George Foster left left field

The 1986 team is now a cherished memory among New York Met fans.  Many players on that roster still rank high on any all-time favorite Mets list.  There was one player who was released though who caused some controversy prior to his departure.
 
That player was none other than George Foster; he wore number 15 and played left field.  By late July though, he was left out.
 
Foster came to the team with much ballyhoo at the start of the 1982 season.  Flyers went out; he was featured on the cover of the yearbook that season (along with George Bamberger).  He came to the Mets after starring for the Cincinnati Reds.  
 
He didn’t hit a ton that year (13 HRs, 70 RBIs, and a .247 batting average).  But the next year, in 1983, Foster’s performance improved (28 HRs, 90 RBIs, and a .241 batting average). He was likewise productive in both 1984 and 1985 but he was never the monster force the Mets thought they had acquired.
 
In 1986, his performance and playing time continued to diminish and by late July, he was a part-time player.  The Mets were winning and their team was solid.  They didn’t need Foster to contribute offensively; they had other players who were performing. 
 
Then in early August, while the Mets were out-of-town on a road trip, the news broke that Foster was being released.  Prior to his release, Foster had told a newspaper:
 
“I’m not saying it’s a racial thing. But that seems to be the case in sports these days. When a ball club can, they replace a George Foster or a Mookie Wilson with a more popular white player.
 
“I think the Mets would rather promote a Gary Carter or a Keith Hernandez to the fans so parents who want to can point to them as role models for their children, rather than a Darryl Strawberry or a Dwight Gooden or a George Foster.”
 
At a subsequent team meeting, Foster told his teammates that his remarks were being taken out of context.  Davey Johnson, though, was uncomfortable with Foster keeping his spot on the roster and had already replaced him as a starter with rookie, Kevin Mitchell. Then, Frank Cashen announced he had placed Foster on waivers. 
 
Foster later clarified his remarks, saying:
 
“I never said race had anything to do with who plays – me or Dykstra or Mazzilli or Mitchell,” he said. “I even prefaced my remarks by saying I didn’t want it to be racial. How could it be construed as such when Kevin Mitchell isn’t white?”
 
“I was talking from a business standpoint about promoting players, marketing players. You can take it from a business or economic standpoint: What product will sell to the public? What section of people will it attract to the ballpark?”
 
For his part, Johnson explained his actions as follows:
 
“Normally, I wouldn’t comment on something a player is quoted as saying,” Johnson said. “But this is an affront to me. He was alluding to my integrity as a baseball manager. I cannot have anybody on the club who questions my motives.”
 
Johnson continued, “George is a fine man, a good man, and he’s been a great ballplayer. But it hurts me. He put me into a corner. 
The only thing I can think of is he’s had a great career and I’ve had the unfortunate task of sitting him down near the end of his career.
 
“In the four years he’s been here, he’s been streaky,” Johnson added. “This year, with the emergence of Kevin Mitchell,
 I couldn’t afford the luxury of waiting for George. My job is to put the best nine players out there.”
 
Bill Robinson, the team’s first base coach, said:
 
“I’m black, and I’m sensitive to racial issues, if I thought there was any racial overtone to anything on this club, I’d quit or I’d strongly object. I don’t think this will offend the black players. Dwight Gooden is one of the country’s most popular athletes. So is Darryl Strawberry, and Mookie Wilson is a favorite with the public.”
 
Some of Foster’s teammates spoke out on Foster’s behalf.   Strawberry said:
 
“I’m disappointed the way the organization handled it. A guy who had a career like that deserved to wait till the end of
the season. Who knows, maybe I’m next.”
 
Wilson said:
 
“I would have to say he was misquoted. George was one of the great ones.”
 
In the end, Foster would sign with the Chicago White Sox and go onto play a handful of games for them before being released again. Foster’s performance and demeanor never earned him the same level of appreciation individually that the 1986 team earned as a whole. Despite that, the team voted to award Foster a World Series ring and a three-quarters share of the championship money.  Foster was also on hand for the final game at Shea Stadium in 2008. 

12 comments for “George Foster left left field

  1. June 18, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    In Foster’s last year with the Reds, he finished 3rd in the MVP voting and had a 150 OPS+. While he was at an age where we should have expected decline, no one could have predicted how bad he’d be in ’82 and ’83.

