Nicknames: Rube, Jock
Positions: p, 1b, of, manager, executive, owner, founder, officer (Negro National League)
Teams: Chicago Union Giants (1902), Cuban X Giants (1903), Philadelphia Giants (1904-1906), Leland Giants (1907-1910), Chicago American Giants (1911-1926)
Height: 6' 2'' Weight: 200
Born: September 17, 1879, Calvert, Texas
Died: December 9, 1930, Kankakee, Illinois
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1981)
He was recognized as the father of the Negro Leagues, and Foster's career exemplifies the essence of black baseball. As a raw talent rookie pitcher soon after the turn of the century, the big Texan was credited with 51 victories in 1902, including a win over the great Rube Waddell, the game in which Foster received his nickname. The son of Sarah and Andrew Foster, the youngster had been named after his minister father but would ever afterward be called by his earned nickname. Soon after completing the eighth grade in Calvert, Texas, the youthful Foster began his baseball career pitching with the Waco Yellow Jackets in his native state. In 1902 he traveled North and joined Frank Leland's Chicago Union Giants. His first appearance with the team was as an unsuccessful pinch hitter, but whatever first impression he made was quickly erased when he took the mound, as he lost only one game in three months with the team, after which he pitched briefly with a white semipro ballclub at Otsego, Michigan, before returning to the top black teams the following season.
Foster was a smart pitcher who supplemented his normal repertory of pitches with a highly effective screwball, and the big right-hander's presence on a team usually was the determining factor in a championship. In 1903 he joined the Cuban X Giants and compiled a 54-1 record for the regular season, and won 4 games in the playoffs victory over the Philadelphia Giants. The next year, after jumping to the Philadelphia squad, Foster won 2 games in the 3-game playoffs victory over his former teammates. In 1905 he was reported to have won 51 of 55 games from major league and minor league teams, and he led the Philadelphia Giants to two more championships in 1905-1906 as they became the dominant team of the era.
That winter he played in Cuba with the Fe ballclub and led the league in wins with 9, while pitching half of his team's games. His natural leadership manifested itself, and he took charge of the team during the Cuban season of 1907.
Once back in the United States, he left Philadelphia in a salary dispute and returned to Chicago to begin his managerial career when Frank Leland appointed him playing manager of the Leland Giants in 1907. Foster was a stern, demanding manager but fair and tolerant with his players, and his keen mind and ability to handle men naturally lent itself to managerial success, with his team immediately becoming one of the best teams in black baseball.
In 1909 a broken leg sustained in the first inning of a mid-July game against the Cuban Stars resulted in a six-week mending period, which caused him to miss the championship series against the St. Paul Colored Gophers. His absence cost the Lelands the title as they lost the 5-game series on the final day. The following year, after a split with owner Frank Leland, he organized his own team, stocking the club with players from the old Leland Giants and the Philadelphia Giants. Rube considered his 1910 team to be the greatest baseball talent ever assembled. Featuring stars such as John Henry Lloyd, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, "Home Run" Johnson, Frank Wickware, and Pat Dougherty, the team fashioned a fabulous 128-6 record. Incomplete statistics show Foster contributing a 13-2 record himself, as a moundsman. Although past his prime, he was classed with Walter Ball, Danny McClellan, and Harry Buckner in a group that was considered "head and shoulders above" other pitchers of the era in black baseball.
The next season Foster entered into a handshake partnership with John M. Schorling, a white tavern owner and son-in-law of Charles Comiskey, and arranged for the team to play at the old Chicago White Sox Park, with the proceeds being divided equally between the two men. That year, 1911, Foster renamed the team the Chicago American Giants and a dynasty was born, with the club becoming a dominant force until Foster's departure from baseball. Foster himself was phasing out his active career, with incomplete data showing records of 5-4 in 1914 and 1-0 in 1917, two of his best teams of the decade. Enormously popular at the time, he still took the mound on special occasions to enhance attendance and, more than any other individual, Rube Foster is identified with the Chicago American Giants. The team was an extension of his personality and philosophy and bore his distinct imprint. At the beginning of the second decade of the century he had already established himself as the most dominant black pitcher from the first decade, and was in the process of earning the same recognition as a manager.
With the American Giants he molded players to fit his "racehorse" style of play. Good pitching, sound defense and an offense geared to the running game became the trademarks of his teams. All of his players were required to master the bunt and the hit-and-run, and he expected runners to go from first to third on the hit-and-run and the bunt-and-run. All of his players had to master the bunt, and his runners often had a "green light" to run on their own, so the scrappy American Giants could always push across some runs and avoid prolonged team slumps. Only the 1916 Indianapolis ABCs were able to break his monopoly in the West as the American Giants won all other recorded championships from 1910 through 1922.
After establishing the best black baseball team, Foster organized the first black baseball league, the Negro National League, serving as president and treasurer while overseeing its development into a first-class enterprise. While booking games for his own team, he had encountered difficulties with East Coast promoter Nat Strong, and considered the formation of a black league as the solution to scheduling problems created by Strong's iron-handed control of teams in the East.
As president of the league, Foster was unsalaried but took 5 percent of the gate receipts of every league game and distributed as he chose. Through the formation of a league, Foster became an even more powerful influence on black baseball, and through his autocratic policies, he alienated many others in positions of authority. By 1925 the opposition to his unrestricted influence had grown, and although he received a unanimous vote of confidence from the other owners, he offered to resign.
Rube wore three hats as player, manager, and executive and they all sat well on his head. However, it was for his contributions to baseball as a manager that he is probably best remembered. A stern disciplinarian, shrewd handler of men, developer of new talent, and ingenious innovator of baseball strategy, he instilled his philosophy and style of play in his players so that even after his deteriorating mental health forced him to leave the game, his team and his league continued to flourish until after his death in 1930.
The sharp mind that he had exhibited in his prime years began to show effects of the stressful situation under which he had labored for years, and his mental deterioration began to manifest itself in 1925, when he thought that his players had "laid down on him." In 1926 his lieutenant Dave Malarcher was placed at the helm of the team and, by early September, Foster was in a mental hospital for psychopaths, after having shown evidence of mental unbalance for several weeks. For the next four years after his nervous breakdown, he was never to leave the state asylum at Kankakee, Illinois, until his death two weeks before Christmas in 1930. Fans and admirers lined up for three days to view the casket.
Rube Foster's career covered the entire spectrum of baseball participation, from the playing field to the front office, and he excelled at each level. He was black baseball's greatest manager, the man most responsible for black baseball's continued existence, and a man almost bigger than life itself. In recognition of his contributions to baseball, Foster was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Andrew "Rube" Foster