Jan 16, 2016

Mid Eighties Mets Outfielder: George Foster (1982-1986)

George Arthur Foster was born December 1, 1948 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He grew up in the outskirts of Los Angeles, attending Lawndale high school where he was a top athlete.

The six foot one right hand hitting outfielder was drafted in the third round of the 1968 draft by the San Francisco Giants.

He would hit 14 HRs & bat .321 at A ball Fresno, in 1969 getting a brief September call up for eight games. He made 18 appearances in two years at San Francisco due to the fact that Willie Mays & Bobby Bonds were fixtures in the Giants outfield.

In May of 1971 he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for short stop Frank Duffy & a minor leaguer. It was still a crowded outfield when he came over to the Big Red Machine, but Foster soon got a lot of playing time when centerfielder Bobby Tolan got injured.

Foster showed power as he hit 10 HRs & 18 doubles with 58 RBIs in 104 games while batting .234. He was still a backup outfielder in 1972 playing in just 59 games batting .200.

Post Season: In the 1972 NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was on third base in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game #5, as a pinch runner.

Then Pirate pitcher Bob Moose, threw a wild pitch, allowing Foster to score the winning run which sent the Reds to the World Series. They lost the series in seven games, it was their second pennant in three years.

In 1973 Foster hit 15 HRs at AA Indianapolis seeing action in just 17 games with the Reds. In 1974 he played as the Reds fourth outfielder batting .264 with 7 HRs in 276 at bats. By Spring Training 1975 his hitting matured & it was getting noticed by manager Sparky Anderson, as he crushed balls in batting practice.

Anderson asked Pete Rose, who was playing left field at the time, if he wanted to play third base so they could insert Foster into the everyday lineup, Rose agreed. Foster became the Reds regular left fielder for the next six years making five All Star teams & becoming one of the league's biggest sluggers.

In the Big Red Machine's 1975 World Championship year Foster hit .300 with 23 HRs 24 doubles & 78 RBIs posting a .356 on base %. He led all NL left fielders in fielding (.995%) for the first of three straight seasons, throwing out 11 base runners on the season.

Post Season: In the 1975 NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he hit .364 going 4-11 with four runs scored. In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox he went 8-29 (.276).

In the classic Game #6 at Fenway Park, he broke a 3-3 tie with a two run double off pitcher Luis Tiant in the 7th inning. The Sox tied it on Bernie Carbo's 8th inning HR & won it on the classic Carlton Fisk walk off in the 12th.

In 1976 Foster earned the nickname “The Destroyer” as the Reds dominated the baseball world & won their second straight World Series.

This time with a sweep over the AL New York club. Foster led the league in RBIs (123) bashing 29 HRs (4th in the NL) with 9 triples (5th in the NL) a .530 slugging % (2nd in the NL) while batting .306.

He made his first All Star team & came in second in the MVP voting to team mate Joe Morgan. Foster had 172 hits (10th in the league) with 86 runs scored (9th in the NL) & nine sac flies (3rd in the NL).

He also became one of the most hated hitters by opposing pitchers because he would step out of the batter's box after every single pitch, something that wasn't done much in those days. Maybe now you could say he was ahead of his time? The Machine didn’t win any more World Series after that, as the Los Angeles Dodgers two year NL reign began in 1977.

But for Foster, he went on to continue tear up the league, putting up some of the biggest power numbers the league had seen in years.

He would lead the NL in HRs in both 1977 & 1978 while leading the league in RBIs three straight years from 1976 through 1978. In 1977, he won the NL MVP Award, with an amazing 52 HRs, becoming the only player to hit over 50 HRs in the previous twenty five years.

As mentioned he led the NL in RBIs (149) runs scored (124) slugging (.631%) & total bases (388). He also batted .330 (4th in the league) with a .382 on base % & 31 doubles. He made ten assists in the outfield while leading all left fielders in fielding once again (.978%).

