Rube Foster

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Rube Foster : biography

September 17, 1879 – December 9, 1930

Negro National League

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.

Legacy

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.

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.