SABR

Ray Fosse

This article was written by Joseph Wancho.


On June 24, 1970, the Cleveland Indians were visiting New York to play a doubleheader against the Yankees. Tribe catcher Ray Fosse went two-for-four with one RBI, one run scored and one walk as Cleveland won the first game 7-2 behind Sam McDowell's tenth win. Fosse was scheduled to sit out game two, but he was feeling strong, playing well, and was in the midst of a sixteen-game hitting streak. So Ray caught the second game of the twin bill. In the bottom half of the fifth inning, with a runner at second base, Yankee pitcher Stan Bahnsen tried to bunt the base runner over to third, but missed the ball. Ray threw the baseball back to Indian pitcher Mike Paul. As Fosse stood behind home plate, waiting for Paul to go to the pitcher's mound, a cherry bomb was thrown from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. It exploded four feet from the ground and landed at the instep of Fosse's right foot. "I saw that thing land at my feet, but I didn't have time to do anything," said Fosse. Ray covered his head to protect his eyes as a reflex, but felt the pain, like a torch burning in his foot. The cherry bomb burned through his spikes, and both pairs of socks. Indians trainer Wally Bock feared hat Ray had been shot. But Fosse insisted that he return to the game. He was treated for ten minutes and continued to play. Nicknamed the "Marion Mule," Ray was big, strong, could carry a team on his back and was stubborn as a mule. His career would be marked with injuries, some that he endured while playing, while others sidelined him for long periods of time.

Raymond Earl Fosse was born April 4, 1947 in Marion, Illinois, the son of Wayne and Pauline Fosse. Ray had an older brother Jerry, and younger brother Jim. Ray played the infield his freshman year at Marion High School, but his second year moved to catcher and was named the team's Most Valuable Player all three years. He hit .475 his sophomore year and .535 as a junior. In his last season, Fosse posted a .465 mark, with four home runs, and led Marion to the Illinois Regional Finals. Ray also lettered in football as a fullback and in basketball as a forward.

Several years later, as a tribute to Ray, the city of Marion renamed their city park Ray Fosse Park. Today, Ray Fosse Park has a number of baseball and softball fields, a miniature golf course, a large swimming pool, a children's play area, and a picnic area complete with shelters. Ray Fosse Park is used for everything from class reunions to the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

In June 1965 the Cleveland Indians selected Fosse with the 7th pick of baseball's first ever amateur draft. Advised by his high school coach Leroy Anderson, Ray signed his first contract for $28,000 within four days of the draft with scout Walter Shannon.

Fosse reported to the Indians Eastern League team in Reading, Pennsylvania, and played in 55 games to start his climb through the minor leagues. In 1966, Ray played in 116 games for Reno of the California League, and the next season played 75 games for Portland of the Pacific Coast League before earning a recall to the Indians in September.

Making his debut on September 8, 1967, batting 8th in the lineup, Ray grounded out to shortstop in the first inning of a Cleveland 6-3 win over the Kansas City Athletics at Cleveland Stadium. On September 30, Ray collected his first major league hit, a single in the fifth inning off of Baltimore starting pitcher Gene Brabender, his only hit in 16 at bats in his first brief stint with the Tribe.

Fosse returned to Portland for the 1968 season and hit.301 with 9 home runs and 42 RBIs for the Beavers. Ray joined teammate Lou Piniella on the post season PCL All Star Team. Fosse would have liked to have played Winter Ball following the 1968 season, but he had to fulfill a six-month commitment with the Army Reserves beginning October 1.

In 1969, catcher was a crowded position in Cleveland, with no fewer than four players looking for playing time. Duke Sims and incumbent Joe Azcue were battling for the starting position, with Kenny Suarez and Ray also looking to crack the roster. But on April 19, Azcue was dealt to Boston and Ray was given the backup role behind Sims. On June 10 at Comiskey Park, a foul tip exploded against Ray's right index finger. Predictably, Ray stayed in the game. It was discovered later that the finger was fractured, and Fosse was placed on the disabled list and did not return to the team until September. When he returned, Fosse played sparingly, appearing in only 37 games for the year, and hitting just .172.

