Ode to Big Rube Foster


Andrew “Rube” Foster is considered the Father of Black Baseball by those that are familiar with his contributions to the sport.  The problem is, Foster has toiled in anonymity for so long that most are unaware of these contributions.  Having recently read Negro League historian Larry Lester’s latest book on Rube Foster, it is evident that “Big Rube” stands at the apex of black baseball while few people realize the tremendous impact he had on Major League Baseball as well.  On the 94th birthday of Jackie Robinson, I’d like to shine a light on the man who paved the way for number 42.  This is my ode to Rube Foster the pitcher, manager, Commissioner, and visionary.

Andrew “Rube” Foster the Pitcher

With a career record of 191-60, Rube Foster is considered by many as the best pitcher of the black ball era.  Pitching from 1899-1918 Foster spent a majority of his career pitching in Chicago between two teams the Leland Giants and the American Giants.  He threw 7 no-hitters and amassed a career ERA of 1.82.  The nickname “Rube” was bestowed upon him in 1903 when Foster out pitched Hall of Famer Rube Waddell in an exhibition contest between black baseball’s Cuban X-Giants and the major league’s Philadelphia Athletics.

  • Following on of Foster’s epic performances on the mound Hall of Fame manager John McGraw hired Rube Foster in 1903 to serve as pitching coach to a young Christy Mathewson.  Prior to the 1903 season Mathewson had amassed a win/loss record of 34-37.  Foster came to the New York Giants to teach Mathewson the art of the screwball.  For the remainder of Mathewson’s career he was and still is regarded as the best screwball pitcher in baseball.  His win loss record after working with Foster was 339-151, totals that earned him induction into the first class Hall of Fame inductees.  Rube Foster was not elected to the Hall of Fame until 1981, over 50 years after his death.
  • Unbeknownst to Rube Foster his pitching career also benefited boxing Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson.  Having been convicted of a crime for transporting his future white wife across state lines for immoral purposes, Johnson was sentenced to serve one year in prison.  Johnson utilizing his slight resemblance to Foster, disguised himself as the pitcher and joined the team as they traveled to Ontario Canada.  Once there he boarded a ship to Paris avoiding the criminal charges for the next 7 years.

Andrew “Rube” Foster the Manager

As the manager of the Negro National League’s Chicago American Giants Rube Foster finished with a 293-164 record winning 64% of the games his team participated in.  He has been compared to the likes of Hall of Fame managers, John McGraw and Connie Mack for his innovation and success in the game of baseball.  At a time when blacks were not given much respect for their intellectual capabilities many white managers watched and learned from Foster as he managed his players as if they were pieces on his personal chess board.

  • Rube Foster developed a style of baseball known as “Inside Ball,” which centered on speed, bunting, and sacrifices.  Sound familiar?  Yes, the same style popularized in the Major League’s by the 1951 World Champion “Go-Go” Chicago White Sox, Whitey Herzog, and Ozzie Guillen originated with Rube Foster.  Those that saw Foster’s teams play could not ignore the manager’s emphasis on speed and quickness.  The stolen base was a hallmark of his teams as his players constantly took an extra base in a bold like fashion, an art that was absent from the white game at the time.
  • Rube Foster was on a constant mission to prove his teams superiority.  Rube was one of the first black managers to take his team on extended trips to the West Coast in an effort to expose the masses to black baseball at its finest.  He repeatedly took his teams into the deep South, Cuba and Canada and was not afraid to take the credit for teaching many young black spectators the right way to play the game.
  • Foster also issued many challenges to white baseball clubs.  While few teams responded to his challenges the ones that did left with a new-found respect for Foster and the teams he put together.  Foster issued these challenges with an end goal in mind.  It was his vision that once he garnered the respect of white baseball, the fans would demand an annual Cultural World Series pitting the best black baseball team against the best white ball club.  He cited the achievements of boxing great Jack Johnson and his ability to fight the top white boxers as the foundation for his dream Series.

Andrew “Rube” Foster the Commissioner

Rube Foster wasn’t the first to recognize the need for black baseball to be organized but he was the first person to create a sustainable league featuring the top black talent in the country.  As any intelligent leader would, Rube learned from others failures and in 1920 developed the Negro National League which lasted well after he resigned his post in 1926 due to health challenges.

