Bill Foxen (TRADING CARD DB)

Bill Foxen

This article was written by Bill Lamb

Bill Foxen (TRADING CARD DB)Left-hander Bill Foxen was the most talented of a trio of Deadball Era pitching brothers, and the only one to have a major league career. That career, however, never quite lived up to expectations and lasted only three-plus seasons. In retrospect, there may have been a reason: Foxen was actually five years older than he claimed and probably past his pitching prime by the time that he reached the bigs. Whatever the case, he subsequently toiled for several seasons back in the minors before quitting the game to join the workaday world in 1915. For the next two decades, Foxen earned a comfortable living as an accountant, white-collar office manager, and government auditor in New York City until his death in April 1937. His life story follows.

William Aloysius Foxen was born on May 31, 1879,1 in Tenafly, New Jersey, then a thinly populated bedroom enclave of the wealthy and their menials located about 15 miles northwest of midtown Manhattan. He was one of at least seven children born to laborer-turned-gardener Patrick A. Foxen (1851-1923) and his wife Elizabeth (née Jordan, 1852-1921), both Irish Catholic immigrants.2 Young Bill was educated in local public schools through the eighth grade,3 then matriculated to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City. By 1900, his education was completed and he was working as a clerk in a local dry goods store.4

Bill likely followed older brother Pat onto local sandlots and later claimed that he first garnered notice pitching as a freshman for St. Peter’s College (now University).5 As far as the writer has discovered, his name initially appeared in newsprint in 1902, pitching for the Tenafly Field Club, an amateur nine.6 Billy (as he was usually called in the New Jersey press)7 began his professional career the following year, signing with the Jersey City Skeeters of the Class A Eastern League.8 On May 31, 1903, he made an impressive debut, spacing nine hits while striking out five in a 5-2 victory over arch-rival Newark. But Jersey City, overstocked with more experienced arms and headed for a runaway 92-33 (.736) first-place finish, had no particular need of Foxen’s services. So after a mop-up relief appearance in a 20-4 romp over Rochester several days later, Skeeters manager Billy Murray optioned the prospect to the Brockton (MA) club of the Class B New England League.9 Shortly thereafter, the franchise relocated to New Bedford, where Foxen attracted attention with both good pitching and unruly behavior.

Unlike Jersey City, the New Bedford Whalers were a bad ball club and starved for pitching. A newspaper published in NEL-rival Fall River noted that the Whalers’ new southpaw was “a good pitcher with a fine assortment of curves, particularly a great drop.”10 A solid left-handed hitter, Foxen was sometimes stationed in right field. Beside first-rate breaking stuff and a slick pickoff move, another career-long attribute manifested itself in New Bedford: his temper and penchant for abusing umpires. In mid-August, vicious bench jockeying and other obnoxious antics by Foxen and teammates led to the forfeit of a game in Fall River. Thereafter, furious hometown fans set upon carriages trying to carry the New Bedford players away from the ball grounds, singling out the one containing Foxen and fellow hurler Connie Murphy for heavy pelting with stones and debris.11

Available New England League statistics do not include his won-lost record, but in early September the Fall River Globe observed that “Foxen has been worked pretty thoroughly by New Bedford since he joined them. The lefthander would have made a far better showing were he on a better team. Yet in spite of that his record with the Whalers has been a good one.”12 Jersey City recalled him in time for him to post an 11-3 victory over Buffalo in late September.13 He then bolstered his stock with Skeeters field boss Murray with a post-season three-hit, nine-strikeout whitewash of a semipro club from Hoboken.

History repeated itself in 1904. As he did the year before, Foxen began the season with Jersey City, made two early-season appearances for the Skeeters, and was then farmed out, this time to the Hartford Senators of the Class D Connecticut State League. There, he joined older brother Pat, a “giant” right-hander who had impressed observers with a preseason complete-game, five-hit, 2-1 triumph over Jersey City.14 Pat’s admirers included “Foxen’s brother who says Pat is a better pitcher than himself.”15 Bill’s inaugural effort with Hartford was a one-hit, seven-strikeout, 1-0 shutout victory over Bridgeport on May 18, and he soon assumed the role of staff workhorse. In that capacity, Bill pitched complete-game shutouts in both ends of a late July doubleheader against Meriden, striking out 14 enemy batters in the process.

Regrettably for the family, Foxen’s ascension in Hartford seems to have coincided with a sharp downturn in his brother’s fortunes with the club. In mid-July, Pat was released and returned home to Tenafly, where he attempted to restart his career by pitching for local clubs. One such outing ended in near tragedy. On the trip home along railroad tracks from a game in neighboring Englewood, Pat was struck by a late-night train. He survived the accident despite having both legs broken and suffering other injuries. But his pitching career was over.16

Meanwhile, Bill forged on in Hartford, where an unidentified Sporting Life correspondent declared him “the steadiest pitcher” in the Connecticut State League.17 Working for a sixth place (53-61, .465) club, Foxen won more than 20 games and led the circuit with 180 strikeouts while holding opposition hitters to a meager .204 batting average.18 As with the year before, Bill was recalled by Jersey City at season’s end and placed on the club’s reserve list for the 1905 season.19 Meanwhile, teenage brother Tom Foxen entered the lists, attracting press notice pitching for a Tenafly amateur club.20 Like his older siblings, right-handed Tom later went on to a professional career, starting with Jersey City but pitching primarily in the Class C Virginia State League.21

