Rube FosterAug 3rd, 2010 | By BHS | Category: Sports
1879-1930 Andrew”Rube” Foster was an early baseball star. During his accomplished career, he developed innovative pitching styles, rallied his teams to a number of championships, and most notably, founded the first enduring baseball league for black players.
A Runaway Earns a Reputation
Foster was born in Calvert, Texas, on September 17, 1879, to Andrew Foster, Sr., and Sarah Foster. His father was the presiding elder at Calvert’s Methodist Episcopal Church. As a boy, Foster was drawn to the sport of baseball, and organized a neighborhood team so that he could play. His mother died shortly before he finished eighth grade, and when his father remarried and moved away from Calvert, Foster ran away from home in order to pursue a career in baseball.
In 1896, Foster began traveling as a pitcher with the Waco Yellow Jackets, an independent black baseball club. He was over six feet tall and had a formidable pitching arm. By 1902, he had been recruited by the Chicago Union Giants, a team controlled by Frank Leland. Foster switched teams frequently throughout the midwest and along the east coast as his reputation grew. During one exhibition game, he outclassed the celebrated pitcher Rube Waddell and inherited the nickname “Rube.” Playing for the Cuban X-Giants, he led the team to victory in black baseball’s first ever “World Series.” In 1904, after switching back to the Union Giants, Foster again rallied his team to the title.
Foster’s pitching abilities became legendary. He frequently was ranked among the sport’s most esteemed players, regardless of race. In addition to his intimidating stature, he had unique fastball and screwball styles, which made him a feared opponent for batters and team managers alike. In 1907, Foster served the Giants as both a player and a manager. The team lost only 10 out of 120 Games. After getting married the following year to Sarah Watts with whom he would have two children, he redoubled his management efforts. By 1910, he had wrested legal control of the Giants from Frank Leland. The team was renamed the Chicago American Giants.
A Legendary League and an Untimely End
In the early 1900s, many Northern cities became destinations for an increasing migration of Blacks from the south who had grown tired and fearful of the racial tensions prevalent in the decades following the Civil War. As a result, several cities such as Chicago developed a large but disenfranchised black workforce, and souring race relations. While Blacks contributed the majority of the labor, Whites still owned the means of production, and profited while the black population remained in poverty. By 1919, Chicago was in the midst of a series of violent race riots.
Foster understood the frustration of this economic disparity. Black athletes were barred from playing in white leagues, and black club teams were often at the mercy of white stadium owners. In 1920, Foster gathered the owners of a number of black baseball teams together at the Kansas City YMCA and hammered out a cooperative agreement. Though similar efforts had failed in the past, Foster’s efforts resulted in the formation of the first black baseball league, the Negro National League (NNL).
The founding members included the St. Louis Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Cincinnati Cuban Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, and Foster’s own Chicago American Giants. Managing the Giants full time, he also took on the sometimes controversial role of commissioner of the new league. While he was occasionally known to tilt rosters in his team’s favor, he was mostly respected for his magnanimous managerial style, and often contributed from his own pocket when the payroll of league teams fell short.
With the new league in place, black baseball enjoyed a period of unprecedented popularity, both at home and abroad, with clubs playing exhibition games as far away as Japan. In addition, teams like the Chicago American Giants and the Kansas City Monarchs often out-sold their all-white counterparts. The league even inspired the formation of other black leagues in the south and the east. There was a period of tension between Foster’s league and these other organizations until an agreement was reached that they would not raid each others’ rosters, and would respect contracts between teams and players.
Foster continued to manage the NNL, putting in long hours and traveling extensively, but his mental health began to deteriorate. In 1925, he was exposed to a gas leak in Indianapolis. He was found unconscious, and although he was revived, he never fully regained his health and became increasingly erratic. As a result of his worsening condition and mental state, he was committed to the Illinois State Hospital in Kankakee in 1926. Foster was unable to see his team win the pennant and the World Series in both 1926 and 1927. On December 9, 1930, he died of a heart attack while still in the hospital.
Foster’s long absence and subsequent death took a heavy toll on the Negro National League. Without his vision and hard work, and in the face of the economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression, the league dissolved in 1931. Foster’s vision of a professional baseball league in which black players were respected had nevertheless been achieved. His efforts primed the world of professional sports for the day when Jackie Robinson, a former member of the Kansas City Monarchs, would become the first black player in the newly integrated baseball league. Foster has since been recognized for his accomplishments through his 1981 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and the establishment of a museum in Kansas City dedicated to the Negro Leagues. His efforts paved the way for numerous black athletes, not only in baseball, but across the spectrum of professional sports.