  • In 1887 the League of Colored Baseball Clubs was formed and in less than a month the operation was shut down.  In 1906, the National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs of the United States and Cuba was formed by several white owners.  Their association was over before it started as they failed to play one game.  And finally in 1907, the National Colored League of Professional Ball Clubs was formed yet never materialized.  It was not until Andrew “Rube” Foster’s Negro National League was formed that black ball players had a thriving league they could call their own.
  • The Negro National League did have their difficulties.  Some teams were not as financially equipped as others and had challenges fielding teams the fans were willing to walk through the turnstiles for.  As President of the NNL and head of the Chicago American Giants, Foster was in a rather enviable financial position.  Chicago was the Harlem of the Midwest for the black community, and Foster was one of the few owners that had an ownership stake in his team’s home ballpark.  Therefore, he was paid anytime a rival club needed a field to host their game (this happened often as many clubs wanted to play in markets with flourishing black communities).  The well to do Foster was able to loan struggling clubs money to make payroll, and if a team needed a boost at the box office Rube would loan them a player sure to draw a crowd.   Rube recognized the benefits of star power very early.  In fact, when the NNL was formed Foster’s American Giants fielded some of the best players black baseball had seen.  Placing the success of the league above his own, Foster distributed his top talent to other teams so that each team could have at least one star player.  For an example of Foster’s benevolence towards the league as a whole one need look no further than Oscar Charleston.  Bill James, the godfather of sabermetrics considers Charleston the fourth greatest player ever behind Ruth, Wagner, and Mays.  Foster gave Charleston to the Indianapolis ABC’s in his prime for the greater good  and ultimate success of the Negro National League.
  • Rube felt that the Negro National League could not truly be a league for his people until they hired black umpires.  Initially the league contracted white umpires stationed in the city that the game was to be held and paid them on a per game basis.  Foster saw fit to hire 8 black umpires that were salaried employees and traveled from city to city.  The addition of these traveling employees cost the league an extra $4,000 but it was important to Rube that blacks in all aspects of the game received an opportunity to take part in the “American Pastime.”

Again, props to Larry Lester for the hard work and research.  This post could not have been written without the fresh insight of his latest book, Rube Foster In His Time: On the field and in the papers with Black Baseball’s greatest visionary.

As always, thank you for visiting and I welcome your thoughts, comments, or complaints on Rube Foster and his impact on the sport we love.  Peace!


Juicing the Hall of Fame


The 2013 Hall of Fame vote was announced Wednesday and to no ones surprise the BBWA (Baseball Writes of America) did not elect anyone to join the annals of baseball’s greats.  This is not the first time the BBWA has come to such a conclusion but it is the first time steroids was injected as a rationale to deny everyone on a ballot that had well over 6 qualified ball players to choose from.  The BBWA will have you believe nobody that played in the “Steroid Era” deserves to be inducted into a Hall of Fame that considers character, morals and respect for the game.  I’m not drinking to Kool Aid, and I feel the writers are doing a great disservice to the game and its fans in their personal quest to rewrite history and keep the greatest players of my generation of the Hall of Fame.  Rather than scream every time I hear one of the many reasons the writers used to omit the greatness of a whole generation from the Hall I’ve decided to use this platform to poke holes in each excuse I’ve heard for keeping the HoF clean.

Character Clause

In 1944 Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Major League Baseball’s commisioner at the time, played a key role in the Baseball Hall of Fame adopting Rule 5 of the Hall’s election requirements: “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”  Many writers have relied this clause to justify the decision not to vote for the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, and a whole list of other players they think MAY have taken steroids.  They believe that the use of illegal drugs to enhance one’s performance says something about character and displays a lack of sportsmanship.

Newsflash, the Hall of Fame is full of baseball players with sketchy character.  They were elected because they were great baseball players, and their character or lack there of never entered the equation.  Ty Cobb was an open racist that bet on baseball games and bragged about killing a man with his bare hands, Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby were members of the Ku Klux Klan, Babe Ruth abused alcohol at a time when it was illegal to drink, Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio had rather close ties with the mob and organized gambling yet each made it into the Hall of Fame without a question of their character.

For the writers to choose to invoke the character clause now in an effort “to keep the Hall clean” is disingenuous as the Hall of Fame will never be clean.  The writers are attempting to write the history of their choice, one without steroids, one where the precious records of their era/childhood still stand.  By not electing anyone into the HoF in 2013, history will say the writers took a hardline stance against steroids.  Unfortunately for the writers, those that pay close attention will ask the question: Why did the writers wait so long to take a stand against steroids?  Where were they when home run records were falling and chicks were digging the long ball?  Answer: They were silent turning a blind eye to steroids all while cozying up to the very players they are condemning today.

They Cheated the Game

In 1991 Commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to each team stating that steroids had been added to the league’s banned substance list.  At the time the commissioner did not have the power to arbitrarily add substances to the banned list and invoke league wide steroid testing.  Such things had to be collectively bargained for.  Therefore, steroids were not tested for in MLB until 2004, well after those on the ballot made their claim to the Hall of Fame.  It’s also worth mentioning that nobody on the ballot except for Rafael Palmeiro, ever failed a steroids test.  As for the others, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Mike Piazza, guilty by assumption, for playing in an era that steroids were used.  I wonder how the American public would have felt if Hank Greenberg, a hero in the Jewish community, or Joe DiMaggio had been kept out of the Hall based on their association with the mob (i.e. organized gambling).

