OBSERVATIONS: George Foster integrated the bat rack

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave while checking my new watch purchased by Nadine for my birthday, even though my birthday is 2 1/2 months away. She is always on time. Now I will be.

—George Foster was the most underrated and unappreciated member of The Big Red Machine, something I often tell him.

I also tell him he should have been the Most Valuable Player in 1976, a year teammate Joe Morgan won it.

It all began in 1975 when Foster languished on the bench and manager Sparky Anderson realized he had a super-talent rusting in the dugout.

Anderson went to Pete Rose, who was playing left field, and asked him what he thought about playing third base and Rose said, “Let me get my infielder’s glove.” That enabled Anderson to slip Foster into left field and the rest is statistical history.

In 1976, Foster hit .305 with 29 homers, led the league with 121 RBI and stole 17 bases. Then he did win the 1977 MVP with a .321 average, a league-leading 52 home runs and a league-leading 149 RBI. He also drove in 120 runs in 1978 — three straight years with 120 or more RBI.

All that came after Foster was traded to the Reds in 1972 by the San Francisco Giants for a couple of baubles and a trinket. The shy Foster was so intimidated about coming to The Big Red Machine that he took some advice from former Giants teammate Bobby Bonds. “Go see a hypnotist.”

He did and that hypnotist must have told him, “Relax and be a big star. A big, big star.”

When Foster played, everybody used a white ash bat, but Foster unleashed a black bat, the first to use an ebony bat. He called it Black Beauty and he said, “I integrated the bat rack.”

Foster owned a dry sense of humor, something he maintains to this day. There was a writer from Hamilton named Joe Minster. His favorite first question to a batter after he hit a home run was, “What did you it?”

Every time Minster asked him that question, Foster would grin and say, “A Rawlings.”

Foster may have hit the hardest ball ever whacked in Riverfront Stadium, one that couldn’t be clocked because exit velocity and miles per hour were not measured in those pre-analytics days.

Foster hit one on a dead line to left center that took a chip out of the concrete barrier in front of the upper deck red seats.

The pitcher was Willie Hernandez and Foster said, “I hit that ball so hard it must have embarrassed him, because he changed his name. Next time I saw him he was calling himself Guillermo Hernandez.”

When the Reds trained in Tampa, Fla., the writers sat in the nearly always empty left field bleachers, down the left field line. And we would sometimes slip over the fence and sit on the bullpen bench with the pitchers.

And once in a while between innings, I’d grab a glove and warm-up the left fielder, play catch with them. One day, as a gag, I grabbed a ball and autographed it before tossing it to Foster.

Foster saw me writing on the ball and when I threw it to him, he examined it closely, saw my signature, then turned and threw the ball over the left field wall into the parking lot.

No respect.

—QUOTE: From Reds manager Sparky Anderson on George Foster: “I’ve got to believe that George Foster is the cleanest living athlete in sports.” (Foster didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t smoke, didn’t chew, didn’t do caffeine and did not swear and spent time on the road in his room reading Eastern philosophy. And before he reached the majors he had read the Bible cover-to-cover while in the minors.)

—When was the last time you saw a team strike out nine times in a row and win the game. How about the tenth of never?

Detroit relief pitcher Tyler Alexander went straight through the entire Cincinnati Reds lineup and struck out all nine. But the Reds won the game, 4-3.

That’s baseball as we know it today.

—QUOTE: From former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell: “I eventually became proud of my strikeouts because each one represented another learning experience.” (Players these days should be proud as peacocks and as learned as Einstein.)

–Between COVID-19 and rainstorms, the only way MLB will get 60 games out of every team is to play four-inning tripleheaders. Shush. Don’t give MLB any ideas.

—From New York Mets relief pitcher Jared Hughes after the Mets acquired outfielder Billy Hamilton:

“I had a great year in 2018 with the Cincinnati Reds and I tell everybody — they’re like, ‘What happened, what was the difference?’ I tell them, ‘Billy was my center fielder.’ He just caught everything. He robbed home runs. Everything that I gave up that was hard-hit to the outfield, Billy was there diving for it.

“The guy is incredible and he’s got tons of energy. He’s a good influence in the clubhouse. Everybody loves him.”

All very true, Jared, but too bad he never learned how to use his speed to find first base.

—A friend’s reaction to seven-inning doubleheaders and placing a runner on second base to start extra-inning games:

“When are they going to start hitters with a 3-and-2 count? When are they going to make hits to the opposite field automatic outs? When are they going to make two-strike foul balls an out? When are they going to say, ‘No sliding?’ When are the going to appoint mothers to bring the orange slices for after games?”

—Confession. I had no idea what futsal is. I had to look it up. I never heard of it until it was listed with the high school sports that are on the wait-and-see list if it will be played this fall.

What is it? Indoor soccer, on a small scale, usually played on a basketball floor with a less-lively ball than the normal soccer ball.

—QUOTE: From legendary soccer player Pele:
“I played futsal growing up in Baurd. In futsal you need to think quick and play quick so it’s easier for you when you move to normal football (soccer).”

5 thoughts on “OBSERVATIONS: George Foster integrated the bat rack

  • August 4, 2020 at 7:04 pm
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    George Foster…the absolute master of stepping out of the batters box to delay the at-bat. Even Sean Casey’s stepping out after each pitch to adjust batting gloves does not compare to George…..most of the time anyway !

    No question, the man could absolutely crush a pitched baseball…incredible to watch.

    Pete’s no questions asked willingness to go to third base…actions speak louder than words.

    Reply
  • August 4, 2020 at 8:58 pm
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    My best memory of George was when during the World Series a man on third with winning run and fly to left field,George caught ball and threw runner out at home.I’m
    still smiling.Thank you George and the Big Red Machine

    Reply
    • August 5, 2020 at 10:52 am
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      We always reminisce about that one, Al. One of the great, great clutch plays!

      Reply
    • August 5, 2020 at 2:14 pm
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      Game 6, 1975, versus Red Sox? The greatest game ever played because of plays/moments like this.

      Reply
  • August 9, 2020 at 8:30 am
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    I have always admired his quiet way of doing things on and off the field.

    Reply

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