When the Hall of Fame finally tabbed him in November, George
Foster's reaction was...what? Joy? Relief? Confusion? Ever
since 1986, when his four-team, 18-year major league career came
to an end, Foster had dreamed of being enshrined. "At first I
didn't know what to think," says Foster, "but then I realized
what an honor it was." After all, it's not every man who gets to
join legends like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Billy Williams, Early
Wynn...in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Of course the Tuscaloosa-born Foster still hopes for induction
into a slightly more prestigious Hall. Before it became as common
as daylight to hit 50 homers in a season, Foster was briefly the
game's most feared slugger. In 1977 Foster, the Cincinnati Reds'
leftfielder, won the National League MVP award by hitting 52
dingers and driving in 149 runs while batting .320. He followed
that performance with another 40 homers and 120 RBIs, becoming
the only Red to lead the league in home runs in consecutive
seasons. With his black bat, iron jaw and lamb-chop sideburns,
Foster was an ominous presence at the plate. As Terry Leach, who
was later a teammate of Foster's on the New York Mets, says,
"George was the biggest, baddest guy on the planet."
Because of his quiet nature, Foster was often described as moody,
and he was routinely overshadowed by a quartet of Big Red Machine
stars--Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose. At the
time, says Foster, he didn't mind being the ignored man. Heck,
the Big Red Machine won two World Series with Foster in the
middle of the lineup. Looking back, however, he regrets not
having tried for a larger share of the spotlight. "I should have
set more individual goals for my career," says Foster, who wound
up with 1,925 hits and 348 homers. "The best players help their
teams and also try to reach a certain level year after year. I
never established that."
He did establish another benchmark, however. In 1982 he signed a
five-year, $10 million contract with the Mets, becoming
baseball's first $2 million man. Nowadays Foster, 53, is still
making his mark. Two years ago he started a baseball academy, and
he currently serves as an assistant coach for the team at Fort
Pierce (Fla.) Westwood High, under head coach Charles Johnson Sr.
(the father of the Florida Marlins catcher). There is, Foster
says, no greater joy than teaching a youngster the game. "Hitting
a home run was great," says Foster, who lives in Vero Beach with
his wife, Sheila, and daughters Starrine, 19, and Shawna, 15,
"but watching one of the kids do it is even better."
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG
Before it became common to hit 50 homers in a season, Foster was
briefly the game's most feared slugger.