Foster followed that season up leading the league in HRs (40) & RBIs (120) in 1978. He hit 26 doubles with a .360 on base %, but his batting average dropped to .281 & he struck out 138 times (second in the NL).

Drama: By 1979 he was annoying his team mates by arriving at the ballpark in a stretch limo & strutting around with an over inflated ego. His numbers fell off but he still had big production, 30 HRs with 98 RBIs & a .302 average.

His numbers dropped off over the next two seasons averaging 23 HRs each year, but he was still considered a top slugger, driving in over 90 runs each season. He became unhappy in Cincinnati and the Reds were unhappy with him as the days of the Big Red Machine were over. Gone too, were Pete Rose, Tony Perez & Joe Morgan.

In February of 1982 he was traded to the New York Mets for Alex Trevino, Greg Harris & Jim Kern. He brought hope and excitement to a franchise in the dumps looking for something bright & a star to look up to.

He was hyped up by the organization & made the cover of the Mets 1982 yearbook along with new manager George Bamberger. Looking back, it must be remembered that it was a turning point for the Mets as they soon would acquire Keith Hernandez (1983) and start to bring up a bunch of good young players.

Foster was given a five-year; $10 million deal but never delivered big numbers for the Mets that was expected of him. He & new Mets Manager George Bamberger appeared on the cover of the 1982 Mets Yearbook with the words "By George We've got it".

Foster debuted on Opening Day 1982 in Philadelphia, batting third & playing left field. That day he had a hit, two walks & an RBI in the Mets 7-2 victory. Later in the week on the same first road trip of the year, he hit HRs in back to back games at Wrigley Field. At the end of the month of April he was struggling, batting just .171.

On May 2nd he hit a two run HR scoring the only two runs of the game, as veteran Randy Jones beat the Giants in San Francisco. Foster was struggling in New York hitting just three HRs in May & just two in June. By the All Star game a mid July seven game hit streak had him raise his average to .280 but he dropped off quickly in August.

On August 13th he contributed with a game tying 7th inning single in Chicago, in a game the Mets went on to win 6-4. On September 1st he hit a two run HR off Verne Ruhle at Shea Stadium, in a 5-1 win over the Astros.

The Mets finished last again in 1982 going 65-97, as the arrival Foster did not change things much. He went on to bat a weak .247 with a .309 on base %.

He was second on the club to Dave Kingman in HRs (13) & RBIs (70). Foster hit 23 doubles with two triples & struck out 123 times (4th most in the NL). These were certainly not any where near the numbers he had posted with the Big Red Machine & the New York fans were disappointed.

The next season had some bright spots to it, starting out with the return of Tom Seaver in New York. Young Daryl Strawberry went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award & the team showed improvement, especially with the arrival of Keith Hernandez in June.

Foster began with two hits on Opening Day & a HR the next day. He hit three HRs in April but his average fell to .220. On May 5th he blasted a walk off three run HR off the Reds Frank Pastore, giving the Shea Faithful a dramatic win.

Two days later he blasted another HR, while gathering up three hits & three RBIs against the Reds for a 10-5 Mets win. He hit a three run HR in Pittsburgh the next week & then another on May 23rd in New York. That night his 8th inning sac fly off the San Francisco Giants Greg Minton proved to be the game winning run.

Overall he had a good May, with six HRs & 20 RBIs raising his batting average forty points. In July he had two walk off RBI hits in the final week of the month; the first was a double on July 25th scoring Keith Hernandez to beat the Atlanta Braves.

Then in the second game of a double header on July 31st, he drove in Mookie Wilson while grounding out in the bottom of the 12th inning of a scoreless game.

Another infield grounder scored the game winning run on August 8th, against Jeff Reardon the Montreal Expos. Beginning on August 19th he hit HRs in three straight games, including a grand slam in San Francisco against the Giants in a 7-2 win.