Have I mentioned that known cheaters have been voted into the Hall of Fame prior to the steroids dilemma.  In 1923 Babe Ruth was caught using a corked bat, Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford admitted to throwing spit balls, and numerous Hall Of Famers used amphetamines (an illegal drug), including the beloved Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt.  The top athletes are good at what they do because of their competitive spirit and desire to be the best.  Therefore, they will look for any advantage to best the competition.  You can argue that amphetamines and corked bats are minor compared to steroids but I would argue the players of the 60’s & 70’s were merely using what they had available to them to get the largest advantage possible.  As Bob Gibson and Mike Schmidt said, if steroids were around when they were playing they might have used them as well.  When it comes to the Hall of Fame many a known cheater has won, now is not the time for the writers to inject their own moral stance against “suspected cheaters” on our Hall of Fame.

Their Bodies Changed & Produced Crazy Numbers

The baseball writers would have you believe that steroids are the worst of the performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) because they changed players body type and helped the likes of Bonds and Clemens produce insane numbers.  This has become the company line and a way for the baseball writers to differentiate steroid users from the amphetamine users already in the Hall.  Earlier in the week, Joe Sheehan wrote a phenomenal article where he examined the numbers produced during the amphetamines era of baseball.  He argues that amphetamines did have an impact on performance and the statistics produced during the era.

For those that are unaware, amphetamines are a performance enhancing drug that supply its user with a hyperactive sense of energy and was commonly used by baseball players from the 1960’s – 2000’s.  At a time when afternoon games were plentiful and drinking into the night was common place, amphetamines helped ball players perform at peak performance after a long night on the town.  Sheehan found that since 1920 stolen bases reached an all time peak during the amphetamine era.  Gone are the days when players stole over 100 bases as Rickey Henderson  and Vince Coleman in the early 80’s.  Gone are the days where players played all 162 games, and amassed impressive consecutive games played streaks a la Cal Ripken.  Pitchers throwing complete games?  Not in today’s game, not since amphetamines were taken out of the game.  Now baseball writers I ask you, if a player aided by an illegal drug was able to play in more games thus having more opportunities to produce greater statistics, does he belong in the Hall of Fame?  Too late, they are already there and still revered as pillars of the game.

Since it is assumed that steroids (rather than skills, training, diet, and talent), were the cause for the increase in  home runs totals during the steroids era lets look at some of the players that have tested positive for steroids and their home run rate per game in the year they were caught.

2005: Alex Sanchez (2HR/62G); Rafael Palmiero (18HR/110G); Mike Morse (3HR/72G)

2007: Nefi Perez (1HR/33G); Jose Guillen (23HR/153G); Jay Gibbons (6HR/84G)

2008: Eliezer Alfonzo (0HR/5G)

2009: Manny Ramirez (19HR/104G)

2011: Manny Ramirez (0HR/5G);

2012: Freddy Galvis (3HR/58G); Melky Cabrera (11HR/113G)

Not the eye-popping home run totals you were expecting?  Perhaps steroids didn’t have the effect of turning marginal players into modern-day Babe Ruth’s.  In fact, there is no actual proof that steroids, or other PED’s, improve baseball performance in a way that enables players to hit more home runs.  Perhaps Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell were just supreme talents that benefited from the smaller ball parks of their time, mediocre pitching, and a meticulous diet/work out regime.  You know, doing the things that Hall of Famers do.

How Do You Deal With the Steroids Era

Some writers are hoping that time will help them figure out how to deal with players of the Steroids era and the Hall of Fame.  To them I say baseball has always had era’s and for the most part the best players of that era were voted into the HoF.  The writers should not be on a crusade to erase a whole era of great players from the Hall as if their greatness never happened.  The Dead Ball era of the 1900’s saw few home runs and miniscule batting averages.  The writers adjusted their standards and voted the best players of the era into the Hall of Fame.  Major League Baseball did not integrate until 1947.  Some of the greats from this era, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson, never played an official game against some of the top talent of the time because black players were kept out of the League.  The writers responded but putting the best players of the era in the Hall of Fame.  In the 60’s the pitcher’s mound was raised and pitchers gained a supreme advantage.  The writers responded by putting the best players of the era in the Hall.  How did the writers respond to the amphetamine and cocaine era of baseball?  You guessed it.  They voted the best players into the Hall.  Including the first player permanently suspended from baseball for cocaine use.

So what do you do with players of the from the steroids era BBWA writers?  You vote the best players in and let history determine how we remember the era.