SABR

Eddie Foster

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Eddie Foster’s father was a Johns Hopkins-trained doctor, but Eddie eschewed a college education and turned to baseball instead, later running his own metal-welding shop in Washington, D.C. Eight of his 13 years in the majors were spent playing third base and some second base for the Washington Senators.

Foster was born in Chicago on February 13, 1887, to B. Douglas Foster and Callie Kay (Flint) Foster. He lost his Ohio-born father early; Dr. Foster died in 1900, leaving Callie with three children – Jack, 10 months older than Eddie, and Edith, 2½ years younger. He was named Edward Cunningham Foster in honor of his paternal grandparents, attorney Edward Foster and his wife, the former Serena Cunningham. Eddie attended the Chicago public schools through the tenth grade.

Eddie’s baseball career began in the Kansas State League in 1906 with the Coffeyville Bricks. A former shortstop, now oil magnate, Chauncey Bill Stuart signed him to Coffeyville, but was convinced that Foster had a bright future. “Let me tell you,” Stuart told Sporting Life. “I am sure one of my captures will be heard from some day. I refer to Eddie Foster, a shortstop. Foster is a small lad just now, but will fill out. He is a graduate of the Chicago City League, and can play a game even now which might do in the best of company. Fast, alert mentally and physically, ever eager to be at work, Foster caught the crowd. He hits finely for us and fans voted that he alone was worth all of my trip North.”1 Foster hit .275 in 62 games.

Foster jumped from Class D to B ball, the next year, playing for the Tri-State League’s Harrisburg Senators, who placed second behind the Williamsport Millionaires. He had tried out with Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics in spring training.2 He was on an Athletics contract but Harrisburg worked a deal of some sort to add him to their roster. Before the end of June, there were suggestions in the press that Foster might be destined for the majors. But his hitting tailed off as the year wore on and he finished at .232.

In 1908 Williamsport, under manager Harry Wolverton, repeated as Tri-State League champion. This time, still on an Athletics contract but then transferred to Williamsport, Foster – the “gingery little shortstop” –hit .254.3 He was a smaller player, standing 5-feet-6 and weighing 145 pounds. He hit the ball hard, though, and Sporting Life noted that, “‘Kid’ Foster, of Williamsport, gets more long drives for a midget than any player in the league.”4 He was still playing shortstop, and wasn’t without his faults as a defender, but it was his hitting that caught attention: “Foster’s misplays at short for Williamsport have more than been atoned for by his great hitting. He is a prize.”5

The following year, 1909, Foster went from a team that was first in its league to one that was the worst, the Eastern League’s Jersey City Skeeters. It was Class A ball, though, and a real step upward for Foster, setting the stage for him to reach the major leagues in 1910. He played in 148 games and hit for a .243 average. In September he was drafted by George Stallings and the New York Highlanders at a cost of $2,000. He was no longer on an Athletics contract, one of a few players having been set free in early 1908 when Philadelphia was accused of farming.6 He signed for 1910 on February 7.

Foster impressed Stallings with his “lightning work” on defense during spring training, and he made the team, enjoying his major-league debut on April 14, 1910, at age 23. Foster played in 30 games for the Highlanders, 22 at shortstop and the rest in pinch situations, but he wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues, batting just .133. He had been experienced some suffering – we don’t know for how long – and missed closing out the season when he was operated on for appendicitis at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on September 21.