On September 5th, he hit another walk off game winning HR, this one off Al Holland beating the eventual NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. On September 15th Foster broke a 4-4 tie in the home 7th inning, with a two run HR off the Cardinals Dave Lapoint. The Mets went on to the 6-4 win. On September 23rd he hit a pair of HRs at Wrigley Field, driving in three runs in a losing effort. Then on October 1st he hit a three run HR leading the Mets to a 5-4 win at Shea Stadium.

On the year he put up better numbers than 1982, leading the team in most offensive categories. He had 28 HRs (6th in the NL) with 19 doubles & 90 RBIs (8TH in the NL). But he only batted .241 with a .289 on base % & 111 strike outs.

By 1984 the Mets were true contenders Foster was now in the shadows of second year slugger Daryl Strawberry & All Star Keith Hernandez. He began the year with a three run HR & four RBI day on April 6th in Houston, leading the Mets to an 8-1 win over the Astros. Two days later he singled with the bases loaded in the top of the 8th inning, driving in two runs giving the Mets a 3-1 win over the Astros.

On April 25th, Keith Hernandez led off the top of the 11th inning with a double off Greg Harris in Montreal. Foster hit a base hit to score him in what was the games winning run, 2-1 over the Expos. He closed out April by driving in runs in seven of his last ten games. On May 7th he hit an 8th inning HR off the Cubs Warren Brusstar, tying the game & leading up to a Keith Hernandez walk off single. In May he hit six HRs but then followed up with just one in June.

In July he hit two HRs in the first three games of the month, which were both one run Mets victories. That month he hit safely in 20 of 22 games & drove in twenty runs as well. In August he hit six HRs with back to backs in a pair of games mid month, in the heat of the pennant race.

On September 2nd he hit a game winning base hit off the San Diego Padres, Rich Gossage bringing the Mets within five games of the first place Chicago Cubs.

There was a lot of excitement on the home stand, as rookie phenom went against the Cubs on September 7th. Centerfieldmaz was there in the crowd of 47,000 to witness Dr. K throw a one hit, eleven strike out shutout against the Cubs. That night Foster hit a three run HR in the big 10-0 Mets win. 

The Mets fell out of the race in the next few weeks but there was a lot of promise for the future of the team, the most optimism since the mid seventies.

Foster hit four more HRs in the month to finish with 24 on the year. He batted .269 (his best career Mets season average) while driving in 86 runs (third on the club) with 149 hits 22 doubles & a .311 on base %. He struck out 122 times (5th most in the NL). By this time he was not playing too well in the outfield, although he made just seven errors on the year posting a .976 fielding %. The Mets did have better players developing around him.

On Opening Day 1985 he broke a 2-2 tie in the third inning, with a HR off St. Louis' Joaquin Andujar. The Mets went on to win it on a walk off HR by the latest new comer to New York, Gary Carter. Foster hit another HR against the rival Cards later in the month, leading to a 7-6 win in St. Louis. The day prior he had hit a three run blast in a losing effort in Philadelphia.

On May 29th he completed a four run Mets comeback, with the game winning RBI single in the top of the 8th inning in San Francisco, off the Giants Scott Garrelts. The next day he drove in the first run of a 2-1 Dwight Gooden victory as well.

He was struggling to keep his average above .200 into late May, but did go on to drive in some key runs. On June 1st he had a bases loaded RBI in the first game of a double header at San Diego, leading New York to a 5-3 win. Later in the month he blasted a long grand slam against the Chicago Cubs, Ray Fontenot in a 5-3 win at Shea Stadium.

In July he drove in 23 runs having his most successful month. From July 9th through the 13th he had a big week, gathering up two four RBI games. On July 21st he drove in five runs in a wild 15-10 win over the Atlanta Braves, highlighted with a two run HR.

In September he hit four HRs driving in eleven runs as the Mets chased the Cardinals for the NL East title. In a big three game series in St. Louis the final week of the season, Foster went hitless in two of the games inwhich the Mets lost. In the second game he had three hits with a solo HR off Joaquin Andujar in the Mets 5-2 win.