Duke Sims became the Indians' "Outstanding Player of the Cactus League" during Spring Training and Ray feared that his role would again be limited. Before the start of he regular season, Ray was given time off to get married to the former Carol Mancuso, a Los Angeles schoolteacher he met four years earlier when he played at Reno. Indian teammate Lou Klimchock served as the best man.

In the early part of 1970, Fosse and Sims platooned at the catcher position. On April 25, Ray was inserted in the starting lineup against Chicago right-handed pitcher Joel Horlen, and was in the starting lineup until July 25, when he had to fulfill an Army Reserve obligation for a weekend. In the first half of 1970, Ray hit .313 with 16 home runs and 45 runs batted in. He hit in 23 consecutive games beginning June 9, the longest AL streak since 1961. Fosse was rewarded with a spot on the American League All Star roster by Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver.

The town of Marion, Illinois, sent Ray a congratulatory telegram with 1,713 signatures for making the All-Star Team. The name of Pauline Fosse, Ray's mother, was at the top of the list.

The 1970 All-Star Game was played July 14 at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The game was scoreless when Ray replaced the Tigers' Bill Freehan in the bottom of the fifth inning. In the top of the sixth, Fosse singled to right field, was sacrificed to second base by Cleveland teammate Sam McDowell and scored on a hit by Boston's Carl Yastrzemski. After the National League scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the game was deadlocked at 4-4.

In the bottom of the twelfth inning, Pete Rose had singled and was on second base when the Cubs' Jim Hickman singled to centerfield. The Royals' Amos Otis fired the ball home to try to nail Rose. Fosse moved up the third base line three to four feet to catch the throw from Otis when Rose and the baseball seemingly arrived at the same time. Rose crashed into Fosse's left shoulder to score the winning run, knocking the catcher's mitt off his hand and Ray to the ground.

After the game, x-rays were taken of Ray's shoulder, but revealed nothing was wrong. The Cleveland doctors also could find nothing wrong with the shoulder and figured it was a bad bruise. It was not until the following year that is was discovered Fosse had a fracture and separation of his left shoulder. The inflammation and swelling were such that the fracture did not show up on the original x-rays. Ray kept playing. He started the first game after the break in Kansas City. He could not lift his arm up or out to catch the ball. Cleveland Manager Alvin Dark was waiting for Ray to tell him he was hurt. Fosse was waiting for Dark to ask him if he was hurt. On the other hand, Rose missed three games from the home plate collision.

Fosse played on until September 3, when a foul tip struck his right index finger during a game against Washington. X-rays showed a fracture between the first and second joints. For the rest of his career Fosse developed the habit of double clutching when he threw the baseball back to the pitcher. At times he had trouble getting a good enough grip the first time he went to toss it back to the mound.

Fosse still batted .297 after the collision with Rose, but with only two home runs and 16 runs batted in. Fosse was named to The Sporting News All-Star Team, won the Gold Glove Award for catchers in the American League after leading all catchers with 854 putouts, and was second in assists with 70. Fosse also threw out 48 of would-be 88 base stealers. Ray was voted co-Indians Man of the Year with Sam McDowell.

In the off-season, Ray played in the Florida Instructional League, and then winter ball in Venezuela (as he had the previous year). On December 14, 1970, tragedy struck. Several members of the Magallanes team, including Herman Hill, Dale Spier, John Morris, Ray, and their wives, spent an off day swimming at Puerto Cabella Beach. A terrible current swept Hill into the sea, forcing the other team members to try to save him. Fosse saved Morris, who had gone in after Hill, but the players were not able to rescue Hill. Spier was also in difficulty, but managed to swim back to shore. Herman Hill was only 25, and had just been traded to the Cardinals from Minnesota, after spending parts of two years in the majors.

Fosse was also one of the few bright spots in 1971 for the Indians, who compiled a 60-102 won-loss record, and finished 43 games behind Baltimore. Ray hit .276 for the year, with 12 homers and 62 RBIs. On June 18, in a home game against the Tigers, Fosse charged the mound after getting hit by pitcher Bill Denehy. "I'm convinced he was throwing at me and any time a pitcher throws at a batter, he can expect something to happen," Fosse said of Denehy. Both benches cleared and swarmed to the mound. Umpire Jim Honochick described the scene as "the bloodiest fight I've seen on a baseball field in 23 years." Denehy kicked Ray in his right hand, causing a gash that required five stitches and sidelining him for more than a week. When he returned, Fosse tore a ligament in his left hand while swinging through on a pitch from the Senators' Denny McClain. Fosse went back to the dugout and could not pick up the helmet that he wore under his catcher's mask. It was a bad break for Fosse. He was voted by the fans to start the All- Star Game in Detroit, but had to sit out because of the injury. Fosse did win his second Gold Glove Award for his defensive excellence.

