Foster Helped Take Care of the Big Red Machine

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By Glen Sparks

The 1977 major league baseball season began Wednesday, April 6. No player had enjoyed a 50 home-run season since the great Willie Mays blasted 52 in 1965 for the San Francisco Giants.

The 1977 major league baseball season ended Sunday, Oct. 2. Just a few days before that, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster cracked the 52nd and final homer of his glorious campaign, in the fifth inning off San Diego Padres starter John D’Acquisto.

Foster topped his previous career-high mark in home runs, set the season before, by 23. He slammed 11 more round-trippers than runner-up Jeff Burroughs of the Atlanta Braves. Foster also led the National League in RBI (149), runs scored (121), total bases (388), extra-base hits (85), slugging percentage (.631) and OPS (1.013).

The lithe, right-handed batter finished fourth in batting average (.320) and fourth in base hits (197). He led the Reds to an 88-74 won-loss record. The Big Red Machine, winners of the World Series in 1975 and ’76, finished in second-place, 10 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. To the surprise of almost no one, baseball writers awarded Foster the league’s MVP trophy.

Foster’s strong wrists propelled him to stardom. He whipped a black bat through the hitting zone in record time. Foster usually hit clean-up in the stacked Cincinnati batting order, between Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

Foster pounded baseballs for several seasons. It took a while for his career to get going, though. Still, he ended up with 10 seasons of hitting 20 or more home runs and seven seasons with at least 90 RBI.

Born Dec. 1, 1948, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Foster grew up in southern California. The Giants drafted him in the third round out of Leuzinger High School outside Los Angeles. He made his debut with the big club late in 1969 as a 20-year-old. The Giants liked Foster, but they didn’t have any place for him to play, with Mays, Bobby Bonds and Ken Henderson already starting in the outfield.

The Giants finally solved the problem. They made a bad trade. They shipped Foster to the Reds during the 1971 season for shortstop Frank Duffy and pitcher Vern Geishart. Clunk.

In fairness to the San Francisco brass, Foster didn’t exactly turn into an immediate all-star in Cincinnati. He hit 10 homers and batted .234 in 104 games in ’71. Not until 1975 did Foster really get going. He hit 23 homers that season and batted .300 in 134 games. The following year, he smacked 29 and hit .306. Foster also led the N.L with 121 RBI as the Reds cruised to a second-straight world championship. Foster finished runner-up to Joe Morgan in the MVP race.

In 1977, Foster already had pounded 29 homers by the All-Star break. He smashed three homers off the Atlanta Braves on July 14. The left-fielder recorded his 50th home run of the campaign on Sept. 23, off Atlanta’s Buzz Capra. At the time, Foster was just the 10th player to reach that mark.

The writers again voted Foster as the N.L. MVP in 1978. This time, Fosted belted 40 homers, drove in 120 and hit .281 as the Reds once against finished in second place behind the Dodgers.

Following two more solid seasons in a Reds uniform, Foster signed a five-year, $10 million deal with the New York Mets. (That was a big contact back then.) The Mets fans, though, quickly soured on their new prize. Foster hit just 13 home runs in 1982 as he tried to get acquainted with the Big Apple.

He hit 28 the next year and 24 in 1984. It wasn’t enough. The New York fans never took to Foster. The team released him on Aug. 7, just a few months before it won a World Series. The Chicago White Sox claimed Foster on waivers but cut him after just 15 games.

Foster left baseball with 348 lifetime home runs, 1,239 RBI and a .274 batting average. He never gained any traction for election to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was elected into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.

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