(June 12, 1904 – September 16, 1978)
The younger half-brother of Negro Leagues legend and founder Andrew “Rube” Foster, Bill Foster was a tall left-handed pitcher who played from 1923-37. For much of that time, he was considered the best lefty in the Negro Leagues. According to Hall-of-Fame umpire Jocko Conlan, “Foster had the same perfect delivery of Herb Pennock, but was faster by far, with a sharp curve, and had what all great pitchers have—control.”
Foster was born in 1904 in Calvert, Texas. He had the same father as Rube Foster, who was a Negro League player, manager, and owner. Rube Foster was a crucial figure in the founding of the Negro National League. Bill Foster's mother died when he was four years old, so he was raised by his grandparents in Rodney, Mississippi. He did not meet his older half-brother until he was a teenager.
Foster played for Chicago American Giants teams that won the Negro National League pennant and the Negro League World Series championship in 1926 and 1927, the Negro Southern League pennant in 1932, and the Negro National League pennant in 1933. He was the player-manager of the team in 1930.
Foster played for the Memphis Red Sox in 1923 and 1924, the Chicago American Giants from 1925 to 1930—and again from 1932 to 1935 and in 1937—the Homestead Grays and Kansas City Monarchs in 1931, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1936.
In 1926, Foster won 23 games in a row and 26 overall, but his most surprising performance came the last day of the playoffs to determine the Negro National League title. Needing to win both games of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Monarchs, Foster hurled complete-game shutouts in both games of a doubleheader against Bullet Joe Rogan and the Monarchs, 1–0 and 5–0, to put the Giants in the World Series.
“Bill Foster was my star pitcher, not even barring Satchel Paige.”
--Manager Dave Malarcher
In 1931 Foster, as a pitcher for the Homestead Grays, recorded a 10–2 record against rival African-American teams. His record against opposing African-American teams increases to 11–3 if you counted the games that were won and lost in Alcorn, Mississippi when Syd Pollock's Cubans House of Davids visited Alcorn College before Foster joining the Grays. Foster finished the 1931 campaign with J. L. Wilkinson's Kansas City Monarchs, where on October 4, 1931, he blew his fastball past a major league all-star team. That team was composed of such legendary men as Babe Herman, Joe Kuhel, and both Waner brothers, Lloyd and Paul. In the game played at Kansas City's Muehlebach Field, Foster captured a 4–3 win. During the 1931 season, Foster struck out ten men in a game on nine different occasions and posted a seasonal high of sixteen strikeouts in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, on August 6. He also recorded four shutouts. Foster finished 1931 with a 23-5 record.
He was the top vote-getter and the winning pitcher in the first East-West All-Star Game in 1933 and was on the All-Star team again in 1934.
Foster's pitch selection included a fastball, overhand curve, slider, sidearm curve, and a changeup.
Baseball people often characterized Foster as one of the game's great players. Umpire Jocko Conlan said Foster had "the same perfect delivery of Herb Pennock, but was faster by far, with a sharp curve, and had what all great pitchers have – control." Charlie Gehringer once told Foster, "If I could paint you white, I could get $150,000 for you right now." Negro league player and manager Dave Malarcher favorably compared him to Negro league legend Satchel Paige, saying, "Bill Foster was my star pitcher, the greatest pitcher of our time, not even barring Satchel."
After retiring from professional baseball in 1936, Foster moved to Tarboro, North Carolina, where his childhood sweetheart Thelma Quigless lived. He also played semiprofessional baseball in 1940 in nearby Princeville, North Carolina. Foster and Quigless were married in 1941. Foster took a job in insurance policy sales with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. He later divorced Quigless.
Foster married again and returned to Mississippi. From 1960 to 1977, Foster was a dean and the baseball coach at his alma mater, Alcorn Agricultural, and Mechanical College. In 1978 Foster died in Lorman, Mississippi.
The Foster Baseball Field at McGowan Stadium in Lorman, the home field for Alcorn State baseball, is named for him.
Foster was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. He was elected to the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame the next year. In 2003, he was voted in to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame
Photos Courtesy Nation Baseball Hall of Fame