New York sold Foster’s contract to Rochester in early January 1911 and he played for Rochester, hitting .288. (Years later, it was reported that Foster had been “‘chased’ to Rochester as a result of unruly conduct.”7) Late in the season, Jimmy McAleer’s Washington Senators acquired the rights for Foster’s services. McAleer was said to have spent two weeks following Eddie before he was fully convinced. Foster had made the most errors in the Eastern League, so McAleer scrutinized his work.8

Foster didn’t get into any games for Washington in 1911, but made the club in 1912, played in every one of the 154 games, and hit for an impressive .285. He had, however, been converted into a third baseman, where Washington had more of a need. In the first few weeks of the new season, he made his mark – particularly against the New Yorkers. “With his batting and fielding, no one person has helped to keep the Highlanders in last place more than third baseman Eddie Foster, of the Washingtons. And the Highlanders had him once, too.”9 Indeed, the Highlanders could have pulled him back from Rochester but had elected to sell his contract to Clark Griffith’s Washington club.10

Foster drove in 70 runs, which remained his career best. His three-run inside-the-park home run on April 27 off New York’s Ray Caldwell came in the bottom of the sixth, neither team having scored, and was “a resounding Rooseveltian rap,” in the words of Sporting Life editor Paul W. Eaton. In his 13 years in the majors, Foster hit six home runs.

Near the end of the season, none other than American League president Ban Johnson in effect called Foster the rookie of the year: “It is a delicate thing for me to pick a player as the best youngster in the American League, but I feel that Foster deserves the distinction.”11 With a late-season boost, though, teammate Chick Gandil outpaced Foster.

Only days into the 1913 season, Foster contracted typhoid fever and was hospitalized at Georgetown University Hospital.12 It was fortunately a mild case, but it still cost him a third of the season. He rejoined the team at the end of May but was too weak for anything other than batting practice for a couple of weeks after that. Foster ultimately played in 106 games. Once he was back, he picked up where he’d left off, but was down just a bit. He hit .247 and drove in 41. He still stole more than 20 bases. He played all but one of his games at third base. For the next three seasons, 1914 through 1916, Foster played in every one of his team’s games, twice leading the league in at-bats. He bumped his average back up to .282 in 1914 and .275 in 1915.

One of Foster’s specialties was the hit-and-run. He worked at bat control and could hit to either field, and he had speed, six times in his eight years with Washington stealing 20 or more bases. Hugh Jennings, then managing the Detroit Tigers, said in mid-1915, “There is only one out-and-out reliable hit and run batter in the American League. That is Eddie Foster.”13

There was one true benefit to Foster’s stay in the Georgetown University hospital. A nurse who cared for him there became his bride in Washington on February 3, 1915. Nancy Carey Crismond became Mrs. Foster. The couple had four children: Nancy (1917-19), Betty Kay (1920-1982), Edward Flint Foster (1923-1990), and Anne (1924-2004). Nancy had found herself a sober spouse. According to one reporter, he was “a quiet, religious chap, a member of the Baptist Church, and is a foe of the demon rum. His hobby is addressing the boys of the Y.M.C.A.”14

In 1915 Foster split his duties on defense almost evenly between third base (79 games) and second base (75).

There were the usual rumors from time to time: before 1914 that Foster would jump his contract to sign with Baltimore in the Federal League; that Comiskey of Chicago was trading for him, and so forth, but he enjoyed a remarkably long tenure with Washington.

Foster’s hitting tailed off beginning in 1916, with the exception of 1918. He hit .252 in 1916 and .235 in 1917, with 44 and 43 RBIs respectively. He scored 75 runs in ’16 and 66 in ’17. And Foster kept active speaking to religious groups; in June 1917, for instance, he addressed the prayer meeting service of the Washington Heights Presbyterian congregation.15 Some papers said he was “understudying Billy Sunday,” and he was called “The Evangelist” by more than one. He was said to have given “weekly talks on baseball and clean living to the youth of Virginia and Washington.”16 Foster had been a rounder in his younger days, but had become inspired during a Billy Sunday service and chose the straight and narrow. name="sdendnote17anc" href="#sdendnote17sym">17

With four children and a wife, Foster was ruled exempt from World War military service in August 1917. That didn’t prevent him from military drills on the field of play, which became customary among teams during the era. Later in August 1917 Foster fainted during a drill and had to be carried from the field; it was determined to have been due to ptomaine poisoning.18 He was out several days, and a hand injury cost him a few more, but he still played 143 games in 1917.

