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Rube Foster

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Andrew Rube Foster (September 17 1879 - December 9 1930) was an American baseball player, manager, and executive in the Negro Leagues. He is considered by historians to have been perhaps the best African-American pitcher of the 1900s. Foster also founded and managed the Chicago American Giants, one of the most successful black baseball teams of the pre-integration era. Most notably, he organized the Negro National League, the first lasting professional league for African-American ballplayers, which operated from 1920 to 1931. He adopted his longtime nickname "Rube" as his official middle name later in life.

Early yearsEdit

Born in Calvert, Texas, Foster started his professional career with the Waco Yellow Jackets, an independent black team, in 1897. Over the next few years he gradually built up a reputation among white and black fans alike, until he was signed by Frank Leland's Chicago Union Giants, a team in the top ranks of black baseball, in 1902. After a slump, he was released, and signed with a white semipro team based in Otsego, Michigan - Bardeen's Otsego Independents. Toward the end of the season he joined the Cuban X-Giants of Philadelphia, perhaps the best team in black baseball. The 1903 season saw Foster establish himself as Now a star, Foster jumped to the Philadelphia Giants in the off-season. Legend has it that John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, hired Foster to teach the young Christy Mathewson the "fadeaway," or screwball, though historians have cast this story in doubt. During the 1904 season, Foster won 20 games against all competition (including two no-hitters) and lost six. In a rematch with Foster's old team, the Cuban X-Giants, he won two games and batted .400 in leading the Philadelphia Giants to the black championship. According to legend, Foster appropriated the nickname "Rube" for himself after defeating star Philadelphia Athletics left-hander Rube Waddell 5 to 2 in a postseason exhibition game; however, a newspaper story in the Trenton (NJ) Times from July 26, 1904 referred to Foster as "Rube", indicating that he acquired his nickname earlier and from some other source than the meeting with Waddell.

In 1905, Foster (by his own account several years later) compiled a fantastic record of 51-4, though recent research has confirmed only a 25-3 record. He led the Giants to another championship series victory, this time over the Brooklyn Royal Giants. The Philadelphia Telegraph wrote that "Foster has never been equalled in a pitcher's box." The following season, the Philadelphia Giants helped form the International League of Independent Professional Ball Players, composed of both all-black and all-white teams in the Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, areas. The Giants won the pennant.

Leland GiantsEdit

In 1907, Foster's manager Sol White published his Official Baseball Guide: History of Colored Baseball, with Foster contributing an article on "How to Pitch." However, before the season began, he and several other stars (including, most importantly, the outfielder Pete Hill) left the Philadelphia Giants for the Chicago Leland Giants, with Foster named playing manager. Under his leadership, the Lelands won 110 games (including 48 straight) and lost only ten, and took the Chicago City League pennant. The following season the Lelands tied a national championship series with the Philadelphia Giants, each team winning three games.

Foster suffered a broken leg in July, 1909, but rushed himself back into the lineup in time for an October exhibition series against the Chicago Cubs. Foster, pitching the second game, squandered a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, then lost the game on a controversial play when a Cubs runner stole home while Foster was arguing with the umpire. The Lelands lost the series, three games to nothing. The Lelands also lost the unofficial western black championship to the St. Paul Colored Gophers.

In 1910, Foster wrested legal control of the team from its founder, Frank Leland. He proceeded to put together the team he later considered his finest. He signed John Henry Lloyd away from the Philadelphia Giants; along with Hill, second baseman Grant Johnson, catcher Bruce Petway, and pitchers Frank Wickware and Pat Dougherty, Lloyd sparked the Lelands to a 123-6 record (with Foster himself contributing a 13-2 record on the mound).

Chicago American GiantsEdit

The following season Foster established a partnership with John Schorling, the son-in-law of Chicago White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey. The White Sox had just moved into Comiskey Park, and Schorling arranged for Foster's team to use the vacated South Side Park, at 39th and Wentworth. Settling into their new home (now called Schorling's Park), the Lelands became the Chicago American Giants. For the next four seasons, the American Giants claimed the western black baseball championship, though they lost a 1913 series to the Lincoln Giants for the national championship.