Though he felt finally healthy in 1972, fully recovered from his many injuries, Ray's batting average dipped to .241 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs. New teammate Gaylord Perry finished 24-16 record with a sparkling 1.92 ERA for a team that finished twelve games under .500. Perry won the first Cy Young Award in Cleveland history, and, as of 2007, is the last Indian pitcher to win 20 games in a season. Perry gave credit to Ray, saying "I've got to split it up and give part--a big part--to my catcher, Ray Fosse. He kept pushing me in games when I didn't have good stuff. He'd come out and show me that big fist of his when I wasn't bearing down the way he thought I should."

Ray was traded to Oakland on March 24, 1973, along with shortstop Jack Heidemann, for outfielder George Hendrick and catcher Dave Duncan. Gaylord Perry was shocked by the news. "You've got to be kidding... I don't believe it. But why would we want to trade our quarterback?" Perry asked.

Fosse was thrilled to be going to Oakland, the reigning world champions. "I was shocked to say the least," Fosse said about the trade. "Once I got my thoughts together, I was very happy. After all, the A's are a championship team and I couldn't go to a better club. I don't think I will have any trouble with the pitchers there because that staff is the best." Another positive from the trade was that Oakland was only 40 miles from Tracy, California, the hometown of Ray's wife Carol.

In 1973 Oakland won the AL West by six games over Kansas City. Ray played 143 games, the most of his career, and hit.256 with 7 home runs and 52 RBIs. The club featured three 20-game winners in Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue and Jim "Catfish" Hunter. The A's beat Baltimore in the League Championship Series, with Hunter gaining two of the three Oakland victories. Ray scored a run in the deciding game, but it was his defense, throwing out four of five would-be base stealers for the series, where he made his mark

In the World Series, the A's met the New York Mets. Ray was involved in the most controversial play of the series in Game 2 at Oakland. The game was tied in the tenth inning when Bud Harrelson of the Mets tried to score from third on Felix Milan's sacrifice fly to left field. Joe Rudi made a perfect throw to Fosse, and home plate umpire Augie Donatelli ruled that Fosse brushed Harrelson with the glove after taking the throw. Willie Mays was on his knees pleading to Donatelli that Harrelson eluded the tag. "I'm not saying we don't miss a call now and then," said Donatelli, "but I didn't miss that one. I still remember the sight of Mays on his knees arguing that call. Harrelson was out." The Mets did go on to win the game, but the A's won the series, four games to three, coming from behind to win games six and seven at home.


Oakland repeated in the AL West in 1974, this time by five games over Billy Martin's Texas Rangers. Injuries would plague Fosse again. On June 5 in Detroit, a fight broke out in the clubhouse before the game between Reggie Jackson and Bill North. Acting as a peacemaker, Ray got caught in the middle and had surgery in July for a pinched nerve. He did not return to the starting lineup until August 26.

The A's again bested the Orioles in the playoffs to earn their third consecutive AL pennant. In Game Two, Fosse went three-for-four at the plate and one run scored, capped by a three-run home run in the eighth inning in Oakland's 5-0 victory. The A's met the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1974 World Series and won in five games. Four of the five games had a score of 3-2, with Oakland winning three of these games. Fosse hit a home run in the second inning of Game Five off Dodger starter Don Sutton, but was only two-for-fourteen for the series.

The A's would claim their fifth consecutive division title in 1975, finishing seven games ahead of Kansas City, but it was a frustrating year for Fosse. Gene Tenace had become the starter while Ray was sent down to the bullpen to warm up pitchers. With Hunter gone to the Yankees, the A's felt they needed a stronger offensive team with Claudell Washington in the outfield, Joe Rudi at first base and Tenace behind the plate. "It's not easy walking down to the bullpen every day," Fosse said. "Defensively it doesn't bother me. Offensively I am not doing anything and that bothers me very much. Hitting requires timing, defense comes natural." The A's run of three consecutive pennants was snapped when they were swept by Boston in the ALCS.