Foster rebounded offensively in the war-shortened 1918 season, playing in every game but one and batting .283, in part thanks to a 21-game hitting streak.

In August 1919 Eddie and Nannie lost their daughter, Nancy; she was buried in Fredericksburg, Virginia. That season Foster played in 120 games and hit .264.

On December 29, 1919, Washington traded Foster to the Boston Red Sox. He was accompanied by Harry Harper (the man the Red Sox were really after) and Mike Menosky, traded for Braggo Roth and Red Shannon. Red Sox manager Ed Barrow planned to play Foster at second base in place of Shannon. 19

Foster kept his residence in Washington, where he owned a truck and garage business. In fact, his occupation was given in the 1920 US Census as “auto mechanic” – even though he played 117 games for the Red Sox, hit for a .259 average and drove in 41 runs. And it hadn’t taken long for him to strike back at his old club; he drove in three runs in a 4-2 Red Sox win over Washington on April 23.

In 1921 Foster hit .284 in 120 games with 35 RBIs and 51 runs scored, but it was his last good season. Come 1922, he began the season on the bench, having lost the third-base job to Pinky Pittenger. In the 48 games Foster played for Boston, only 31 were in the field. He was largely used as a pinch-hitter, but hit for only a .211 average overall. On August 15 he was placed on waivers and claimed by the St. Louis Browns.

Foster played in 37 games for the 1922 Browns and made the most of them, batting .306. He announced in late August that he would be retiring as a player, but came back in 1923. He played in only 27 games, though, hitting .180, with his final game on August 5. He was given his unconditional release by the Browns in November.

After Foster left the majors he devoted his work energies to a welding shop, the Hawk Welding Company in the Georgetown section of Washington, and taught Sunday school in Cherrydale, Virginia, where he and his family lived. He kept active coaching a semipro team formed by the Potomac Savings Bank, and he organized a couple of youth baseball teams in the later 1920s.

Foster was only 49 when he died, having suffered a fatal and somewhat mysterious accident. He was found by the side of the road at around 2 a.m. on the rainy morning of January 7, 1937, about a half-mile from his car – which had crashed through a billboard about 20 feet off the Washington-Baltimore road. The family initially theorized that he might have been robbed by a hitchhiker (he often gave rides to hitchhikers); his billfold was found empty and he had suffered a blow to the head.20 He was in a coma and died of a fractured skull on the 15th at Casualty Hospital in Washington. Police later concluded that the master of the hit-and-run play had died of injuries suffered in a hit-and-run motor vehicle accident. 21 His New York Times obituary said that Walter Johnson “attributed much of his pitching success to Foster’s clever fielding of bunts.”22

Foster was survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, his mother, a brother, and a sister.23

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author accessed Foster’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and used the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Sporting Life, August 25, 1906.

2 Washington Evening Star, March 12, 1907.

3 Trenton Evening Times, February 15, 1908.

4 Sporting Life, September 26, 1908.

5 Sporting Life, June 6, 1908.

6 Sporting Life, February 22, 1908.

7 Washington Post, March 31, 1922.

8 Jersey Journal, September 14, 1911.

9 Sporting Life, May 11, 1912; Chicago Defender of June 8, 1912.

10 Lexington (Kentucky) Herald, July 14, 1912.

11 Sporting Life, September 21, 1912.

12 New York Times, April 29, 1913; Washington Post, April 30, 1913.

13 Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 8, 1915.

14 Trenton Evening Times, February 13, 1917.

15 Washington Evening Star, June 11, 1917.

16 New Orleans States, February 29, 1920.

17 Washington Post, June 15, 1917.

18 Greensboro (North Carolina) Record, August 24, 1917.

19 Boston Globe and Boston Herald, December 30, 1919.

20 Washington Post, January 8 and 9, 1937.

21 Washington Post, January 16, 1937.

22 New York Times, January 17, 1937.

23 Washington Sunday Star, January 17, 1937.

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