SABR

Happy Foreman

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

August G. “Happy” Foreman pitched in three major-league games in 1924 for the Chicago White Sox (allowing three runs), and he pitched in three major-league games in 1926 for the Boston Red Sox (allowing three runs). In neither year did he win a game or lose a game. In 1924, he had two plate appearances and struck out once. In 1924, he had two plate appearances and struck out once. In neither year did he reach base safely. He was a lefty, stood 5-feet-7 and weighed 160 pounds, and he was from Memphis.

Foreman was born on July 20, 1899 (the date recorded in his 1924 application for a United States passport), to Sam and Tillie Silverfield Foreman. Both parents were Russian Jews who had immigrated to the United States.

In 1930, three years after he left baseball, the US Census shows him living in Chicago on West 29th Street. The head of the family was listed as his 38-year-old brother, Solomon, who lived with his wife, Clara, their 14-year-old son, David, and two of Solomon’s brothers – Frank (43) and August (33). Frank had been born at sea, as his parents crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Subtracting 38 years would put the date of arrival in the United States at around 1892, which fit with a major period of Russian Jewish emigration. Solomon and August were both born in Tennessee. Frank was a long-haul trucker, Solomon a private chauffeur, and August was still listed as a professional ballplayer. Clara’s brother Herman Wise, a shipping clerk in a flower shop, lived in the household, too.

Foreman attended the Memphis public schools as a child and then Chamberlin Hunt College – a Christian academy based in Port Gibson, Mississippi. During the First World War, he served with the United States Marine Corps.

His first season in pro ball was with the Clarksdale Cubs in 1921. The league began as the Mississippi State League but during the course of the season became the Cotton States League. It was a Class D four-team league and the unaffiliated Cubs finished first for manager Baxter Sparks, but lost all five games of the playoffs to the second-place Greenwood Indians. Happy was 8-5 on the mound, giving up 72 hits and 10 bases on balls in 89 innings. He hit for a .228 average.

We’re not quite sure what he did in 1922, but in 1923 he played for two teams, the Class B Decatur Commodores of the Three-I League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa), where he was 14-5. Decatur won the title. At the end of the season, he transitioned to the Shreveport Gassers, a Class A team affiliated with the Philadelphia Athletics. He was 0-3 for Shreveport, and played several games in the outfield.

Foreman played most of 1924 in the Texas League, for Shreveport and for the Beaumont Exporters, winning 16 games and losing 9, and hitting .358 in 148 at-bats, with seven home runs in the mix. Then he got the call at the end of the year to come up and join the Chicago White Sox. That season, 1924, was rare in that it was the only one between 1921 and 1931 in which the Boston Red Sox failed to finish last. The White Sox finished in last place instead, a half-game behind Boston. The White Sox had three managers that season – Johnny Evers, Ed Walsh (for three games), Eddie Collins, and then Evers again. By the time Foreman joined the team, Evers was back for his second stint after an appendectomy that kept him out from mid-May to mid-June.

Happy’s debut came on September 3 – as a batter, pinch-hitting for pitcher Ted Blankenship in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out, and the Tigers prevailed, 6-4. His pitching debut was on September 9, at Navin Field, also against the Tigers. He was the third White Sox pitcher in the game and threw the final two innings, giving up one run on three hits. He walked two and struck out one. The run was the only earned run charged to him in 1924. He gave up an unearned run to the Yankees on the 13th and then threw a scoreless inning on the 28th against Detroit, though he allowed two base hits and walked one. He was lucky to finish the year with a 2.25 ERA, given that he’d faced 20 batters in an even four innings of work and walked four while giving up seven hits.

After the season, Foreman embarked on a tour of Europe with the White Sox team and the New York Giants, playing in Ireland, England, Belgium, and Italy, and coming to casually know John McGraw. Later on, when he pitched a particularly good game against Shreveport, he received a congratulatory telegram the following day signed “John McGraw.” He fell for it, showing it all around – only to be mortified when it was revealed to be a hoax played by some of his teammates. He reportedly wouldn’t talk to the perpetrators for weeks. [Unattributed September 5, 1929 clipping in Foreman’s Hall of Fame player file]

After facing the Tigers in three out of the five games in which he appeared, Foreman wound up spending 1925 with a Detroit farm club, the Fort Worth Panthers. He’d gone through spring training with the White Sox, pitching well against his former Shreveport teammates during an exhibition game in the city, allowing just one hit in three innings. He earned several mentions as Happy Gus in the Chicago Tribune. On March 29, he was sold to Beaumont, released outright to bring the pitching staff down to 11, and severing all ties with the White Sox. Three days later, in Memphis, he married Miss Mildred Wiezer of Chicago.

The Panthers won the pennant, but Foreman wasn’t impressive with Fort Worth – a 5.85 earned run average, a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.587, and a record of 9-14. Fort Worth cut ties. There was word around that Foreman was going to join the Marshall, Texas, club of the Class D East Texas League, but he remained an unsigned free agent until he signed with the Boston Red Sox on June 7. He was hustled into action and played his first game on the 9th, followed by one on the 12th and his third and final one on the 25th. The Red Sox were well on their way to another last-place finish. They wound up the season 44½ games out of first, more than 15 games worse than the seventh-place St. Louis Browns. When Foreman first saw action, they’d played 48 games and were 14-34, already 20½ games behind the Yankees. They lost every one of the three games in which he took part, not surprising in a year in which they lost 107 games in all.

Foreman’s first game, on June 9, was a close one, a 6-4 loss to St. Louis. Jack Russell had given up four runs in 4 1/3 innings. Foreman closed out the fifth inning and threw the sixth and seventh, allowing St. Louis one earned run on two hits. Red Ruffing closed out the game, giving up a run himself. On June 12, Ted Wingfield was already losing 5-0 after five innings. Foreman pitched two hitless innings, though he did put three Detroit runners on via walks. After six innings at Fenway Park on the 25th, the Yankees had built up a 9-1 lead off pitchers Paul Zahniser and Russell. Foreman pitched the last three innings and gave up two more runs on one hit and two walks.  His 3.68 earned run average was actually the second lowest on a team that suffered under a 4.72 ERA, but apparently manager Lee Fohl had other ideas in mind. With the White Sox, the 2.25 ERA was by far the lowest on that squad, which averaged 4.74. Why Happy didn’t have more opportunities with two last-place teams, when he was statistically pitching better than almost anyone on either club remains unclear.

In 1927, Foreman played for the Bloomington Bloomers in the Three-I League, going 4-4 in 77 innings with a good 2.45 ERA and playing 20 games in the outfield. That was his last attempt at pro ball. He finished with a career .288 batting average in the minor leagues (and the .000 mark in major-league ball). His major-league ERA was 3.18. He’d faced 49 batters. Though we don’t know what year it was, a couple of his obituaries said that he had toured with a team of players costumed as Zulus who played baseball in bare feet. (See, for instance, the February 15, 1953, Brooklyn Eagle.)

Happy became a truck driver. He had a throat operation in 1952, then died at the age of 55 of lung cancer on February 13, 1953, while visiting his sister Sallie Schiftman in New York City. He was survived by another sister, Leah Schuster of Shreveport, wife of the owner of Dave Shuster’s Wholesale Produce Company, with whom he had lived while playing in Shreveport. What had become of Mildred, we do not know.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Bill Lee’s Baseball Necrology, and the Foreman player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

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