Foster overcame childhood illness to become an outstanding pitcher, a shrewd manager,
and the dominant executive in black baseball. As a 6'4" 200-lb teenager, he joined
the Yellow Jackets, a traveling black team in Texas. John McGraw saw Foster during
spring training of 1901 (or thereabouts) and wanted him and other blacks for his New
York Giants. But, unable to use them, he instead asked Foster to tutor the Giants'
pitchers. Christy Mathewson reportedly learned his "fadeaway" pitch (a screwball)
Foster then joined the Chicago Union Giants, pitched a shutout in
his first start, but soon lost his effectiveness. He regained his form while with
a white semi-pro club in the Michigan State League, and defeated every team in the
circuit. Because of his difficulties, he had become a keen student of the game, and
a wily pitcher. By 1902 he was with the black Cuban Giants.
In 1903 Foster was
the top black pitcher in the country. He pitched the Cuban X-Giants to the black
championship, and was the winner in four of their five victories over the Philadelphia
Giants in the Black World Series. The following year, he pitched the Philadelphia
Giants to the title, and recorded both victories in a best-of-three series against
the Cuban X-Giants.
It is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in Foster's
pitching career; he is credited with a 51-4 season early on. Documentation does exist
for a 1904 no-hitter he tossed against the Camden, NJ team. He reportedly gained
his nickname by defeating the Athletics' Rube Waddell in 1902, and is reputed to
have fared well in duels with major league pitchers Chief Bender, Mordecai Brown,
and Cy Young. Frank Chance called him "the most finished product I've ever seen in
the pitcher's box," and Honus Wagner said he was "one of the greatest pitchers of
all time...smartest pitcher I've ever seen..."
Foster began managing in 1907, when
he guided the Chicago Leland Giants to a 110-10 record. Their record was 64-21-1
in 1908. In 1909 Foster challenged the Chicago Cubs to a series, which the Cubs won
in three close games. Foster pitched the second game and took a 5-2 lead into the
ninth inning, but lost 6-5. Mordecai Brown won the first and third contests. There
is no record of any major league club coming forth to answer Foster's challenge in
1910, when his team went 123-6.
In 1911 Foster left the Lelands to form a partnership
with Chicago businessman John C. Schorling. From this union came one of black baseball's
strongest teams, the Chicago American Giants. They dominated both the Chicago semi-pro
scene (regularly winning the championship) and national black baseball, capturing
Negro League titles in 1914 and 1917 and sharing the 1915 championship with the New
York Lincoln Stars. Competing against white major leaguers following the 1915 season,
they won the California Winter League crown.
In the winter of 1919 Foster organized
the first viable black major league, the Negro National League, which operated in
the Midwest and the South from 1920 through 1931. He served as president of the new
league until 1926, and ruled it completely. An Eastern counterpart was organized
in 1923 and Black World Series between the two leagues were held from 1924 through
Foster continued to manage through 1925, and won the Negro National League's
first three pennants (1920-22). He made use of psychology and speed, invented the
bunt-and-run, and intimidated opponents. White major leaguers often attended his
games to learn his tactics. Though he made few rules, he expected his players to
follow them. He ran the games as he ran the NNL - in total control - and once
a player across the head with his pipe for tripling after he was given the bunt sign.
last known public meeting was in 1926 with lifelong friends Ban Johnson and John
McGraw, through whom it is believed he was trying to schedule white major league
teams to play his American Giants. Shortly thereafter he began to lose his mind,
and spent his last four years in the Kankakee, Illinois State Hospital.
|FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY|
|» September 3, 1906: The Philadelphia Giants win the Negro Championship Cup on Labor Day in Philadelphia before 10,000 fans, black baseball's largest crowd ever. Rube Foster pitches them to a 3-2 victory over the Cuban X-Giants, who have John Henry Lloyd in the lineup. |
» May 26, 1914:
Red Sox righthander Rube Foster's string of 42 consecutive scoreless innings is stopped by Cleveland in the 5th inning. The Naps prevail 3-2.
» October 9, 1915:
Playing game 2 in tiny Baker Bowl in Philadelphia,
Boston's 19-game winner Rube Foster allows the Phils
3 hits and drives in the winning run to break a 1-1
tie in the 9th against Erskine Mayer. President Wilson
is the first president to attend a WS game.
» October 13, 1915:
Back home, the Phils get 4 runs early off Rube Foster.
The Red Sox break a tie in the 9th for the 3rd time,
as reliever Eppa Rixey gives up Harry Hooper's 2nd
HR of the game, and Boston wins the Series 4-1.
» June 21, 1916:
Rube Foster of the Red Sox no-hits the Yankees 2-0, for the first no-hitter in Fenway Park, beating Bob Shawkey 2-0.
» December 9, 1930:
Rube Foster, one of the most prominent figures
in black baseball history, dies. The founder of the
Negro National League, he excelled as a player, manager,
» March 11, 1981:
Johnny Mize and Rube Foster are elected to the Hall
of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee. Mize hit
.312 with 359 HRs in 15 ML seasons for the Cardinals
and Giants, while Foster was a star Negro League pitcher,
manager, and Negro League organizer in the first
quarter of the 20th century.