Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster Biography – April 22, 2007

Amongst the pioneers of baseball stand men that are rarely mentioned in the breath of MLB greats, but were no less important to the games development of ideas, promotions, history and ballplayers of equal to any white ballplayer discussed. Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster (1879-1930) is considered the founding father of the Negro National League. Foster’s nickname comes from the pitching defeat of Rube Waddell and the Philadelphia A’s in a1902 exhibition game, but his true on-the-field greatness comes from his consistent pitching for more than twenty seasons, his managerial virtuosity and origination of the first professional Negro League.

Amongst his contributions to the game, he is well known for:
1. The irascible, but ever-compelling, John McGraw
[1] sought out his pitching and managing techniques;
2. Foster wrote about “how to pitch” in Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball and tutored greats such as Christy Mathewson and ‘Iron Joe’ McGinnity in the art of the fadeaway (screwball) by several accounts;
3. He was an entrepreneur in a time when blacks were held back socially and financially;
4. And he held together his league through a stern business sense.
[2]

As Jerry Malloy points out in his introduction to Sol White’s History about Foster’s contributions to the game: “…Foster had a career that would rival in variety and magnitude the achievements of white baseball’s Al Spalding and Charles Comiskey combined, even serving as commissioner, unlike Spalding and Comiskey.”[3] An example of his keen management ability took place on August 22, 1923, when he employed his Chicago American Giants players to bunt over and over again to 3rd base in forcing Bob Miller to field the baseball unsuccessfully. This tactic won the game (11-5) after trailing going into the 7th inning by three runs.[4]
Foster’s founding of the Negro National League in February 1920 in Kansas City[5], with the first season starting in May 1920, came about during a revived healthy climate for all of professional baseball. (The emergence of ‘The Bambino’ after the Black Sox Scandal.) His ability to bring together those eight teams led to many firsts: playing games in Ebbetts Field, a Negro World Series and the quick formation of a rival league.
Within that first month, the Bacharach Giants were using Ebbetts Field to showcase their talents versus a white semi-pro team in sweeping a doubleheader. By July, two black teams, the Bacharach and Lincoln Giants, played again at Ebbetts before 15,000 fans with ace pitchers Smokey Joe Williams and Dick Redding putting on the show.
[6] The first season ended with the Chicago American Giants, Foster’s team, winning the league and the replacement of the Dayton Marcos by a Columbus, Ohio team.

By the mid-1920’s the league attendance for eight teams, who owned or rented their own fields (aside from the Cuban All Stars who had no home games), totaled more than 4 million[7]. This in rivaling both the National and American Leagues in attendance. With that kind of fan rivalry, in late October 1923, the American Giants played the MLB Detroit Tigers in a three-game series, splitting two and calling one because of darkness. Both sides were missing key players – Ty Cobb, Cristobal Torriente and Oscar Charleston – but played on at Chicago’s Schorling’s Park.[8] This clearly reflects that good teams played regardless of color.
As Bill Hageman reports in Baseball Between the Wars, “…Giants manager John McGraw reportedly told Foster, ‘If I had a bucket of whitewash that wouldn’t wash off, you wouldn’t have five players left tomorrow.’”
[9] An average squad of Negro Leaguers had between fourteen and sixteen players – under McGraw’s hatched plan – nine players would be of major league-caliber in the early1920’s when McGraw’s New York Giants were four-time World Series participators.

But it was Rube Foster that held together these teams with an energy that was beyond what many other men (white or black) would ever amass. Sadly, Foster succumbed to the pressures of holding together this league in 1926, with a ‘mental incapacitation’ from which he never recovered. (It is not a certainty why his ‘alleged violent episode’ would solely do this. But psychology was a different field in the 1920’s.) He died on December 9, 1930 while still in a Kankakee, Illinois mental institution. But his recognition as the ‘Father of the Negro Leagues’ is undoubtedly well earned and his legacy extended to the pinnacles of baseball immortality with his admittance to Cooperstown in 1981.

Table 2.4.1. Rube Foster’s 1920 Negro National League
Kansas City Monarchs
St. Louis Giants
Indianapolis ABCs
Chicago American Giants
Chicago Giants
Cuban All Stars
Detroit Stars
Dayton Marcos

[1] Neil Lanctot tells of a change of heart by John McGraw in the 1930’s (pg. 204) regarding blacks integration in baseball. McGraw’s death in 1934 is attributed to Uremia and leads to the clinical onset of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anorexia, weight loss, muscle cramps, pruritus, mental status changes, visual disturbances, and increased thirst. These mental status changes came shortly before his passing would partly explain his vacillation on the issue.
[2] Loverro T. The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball. New York: Checkmark Books (Facts on File, Inc.); 2003. 98-99.
[3] White S, Malloy J. Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball, With Other Documents on the Early Black Game, 1886 – 1936. Lincoln, Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press; 1995. xlii.
[4] Hauser Christopher. The Negro Leagues Chronology: Events in Organized Baseball, 1920 –1948. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc; 2006. 18.
[5] O’Neil B, Wulf S, Conrads D, Burns K. I Was Right on Time. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.; 1996. 76.
[6] Hauser Christopher. The Negro Leagues Chronology: Events in Organized Baseball, 1920 –1948. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc; 2006. 7.
[7] Loverro T. The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball. New York: Checkmark Books (Facts on File, Inc.); 2003. 99.
[8] Hauser Christopher. The Negro Leagues Chronology: Events in Organized Baseball, 1920 –1948. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc; 2006. 19.
[9] Hageman Bill. Baseball Between the Wars: A Pictorial Tribute to the Men Who Made the Game in Chicago From 1909 to 1947. Chicago: Contemporary Books; 2001. 54.

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