “Phils Dispute Maddox Ruling, Credit Forsch With One-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[13] Bill Conlin, “The Forsch Is With Cards,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 17, 1978: Page 68.

[14] Bill Conlin, “The Forsch Is With Cards,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 17, 1978: Page 58.

[15] Neil Russo, “Forsch Avoids Jinxes, Gets No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[16] Neil Russo, “Forsch Avoids Jinxes, Gets No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[17] Neil Russo, “Free Breaks Ice: ‘I Know I Can Hit,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1978: C4.

[18] Rick Hummel, “Forsch Hurls His 2nd No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 27, 1983: C1.

 

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