Ray was sold back to Cleveland for the 1976 season. Oakland owner Charles Finley claimed that the Tribe was getting damaged goods telling General Manager Phil Seghi, "I hate to give you damaged merchandise, but remember, you insisted." But Fosse felt that Finley was still upset that Ray had taken the A's to arbitration the year before. Fosse lost, but Finley still held a grudge. Now he was happy to be playing on a more regular basis and working with the Indians' young pitching staff.

Fosse again went on the disabled list with a spiked left hand after a collision at home plate with Boston's Jim Rice on April 13. Alan Ashby took over the catching duties, and when Fosse returned, the two players alternated at the catcher position. Fosse hit .301 for the fourth place Tribe.

Before the 1977 season Ashby was traded to Toronto, resulting in more regular work for Fosse. The highlight of the 1977 season came on May 30, 1977, when Indian pitcher Dennis Eckerlsey threw a no-hitter against the California Angels, allowing a first inning walk to first baseman Tony Solaita and Bobby Bonds advanced on a third strike wild pitch in the eighth inning. "Give Fosse a lot of credit too," said Eckersley after the 1-0 victory, "He called a helluva game. I think I only shook him off three times."

In June manager Frank Robinson was replaced by Jeff Torborg, and the new manager split the catching duties between Fosse and Fred Kendall, depending on the Indians' pitcher. Neither player was very happy with this arrangement. In September Cleveland traded Fosse to Seattle for left-handed relief pitcher Bill Laxton.

Fosse finished out the year with the expansion Mariners and then signed a four year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. In spring training, Fosse tripped in a hole while running down the first base line, and suffered multiple injuries to his right leg. The most serious injury required the reconstruction of the ligament on the outside of the knee, causing him to miss the entire season. Fosse came to camp in 1979 battling Buck Martinez and Charlie Moore for the catching position, but was the odd man out and relegated to bullpen duty. He appeared in only 19 games, giving him 52 at bats. In 1980, Ray was cut from the Brewers at the end of Spring Training. Manager Buck Rodgers, a former catcher himself, said it was one of the hardest things he had to do because "Ray Fosse was the epitome of a catcher."

For his career, Ray Fosse batted .256 with 61 home runs and 324 runs batted in. Out of 723 base stealers, Fosse threw out 286, just under 40%. Fosse had a career fielding percentage of .985.

After retiring, Ray worked for TRS Video Sports Productions. Fosse made instructional videos on how to play baseball, often utilizing his former teammates, like Sal Bando, who demonstrated how to play third base. Ray then took a variety of positions in the Oakland front office. Fosse served as the A‘s Speaker Bureau, to Director of Sales and finally to Director of Public Relations. In 1986, Fosse joined the radio booth to provide color commentary for A's games as well as hosting a popular pregame show. At the end of the 2007 season, Ray completed his 22nd season of providing his unique insights to the game of baseball to A's fans in the Bay Area, both on radio and TV. As of 2007, Ray and Carol Fosse make their home in Phoenix, Arizona. They have two daughters, Nikki and Lindsey.

In 2001, as a celebration of their 100-year anniversary, the Cleveland Indians named their 100 greatest players of all time. The players were selected by a panel of veteran baseball writers, executives and historians. Ray was selected as one of seven catchers to the all-time team.


Sources

Terry Pluto. The Curse of Rocky Colavito. Simon and Schuster, 1994, pages 119-124.

New York Times. "Fosse Sidelined, Bitter at Denehy." June 20, 1971.

Merle Jones. "Sport Talk." The Southern Illinoisian, June 9, 1965.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1967-1977.

The Sporting News, 1967-1980.

Mark Newman. "Buck Rodgers loosens up as Expos' New Manager." Miami Herald, March 3, 1985.

Tom Gilmore. "The View From The End of the Couch." San Francisco Chronicle, August 20, 1985.

Dave van Dyck. "Baseball Notes." Chicago Sun Times, February 9, 1986.

Peter Gammons. "Baseball Notes." Boston Globe, February 9, 1986.

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/

http://retrosheet.org/newslt16.htm

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