In 1985 Foster played fewer games (129) as Danny Heep, a young Lenny Dykstra, John Christensen & Tom Paciorek all got to see some action. Foster kept his numbers the same hitting 21 HRs with 24 doubles & 71 RBIs. He batted .263 with a .331 on base % . He struck out 87 times which was the least number of times, since he came to New York. He also drew 46 walks an improvement from the 30 he drew the previous season.

But on the down side with such a talented & exciting new Mets team, Foster was becoming very unpopular. His lack of hitting and lax outfield play began to anger the fans. He was wearing out his welcome and his value grew less as the Mets began to emerge as a Powerhouse championship caliber team.

By 1986 he became a target of constant booing whenever he came to bat or walked onto the field.

He was the Opening Day left fielder & batted sixth. In the sixth inning he doubled driving in Daryl Strawberry with the third run of a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit well enough to be at .300 by the end of April which kept the fans happy for a while. On April 24th he drove in the winning run in the top of the 10th inning, with a base hit off Todd Worrell in St. Louis. On May 18th he had a big day hitting a pair of HRs with four RBIs, in a 8-4 win against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

When the Dodgers came to Shea Stadium on May 27th, he hit a grand slam off Tom Niedenfuer, which sparked an eventual bench clearing brawl when Niedenfuer hit Ray Knight with a pitch in the next at bat. Not only had he taking his time running around the bases, but he was one of the last Mets on the field to join in the fight which he had antagonized. This didn't make him the most popular guy in the clubhouse either.

Foster hit four more HRs that week, one more against the Dodgers two nights later & then three against the San Diego Padres, including a pair in the 11-2 win on June 2nd.

After hitting six HRs in the month of June he didn't hit any in July and went just 7-47.His average fell to .232, he had lost the confidence of his team, his manager & the fans. With the emergence of super rookie Kevin Mitchell & the home coming of the popular Lee Mazzilli, Foster was expendable.

By August after he had been benched, the Mets released him outright on August 7th. He accused the team of racism but that didn’t get noticed much, as his replacement was Kevin Mitchell. Two Years later he told the press : ''What I said wasn't intended to be racial at all,''

Foster said. ''I was just saying the team was showing favoritism to Dykstra, who had just come up. But I never got a chance to explain what I meant. The next day, Davey told Frank Cashen that Foster goes or I go, And the I was gone. "

''Some people expected me to hit a home run every time I got up. I think it was because a lot of them looked at me and saw a dollar sign. I only wish they knew how hard I tried to succeed in New York, If anything, I may have tried too hard and put too much expectations on myself."

He was picked up by the Chicago White Sox playing in 15 games, hitting a HR in his debut but batting just .216 overall.

Mets All Time List: In his five year Mets career he played in 655 games (32nd on Mets all time list) he hit 99 HRs (13th on the Mets All time list) with 361 RBIs (16th on the Mets All Time list). He had 94 doubles while batting .254, striking out 496 times (18th on the Mets all time list).

Overall in his 18 year career Foster hit .274, with 348 HRs (94th all time) & 1239 RBIs (137th all time).

He had 1925 hits, 702 extra base hits, 307 doubles, 106 intentional walks, and 986 runs scored in 1977 games played.

He struck out 1419 times (75th all time) & he grounded into 196 double plays (109th all time).

In left field he has played in 1549 games (16th most all time) with 97 assists (30th all time) making 50 errors (56th all time).

Retirement: After his retirement, he lived in Greenwich Conn. & helped coach kids play baseball. Foster is now a born-again Christian, motivational speaker, and still spends time instructing youth baseball.

Honors: He returned to Shea Stadium for the closing ceremonies in 2008 and received well deserved cheers. He was also inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 2013 he was representing the Mets in New York at the All Star Game Fan Fest. 

No comments: