Foster a winning machine on the mound
Big-game hurler ranks No. 3 among 'black baseball' pitchers
In the wake of The Year of the Pitcher and in a salute to Black History Month, MLB.com posed the following question to a panel of 19 of the most respected authorities on "black baseball," a term that includes the period before Rube Foster founded the Negro Leagues in 1920: Who were the top five black pitchers prior to the integration of the Major Leagues. Based on a compilation of their rankings, here is a profile of the man who finished No. 3.
One can only imagine the surprise on "Bullet" Joe Rogan's face that late summer afternoon in 1926 when he saw a slender left-hander warming up across the diamond.
He probably rubbed his eyes and shook his head. The same player whom he had just dueled for nine innings had picked up a baseball and began loosening his young arm.
It was 22-year-old Bill Foster, a hard-throwing left-hander whose Chicago American Giants had eked out a single run to beat Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs, 1-0, to force a same-day finale for the Negro National League pennant.
|Bob Kendrick: Former marketing director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and an authority of black baseball.|
|Raymond Doswell: Interim president of the museum, a historian with a PhD and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.|
|Don Motley: Co-founder and former executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, long-time youth baseball coach in Kansas City area.|
|Larry Lester: Author, historian, SABR member and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.|
|Dick Clark: Author, historian, SABR member and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.|
|Robert Ruck: Senior lecturer in history at Pitt, author and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.|
|Leslie Heaphy: History professor at Kent State, author, SABR member and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.|
|Brian Carroll: History professor at Berry College, SABR member and an authority of black baseball.|
|John Overmyer: SABR member, author and a member of the Hall of Fame/MLB panel that picked Negro League players for induction into Cooperstown in 2006.|
|James A. Riley: Author of Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues (seminal work in this area) and authority on black baseball.|
|Phil S. Dixon: Author and an authority on black baseball.|
|John Thorn: Author, SABR member and an authority on black baseball.|
|Isaac Brooks: SABR member and an active member of the Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference.|
|John Klima: Journalist and baseball authority.|
|Craig Tomarkin: SABR member, baseball statistician and an expert on black baseball.|
|Paul E. Doutrich: History professor at York College, SABR member and an expert on baseball.|
|Chris Murray: Sportswriter with an expertise in black baseball|
|Chuck Johnson: Writes a column for MLB.com.|
|Charles Alexander: History professor emeritus, SABR member and an authority on baseball.|
"Foster just decided he would keep going and pitch that game, as well, because there was no World Series for them if they lost it," said James A. Riley, whose book, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues, is among the field's seminal works.
Not to be outdone, the nearly 40-year-old Rogan -- the Monarchs' player-manager -- grabbed his glove, told teammate Chet Brewer to have a seat and began getting loose himself.
"When Rogan saw Foster warming up, he decided he had to go a second game himself," Riley said.
At the end of the five-inning, darkness-shortened game, Foster emerged victorious once again, besting Rogan and the Monarchs, 5-0.
His 14 innings of shutout ball sent Chicago to the Negro League World Series, where it went on to beat the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants of the Eastern Colored League for its first Negro League championship.
With two victories in one day, Foster was quickly developing the reputation as a big-game pitcher.
"It's just one of his qualities," baseball historian Dick Clark said. "He was just a big-time pitcher, there's no doubt about it. He's certainly a person you'd want on your team. It's like, why wouldn't you want this guy on here as a starting pitcher in a big game?"
Boasting a nearly .670 career winning percentage in league games, Foster was one of black baseball's finest pitchers. Besides pinpoint control, he relied on an assortment of pitches: a hard fastball, a soft changeup, a drop ball and a sidearm curve.
"According to historians, he was just consistently good," said Raymond Doswell, a historian and the interim president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. "He always pitched many games in a season and became a staple for teams."
With 157 wins, Foster heads the list of most games won in Negro League play.
Although statistics prove Foster's dominance, he likely also benefited from two things: his home ballpark, Schorling's Park, was among the league's largest, and he played with some of the game's best players.
Seven of the West's starters in the inaugural 1933 East-West All-Star Game, as voted by fans through national black newspapers like The Chicago Defender, were American Giants. Foster pitched the entire game and picked up the win.
Clark acknowledges that Foster's spacious home park and his consistently good teams may have helped his winning percentage and record, but he argued that Foster's success shouldn't be diminished by such factors.
"A pitcher like Bill Foster would be unaffected by any of that," Clark said. "He's just a big-time pitcher, period."
Foster, the younger half-brother of NNL founder Rube Foster, was part of black baseball royalty before he stepped foot on a field as a player.
Regarded as one of the top pitchers during black baseball's "dead ball" era, Rube Foster was well-known among fans even before he organized the league. As owner of the American Giants, Rube likely had a positive impact on helping his younger brother develop his talent.
"He certainly, I would think, influenced Willie Foster," Doswell said. "He was someone who could have served as a mentor, in that regard. By most accounts, Rube Foster was a hard-nosed, but fair, owner for which to play. So having someone like him watching over you probably made the talent work even better for Willie."
Coley Harvey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.