Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Sad Tale of Andrew "Rube" Foster

The best writers in Hollywood could not have crafted a better script than the true life story of Andrew “Rube” Foster. A barrel-chested giant with a devastating screwball, the sly right-hander kept batters at a severe disadvantage for nearly two decades. With an 18-strikeout performance and a 51-win season under his belt, he gained control of the Leland Giants in 1909, molding them into one of the most successful franchises in the history of black baseball. His power and influence reached a zenith in 1919, when he founded the Negro National League. Within four years, the circuit had developed a fan base in the millions.

A domineering presence in the dugout, Foster once hit a player over the head with his meerschaum pipe for tripling with a bunt sign on. In the boardroom, he was equally despotic. Dayton Marcos’ owner John Mathews made the mistake of falling asleep during a league meeting. He reportedly awoke to find that Foster had split up his team and divided the spoils amongst other owners.

Keeping the league afloat was a colossal undertaking—especially with the establishment of the rival Eastern Colored League. In 1924, Foster wrote that the pressure was “almost beyond endurance.” By 1926, the cracks were beginning to show. Two weeks before Christmas that year, the troubled executive had a manic outburst in his Chicago apartment. His wife phoned the police and, after a violent struggle, he was taken into custody. Declared incompetent, he was committed to a mental facility. Infielder Dave Malarcher assumed managerial responsibilities in Foster’s absence, leading the Giants to a Negro National League championship. Sadly, Foster was in no state of mind to savor news of the victory. He suffered from various delusions, among them the notion that he had been selected to throw out the first pitch at the major league World Series. He remained institutionalized until his death in 1930. He was just  fifty-one years old.    

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