Andrew 'Rube" Foster
(September 17, 1879 – December 9, 1930)
Widely considered "The Father of Black Baseball" Andrew "Rube" Foster was an American baseball player, manager, and executive in the Negro leagues.
Foster, considered by historians to have been perhaps the best African-American pitcher of the first decade of the 1900s, 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 long-lasting professional league for African-American ballplayers, which operated from 1920 to 1931.
Few men have dominant careers as baseball players. Even fewer have success as a manager.
But Rube Foster excelled on the diamond as a manager and as an executive, earning him the recognition as the “father of black baseball.”
Foster was born in Calvert, Texas on September 17, 1879. His father, also named Andrew, was a reverend and elder of the local American Methodist Episcopal Church. 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. According to Phil Dixon's American Baseball Chronicles: Great Teams, The 1905 Philadelphia Giants, Volume III "In completing the summer of 1902 with Otsego's multi-ethnic team––the only multi-race team with which he would ever regularly perform––Foster is reported to have pitched twelve games. He finished with a documented record of eight wins and four losses along with eighty-two documented strikeouts. Ironically, strikeout totals for five games which he appeared were not recorded. If found the totals would likely show that Foster struck out more than one-hundred batters for Otsego. In the seven games where details exist, Foster average eleven strikeouts per outing." 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 the X-Giants' pitching star. In a post-season series for the eastern black championship, the X-Giants defeated Sol White's Philadelphia Giants five games to two, with Foster himself winning four games.
According to various accounts, including his own, Foster acquired the nickname "Rube" after defeating star Philadelphia Athletics left-hander Rube Waddell in a postseason exhibition game played sometime between 1902 and 1905. A newspaper story in the Trenton (NJ) Times from July 26, 1904, contains the earliest known example of Foster being referred to as "Rube", indicating that the supposed meeting with Waddell must have taken place earlier than that. Recent research has uncovered a game played on August 2, 1903, in which Foster met and defeated Waddell while the latter was playing under an assumed name for a semi-pro team in New York City.
Now a star, Foster jumped to the Philadelphia Giants for the 1904 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.
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.
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 Giants
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 League
With all of his managerial and player success, Rube noticed the lack of a national black baseball league in America. Even though his initial attempt to create a negro league failed, he was determined to make it happen and
improve the African-American life in America.
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.
Rube immediately turned his league into a successful sports enterprise. He created a showcase for black ball players that wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play due to the racial injustice and discrimination in major league baseball at the time. Rube succeeded in raising the profile of baseball by introducing baseball fans to a more aggressive style of play that highlighted the athleticism of African-American players. This style of play improved the overall
game of baseball.
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 Foster would never finish the second. Over the years, "Foster grew increasingly paranoid. Took to carrying a revolver with him everywhere he went." Suffering from serious delusions, he was institutionalized midway through the 1926 season at 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.
Without his leadership, the Negro National League he founded struggled to survive. Although it stayed intact until after Foster’s death, it was never really the same without Foster. With the impact of the great depression, the first National Negro League folded in1931. However, the Negro Leagues would reopen in the mid-1930s and continue through until 1960, and was the first professional league for major league greats such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Henry Aaron. Foster’s vision of a sporting landscape that fostered and allowed blacks to make a living was nevertheless achieved, as he raised the profile of baseball for his race throughout the nation. Foster’s impact on the game we all know and love is often left in the background to the contributions of more famous players, managers, and executives. But Foster’s life in baseball helped revolutionize the game and opened a door for African Americans
to be viewed as equals on the baseball diamond, which ultimately led to breaking down the racial barriers in baseball.
In 1981, Foster was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the first representative of the Negro leagues elected as a pioneer or executive.
On December 30, 2009, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it planned to issue a pair of postage stamps in June honoring Negro leagues Baseball. On July 17, 2010, the Postal Service issued a se-tenant pair of 44-cent, first-class, U.S. commemorative postage stamps, to honor the all-black professional baseball leagues that operated from 1920 to about 1960. One of the stamps depicts Foster, along with his name and the words "NEGRO LEAGUES BASEBALL". The stamps were formally issued at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, during the celebration of the museum's twentieth anniversary.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hosts the annual Andrew "Rube" Foster Lecture, in September.