By 1915 Foster's first serious rival in the midwest had emerged: C. I. Taylor's Indianapolis ABCs, who claimed the western championship after defeating the American Giants four games to none in July. One of the victories was a forfeit called after a brawl between the two teams broke out. After the series, Foster and Taylor engaged in a public dispute about that game and the championship. In 1916, both teams again claimed the western title. The continued wrangling led to calls for a black baseball league to be formed, but Foster, Taylor, and the other major clubs in the midwest were unable to come to any agreement.

By this time, Foster was pitching very little, compiling only a 2-2 record in 1915. His last recorded outing on the mound was in 1917; from this time he became purely a bench manager. As a manager and team owner, Foster was a disciplinarian. He asserted control over every aspect of the game, and set a high standard for personal conduct, appearance, and professionalism among his players. Given Schorling Park's huge dimensions, Foster developed a style of play that emphasized speed, bunting, place hitting, power pitching, and defense. He was also considered a great teacher, and many of his players themselves eventually became managers, including Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, Bingo DeMoss, Dave Malarcher, Sam Crawford, Poindexter Williams, and many others.

In 1919, Foster helped Tenny Blount finance a new club in Detroit, the Stars. He also transferred several of his veteran players there, including Hill, who was to manage the new team, and Petway. He may have been preparing the way for the formation, the following year, of the Negro National League (NNL).

Negro National LeagueEdit

In 1920, Foster, Taylor, and the owners of six other midwestern clubs met in the spring to form a professional baseball circuit for African-American teams. Foster, as president, controlled league operations, while remaining owner and manager of the American Giants. He was periodically accused of favoring his own team, especially in matters of scheduling (the Giants in the early years tended to have a disproportionate number of home games) and personnel: Foster seemed able to acquire whatever talent he needed from other clubs, such as Jimmie Lyons, the Detroit Stars' best player in 1920, who was transferred to the American Giants for 1921, or Foster's own younger brother, Bill, who joined the American Giants unwillingly when Rube forced the Memphis Red Sox to give him up in 1926. His critics believed he had organized the league primarily for purposes of booking games for the American Giants. With a stable schedule and reasonably solvent opponents, Foster was able to improve receipts at the gate. It is also true that when opposing clubs lost money, he was known to help them meet payroll, sometimes out of his own pocket.

His American Giants won the new league's first three pennants, before being overtaken by the Kansas City Monarchs in 1923. In the same year the Hilldale Club and Bacharach Giants, the most important eastern clubs, pulled out of an agreement with the NNL and founded their own league, the Eastern Colored League (ECL). The ECL raided the older circuit for players, Foster's own ace pitcher Dave Brown among them. Eventually the two leagues reached an agreement to respect one another's contracts, and to play a world series.

After two years of finishing behind the Monarchs, Foster "cleaned house" in spring, 1925, releasing several veterans (including Lyons and pitchers Dick Whitworth and Tom Williams). On May 26, Foster was nearly asphyxiated by a gas leak in Indianapolis. Though he recovered and returned to his team, his behavior grew erratic from then on. Foster had instituted a split-season format, and his American Giants finished third in both halves.

1926 saw him complete his team's reshaping, leaving only a handful of veterans from the championship squads of 1920-22. The club finished third in the season's first half; but midway through the season, Foster's mental illness became too much for him, and he was confined to an asylum in Kankakee, Illinois.

The American Giants and the NNL lived on--in fact, led by Dave Malarcher, the Giants won the pennant and World Series in both 1926 and 1927--but the league clearly suffered in the absence of Foster's leadership. Foster died in 1930, never having recovered his sanity, and a year later the league he had founded fell apart.

Foster is interred in Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois. In 1981, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.


  • The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant by Robert Charles Cottrell (1970) Publisher: New York University Press (New York) ISBN 0-8147-1614-8

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