    Anyway, it’s hard to read these comments nearly 35 years later and not be reminded yet again about inequality.

    In a way, it’s almost like the Keon Broxton situation from last year. If you’re not doing well on the field, the last thing you should do is pop off to the press about anything.

  2. June 18, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Foster sucked eggs. He was awful with the Mets.
    I recall those teams before in the early eighties and they were awful with Bamberger the manager.
    Foster was like the poster child of those teams.
    An occasional homer and nothing else. Never clutch. Always like a brood. Only in ’84 did the team come around and that was more to do with the likes of Gooden, Straw, etc. When the Mets added Keith, Carter, Darling, Ojeda they were on their way. Foster would not have fit anyway. If anything, the Mets held on to him longer than they should have all the way to mid ’86. Kevin Mitchell as a rook was far better.
    You couldn’t comment any better or classier than how Davey Johnson did. He tried to keep it clean and dignified.

  3. Rob
    June 18, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Back then i was glued to the TV for every game and going a few times a year. I remember he just didnt seem to want to be there anymore. Not buying race or age crap. He was there to collect a check. As far as age who recalls rusty staub his last few years giving everything he had left in him.

  4. June 18, 2020 at 9:00 pm

    In general, Foster was right – that generally speaking, white owners would rather promote white stars.

    But in the specific case of the ’85-’86 era Mets, Gooden and Strawberry were promoted just as much – if not more – than Carter and Hernandez.

  5. John From Albany
    June 18, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    In a way Foster was right – Baseball did not do enough to promote Black stars and the game to the Black community. That is one of the many factors why Baseball attendance is in decline and the fan base is aging. Very short sighted as always over the past 40 years.

    He had a big home run against the Cardinals in the first game of that three game sweep in April that set the 1986 Mets on their way and the Cardinals spinning out of control.

    He was not prepared to handle NY. Remember him saying “those planes need to look out for my home runs” or something like that…then tried to “hit a three run homer with no one on base” each time he came up. That did not help him win over the fans.

    Sorry his Mets term had to end the way it did. I agree with Brian, when you are playing poorly, you need to keep quiet (I’d say speak softly but he was always pretty soft spoken).

    One final thing. What was the point of that 24 man roster in 1986? Just another way to squeeze the players union. Good thing the owners aren’t trying to do squeeze the players anymore.

  6. Mike W
    June 18, 2020 at 10:31 pm

    Foster was terrible. I didnt like him because he stunk as a player. Loved Gooden, Strawberry, Carter Hernandez and Mookie.

  7. TexasGusCC
    June 19, 2020 at 3:08 am

    “Hi! I’m George Foster and I want to show you my stuff.”

    Foster was a waste of money and I believe Kingman was better than him. As for his point of view, it was sour grapes. He did well in Cincinnati where other players were the focus and he could play in anonymity. That wasn’t the case in New York, and there weren’t endless base runners on base every time up.

  8. June 19, 2020 at 7:58 am

    Funny, but I do kind of recall that “watch out for them planes” comment from Foster, referencing his HR’s, which came few and far between. I recall a poster when he was coming over to the Mets that showed the back of the jerseys of him, Kingman and another doozy, Ellis Valentine. I recall thinking the Mets were going to just blast everyone with HR’s !!! Nope, didn’t happen.Hard to play them all at the same time on defense, and man, oh man the strikeouts !!
    Awful teams ’81- ’83.

    • TexasGusCC
      June 19, 2020 at 9:51 am

      Ellis Valentine was pretty good on the Expos. What happened to him? Jeff Reardon for Ellis Valentine, a reliever for an all-star right fielder that is 26 years old and just hit .315 the year before; and you lose the trade…

      • June 19, 2020 at 9:57 am

        Valentine had gotten a serious injury. The Mets thought they were picking him up on the cheap. Thats why he wore that football face gear. Valentine never recovered his offensive dynamics.

        • TexasGusCC
          June 20, 2020 at 2:05 am

          Thank you Jim. Even when we think we’re ripping them off, we lose the trade?

    • Mike W
      June 19, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      Yes, they stunk in 83, but the foundation added two key players, Hernandez by trade and bring up Strawberry in May.

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