December 12, 2019

Forerunner Foster

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Long before Muhammad Ali asserted that he was the greatest, Rube Foster staked that claim for himself and his teams. Foster, author Robert Charles Cottrell says, could be considered more influential than Jackie Robinson.

Read “The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant” because:

1. Foster consistently put the best product on the field.

After he grew outraged with being grossly underpaid, he led his teammates to form their own team. Gone were the days when the entire team took home little more than $100 total for a week’s worth of games circa 1906. Foster’s 1911 American Giants started with a team monthly salary of $1500. They traveled in first-class Pullman cars, and they had the cachet to back it up. Foster’s 1910 team finished 123-6 and set the tone for the next several years. That doesn’t include the exhibitions against Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers. Cobb would just as soon those games were forgotten. The Tigers took care of Foster’s Giants , but the apparent upstarts outhit Cobb.

2. Foster was a master strategist and organizer.

Rumors circulated that Foster operated a ballclub while still in grade school. That may have been exaggerated, but either way, Foster learned at an early age how to manage. He seized the first chance he could to form his own black baseball team and later his own league. His accomplishments spoke for themselves as a drawing card. Records indicate Foster went 20-6-2 in 1904 and 25-3-2 in 1905. Every year, he let the public know that the coming season would be better than the former. At the top of their game, Foster successfully demanded that his team’s revenue for a doubleheader be increased from $150 to $500. He secured dates with the World Series runner-up Chicago Cubs in 1906. Foster sent his team barnstorming to Cuba before the thought occurred to his big-league counterparts. Chicago Defender sportswriter George E. Mason wrote, “The story of his wonderful career [is] strange enough to be fiction, but not less model than the metaphors handed us at our regular Sunday services.” (84, Best). Coming off the greatest record in their history in 1917, Foster predicted that 1918 would be “the greatest year in Colored baseball.” (110-111)

3. Although he never played in the Majors, Foster left his mark on some of the greats and earned his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cobb didn’t want to have anything to do with Rube Foster, but he took note. So did Connie Mack and Honus Wagner. John McGraw became his friend. McGraw sought out Foster to help his ace, Christy Mathewson, fine-tune his screwball, some historians say. One newsman shared a frequent sentiment: If only [Foster and his teammates] could be treated with a coat of permanent whitewash.” (73)

If only Foster could have seen the color barrier broken in his lifetime. Make sure you don’t bypass this read on Foster.

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

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