Today is George Foster’s 75th birthday. Mets fans of a certain age view Foster as a poster boy in the case for being wary about getting guys on the wrong side of 30. It certainly looked like a slam-dunk move when the Mets acquired Foster before the start of the 1982 season. But it certainly didn’t work out for either the team or the player. The Mets released Foster in 1986. He played briefly with the White Sox later that season before being released again in what turned out to be the final season of his career.

Originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants, Foster quickly advanced thru their minor league system. He received cups of coffee in the majors in both 1969 and 1970 before making the team’s Opening Day roster in 1971 at the age of 22. But he was a backup outfielder on a team with two 25 year olds – one of them Bobby Bonds – and Willie Mays as starters. Additionally, the Giants had Dave Kingman ready to make his MLB debut.

Meanwhile, the Giants had what appeared to be a hole at shortstop. Hal Lanier had held down the job since 1965 but he simply couldn’t hit. One might think his offense was being supressed by the deadball 60s but he posted a 46 OPS+ when they raised the mound in ’69 and followed that up with a 47 OPS+ in ’70.

The Giants did have rookie Chirs Speier, who got off to a quick start at the plate but then started to resemble Lanier. From 4/30-5/28, Speier had a .547 OPS in 93 PA, a marked change from the .792 OPS he started with that season. It seemed like the 21 year old might need further seasoning. So, the Giants dealt from their outfield excess to get Frank Duffy, the sixth overall pick of the 1967 Draft.

But Speier rebounded at the plate, Duffy didn’t immediately hit and was soon on his way to the minors. And after the season, Duffy went to the Indians along with future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, in exchange for Sam McDowell. The slick-fielding Duffy ended up being part of two rotten trades for the Giants in less than a year, which the Giants surrendered Foster and Perry, two players who could have made a huge difference for the team the remainder of the 70s.

Meanwhile, Foster didn’t exactly set the world on fire upon landing with the Reds. He saw decent playing time in ’71 but he amassed just 195 PA the following two seasons. Foster got 314 PA in ’74 and got his break the next season, when Pete Rose moved to third base, opening up left field for the now 26 year old.

From 1975-1981, Foster played in 967 games for the Reds and in 4099 PA, he posted a 149 OPS+. The run included five All-Star appearances and the MVP Award in 1977, when he became the first National League player to hit 50 HR in a season since Willie Mays in 1965. It would be the last time a player in either league reached 50 until Cecil Fielder in 1990.

And his ’81 season showed no signs of slowing down. In the strike-shortened campaign, Foster notched a 150 OPS+ and finished third in the MVP race. With one year left on his contract, Foster thought he had earned an extension and was looking for a big pay day. The Reds, who had already cut ties with Rose and Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, were not inclined to break the bank for Foster, either.

With a year left on his deal, the Reds sent Foster to the Mets for Greg Harris, Jim Kern and Alex Trevino. It was an underwhelming return if you were a Reds fan and highway robbery if you cheered for the Mets. After the trade, Foster signed a 5/$10 million deal, one which would make him the highest-paid player in the game in 1986, when he made $2.8 million. It seemed a fitting salary for a player that long-time sportswriter Maury Allen had dubbed the 72nd greatest player of all-time in a book published in April of ’81.

Foster was 33 when he joined the Mets and to say he fell off a cliff would be an apt description of his play. After that 150 OPS+ in 1981, he posted just a 90 OPS+ in his first year with the Mets. And he didn’t really improve the following season. Foster did up his HR total from 13 to 28 but that power surge resulted in just a 95 OPS+. The following two years were better, ones that would have made sense if he had a gradual decline in the ’82-’83 seasons.

In ’84, Foster had a 111 OPS+ and the following year it was a 121 mark. But it fell apart again the next season. In the magical year of 1986 for the club, Foster seemed like an outsider. In the final year of his deal, Foster was one of the older players in the league. But on a team with 32-year-olds Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, along with 33-year-old Ray Knight, the 37-year old Foster seemed to have nothing in common with his younger teammates.

That would have been ok if he hit, which Foster didn’t. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Knight and Eric Davis got into their infamous fight, the one where Knight punched Davis in the face. Both benches emptied, except for Foster, who remained on the bench. He claimed he didn’t want to set a bad example for children. Few bought that explanation and Foster was benched the next series.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Foster claimed his benching was racially motivated, despite the fact that he was replaced by Kevin Mitchell.

When you don’t hit, you don’t support your teammates and you claim racial prejudice – you can’t expect to stay around very long. And he didn’t. The Mets released Foster on August 7. He signed eight days later with the White Sox, who released him after 15 games.

For half-a-dozen years, Foster was in the conversation for best player in the majors. And then the Mets traded for him and off came the wheels. It was a foreshadowing of sorts for the 1991 episode of The Simpsons where Homer finds out he has a half brother (voiced by Danny DeVito) who is a rich automobile tycoon. But after meeting Homer, the brother’s life falls apart, which prompted Lisa to say, “His life was an unbridled success until he found out… he was a Simpson.”

I was one of many who were overjoyed when the Mets got Foster. In trying to think of things that weren’t negative about his tenure in New York, there aren’t a bunch of things that jump to mind. With his mutton-chop sideburns and black bat, Foster still looked intimidating. That is until you saw him hit or heard him speak. We know about the hitting. But that voice! It was about two octaves higher than it should have been.

Well, that’s not positive. How about this – Foster wore real sunglasses, rather than the flip ones you no doubt associate with Hernandez. For some reason, this was jarring to me at the time. While not quite the Lowell Palmer treatment from 1970-1972, Topps did show Foster in his shades on his 1986 card.

4 comments on “Remembering George Foster on his 75th birthday

  • John Fox

    It would be appropriate if his sunglasses were… Foster Grants.

    • Brian Joura

      When I was searching for an image I used – Mets George Foster sunglasses and I got all kinds of ads for Foster Grants…

  • T.J.

    Happy birthday George.

  • TexasGusCC

    Ah!!! One of my favorite Mets at the time. I loved emulating the stance and I even wound up emulating the results, LOL. My favorite memory was that my childhood and still best friend Arthur was proud that that George Arthur Foster and David Arthur Kingman both had his name! I actually do not remember a single other thing about Foster. I remember Doug Flynn’s inside the park homer; I remember Mazzilli’s basket catches (Maz was super cool) and all star game homerun and walk; I remember Terrell hitting two homeruns in Wrigley; I remember Kong putting one on the roof in Wrigley and another broke the windshield of a car in the parking lot at Shea; and many more memories regards various players – but not a single one from Foster’s work. How fitting.

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