Foster quietly made big noise for Reds’ offense
CINCINNATI — It was President Teddy Roosevelt who once said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”
For former Cincinnati Reds’ slugger George Foster, it was more like, “Talk softly and swing a big stick.”
During his time with the Reds from 1971 to 1981, Foster put up impressive numbers but always seemed to take a back seat to the media attention that more often than not went to the other key members of the famed Elite Eight, namely Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Davey Concepcion and Ken Griffey Sr.
While some players might feel snubbed, Foster relished his privacy.
“That was fine with me. I could get home early. I could get dressed and get out of there. They’d ask me a few questions, but when Pete came it was like the Pied Piper. Everybody came towards him. I said that’s fine. I don’t need to get the publicity or do an interview. I’ve done what I need to do on the field and let it speak for itself,” said Foster.
Even the trade Cincinnati made to acquire Foster was rather quiet among the baseball news.
The Reds sent shortstop Frank Duffy and pitcher Vern Geishert to the San Francisco Giants in 1971. Foster was the fourth outfielder behind Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds and Ken Henderson.
Geishert spent on one season — 1969 — in the Major Leagues and worked a total of 31 innings. He had a 1-1 record and a 4.65 earned run average.
Duffy was dealt to the Cleveland Indians the next season and he finished his career with the Boston Red Sox from 1978-79.
For his career, Duffy hit .232 with 26 home runs and 240 runs batted in. And Foster? He finished his career with a .274 batting average, 348 home runs and 1,239 RBIs.
Foster was a five-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, was voted the National League Most Valuable Player in 1977 when he led the league in home runs and RBI, won a Silver Slugger Award in 1981, also led the NL in home runs in 1978 and was a three-time league RBI champion from 1976-78.
For his exploits, he was voted into the Reds’ Hall of Fame in 2003.
When Foster arrived in Cincinnati, he faced another crowded outfield with Rose in left, Cesar Geronimo in center and Griffey in right. But manager Sparky Anderson didn’t like Foster’s bat sitting silent. He saw the potential and needed to find a way to make him an everyday player.
And then came the idea. Move Rose — a former Rookie of the Year second baseman — from the outfield to third base.
“That was the only position that was available. All the other positions you have a Hall of Fame superstar at. Tony’s at first, I’m not going to play second, not going to play short. I’m not going to play third. That’s too close to the batter,” said Foster.
“You had Geronimo in center and Griffey in right. So, it was left field. In Pete’s case, he’s played infield before so it was an easy fix being able to do that. That shows he’s a team player because he was willing to make that adjustment. But he was an all-star third baseman. Every place he played, he was an all-star. He worked at it to become a good player and that really helped the ball club.”
The noise Foster’s bat made was heard all around the baseball world.
In 1975, Foster batted .300 with 23 home runs and 78 RBI. During the 1976 championship season, his numbers were .306, 29 and 121.
The 1977 season saw Foster win the MVP award by hitting 52 home runs — a Cincinnati single-season record — and 149 runs batted in. He batted a career-high .320.
Foster’s number dropped slightly in 1978 but he still led the league with 40 home runs and 120 RBI while batting .281.
Injured for a brief period in 1979, Foster still managed 30 homers and 98 RBI as the Reds won the Western Division but were swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs.
With his numbers starting to slip as Father Time began creeping his way, the Reds decided not to meet his contract demands and traded him to the New York Mets after the 1981 season.
He spent four and a half seasons with the Mets before finishing the final 15 games of his career in 1986 with the Chicago White Sox.
Now living in Greenwich, Conn., Foster operates a non-profit organization that supports children of military families and who live in inner city neighborhoods. He also sponsors baseball boot camps for children.
“I’m enjoying the fact I’m working with kids. I’ve got a 15-under team to work with. I’m trying to impart the knowledge of the game I know and help them get to the next level. I see the talent that’s there, but being able to get them to believe in themselves and getting them as much as exposure as possible.”
Foster said he likes the challenge of coaching and he has a hitting philosophy that is simple and goes against today’s “grip it and rip it” method that has players swinging from their heels trying to hit home runs in every at-bat.
“A guy who has good, speed, I really focus on him hitting the ball on the ground because I want him to get on base. I focus on hitting line drives and ground balls because that way you have a chance to get on base,” said Foster.
“If you hit a fly ball, all the guy has to do is catch the ball. If you hit a ground ball, you have to catch the ball and then throw the ball. Hitting the ball on a line, you have a better chance of getting on base. And, those line drives are going to carry out of the ball park. I find that those trying to hit home runs aren’t going to hit home runs. Very few times that’s going to transpire.”
And George Foster knows something about hitting line drives out of the ball park.
Even if he does it in a quiet manner.