For a third consecutive year, Bill Foxen went to spring camp with Jersey City but was not retained by the club. Instead, he was returned to Hartford, where he got off to a blazing 17-5 start and was “regarded as the [now Class B] Connecticut State League’s premier twirler.” He had also garnered the interest of the majors, with New York Highlanders field boss Clark Griffith taking a particular interest in the left-hander.22 But both Foxen’s record and his disposition curdled as the season wore on. He won only four more games and drew the disdain of Hartford fans for “a childish exhibition” of spleen during a game against Meriden.23 Still, Foxen’s 21-14 final log24 was sufficient to warrant promotion and he was selected by the Providence Grays of the Eastern League in the post-season minor league player draft.25 Meanwhile, Jersey City still claimed option rights to the lefty and placed him on the club’s reserve list for 1906.26

Over the winter, the National Commission resolved the competing claims upon Foxen’s services in favor of Jersey City.27 The fourth time in the Skeeters’ spring camp proved the charm — he finally stuck with the club. Indeed, he blossomed into the best pitcher for the second-place (80-57, .584) Skeeters, leading the staff in wins (18) and innings pitched (261). He returned to Jersey City the following season, but the performance of both the left-hander and his ball club declined. The Skeeters slumped to a tie for fourth (67-66, .504) in the Eastern League’s final standings. Foxen was far worse, going an unsightly 8-18 (.308) in 33 appearances. But two of his ratios were good: innings pitched (237) to base hits allowed (176) and strikeouts (133) to walks (88). His season, however, ended prematurely when he was indefinitely suspended by Jersey City shortstop-manager Joe Bean for a post-game assault with a baseball bat upon umpire Bill Sullivan in late August.28

While Foxen sweated out further disciplinary action by Eastern League officials, his professional fortunes took a surprising upturn. Notwithstanding his superficially poor 1907 pitching record and his egregious late-season behavior, he was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies, now managed by his former Jersey City mentor Billy Murray.29 Although he publicly claimed to be much younger, Foxen was fast approaching his 29th birthday, old for a major league rookie. But now fully developed physically (officially listed at a shade under six feet and 165 pounds, but probably a bit bigger),30 he looked the part of a top-flight professional hurler.

On May 5, 1908, Bill Foxen made his major league debut against the New York Giants. Coming on for starter Lew Richie in the top of the fourth with his side already down, 4-0, Foxen threw five innings of scoreless relief, striking out three. He also enlivened the proceedings by hitting high-strung Mike Donlin twice, with the two needing to be separated by others following the second plunking. The Philadelphia Inquirer was suitably impressed with “the youngster’s performance [and] his undoubted gameness and ability to do good work when he was in a corner and obliged to work well.”31 Still, manager Murray did not see fit to give Foxen a start until late June. The result: a six-hit, seven-strikeout, 6-0 shutout of the Brooklyn Superbas. In his next three outings, he suffered hard-luck, one-run defeats. Used somewhat sparingly thereafter, Bill reeled off five consecutive victories, including a second whitewash, a 3-0 triumph over Cincinnati on July 31. But after that, he managed only one more victory.

By season’s end, Foxen had posted respectable numbers for the fourth-place (83-71, .539) Phillies. In 22 games, he went 7-7, with a sparkling 1.95 ERA in 147 1/3 innings pitched. He completed 10 of his 16 starts, striking out 52 while walking one more, and yielding a .240 batting average to enemy hitters. Although his work had at times been erratic, Philadelphia brass was satisfied with the left-hander and reserved him for the 1909 campaign.

Foxen began his sophomore season with Philadelphia strongly. He pitched well but lost his first start to the Boston Doves, 2-0. A week later, he turned the tables, tossing a five-hit shutout at the Doves, and punctuating the 4-0 outcome with the first Phillies-hit home run over the right field fence at the Baker Bowl since the 1906 season.32 On May 7, Foxen bested Brooklyn, 4-1, striking out eight. He then went five months without winning another game. But on the next-to-last day of the 1909 season, he defeated Boston, 7-1, throwing a complete-game six-hitter. That raised his season log to a disappointing 3-7 in 18 games. Nevertheless, pitching-thin Philadelphia reserved him for yet another season.33

Under new Phillies catcher-manager Red Dooin, Foxen was pretty much a pitching afterthought in 1910, used only as needed as a spot starter and mop-up reliever. He pitched decently, going 5-5 with a 2.55 ERA, but had only thrown 77 2/3 innings when unloaded to the Chicago Cubs in late July in exchange for budding first base prospect Fred Luderus.34 The trade turned out to be one of the most one-sided of the Deadball Era, as Luderus provided Philadelphia with a decade of yeoman service. Foxen, meanwhile, won the grand total of one game during his time in Chicago.

Joining a juggernaut club on the way to winning its third National League pennant in four seasons, Foxen saw even less action. In two-plus months, he made only two appearances for the Cubs, the second being a dismal three-inning relief stint in an 18-9 loss to the New York Giants in late August. He sat idle the remainder of the campaign and was strictly an observer during the ensuing World Series, captured by the Philadelphia A’s in five games.

Despite the late-season neglect, Chicago brought Foxen back in 1911. With two-inning relief help from staff ace Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown, Bill notched a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on April 25. It was the final win of his major league career. Ten days later, his time in Chicago concluded with a poor relief effort (three hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings pitched) against the same Reds. Shortly thereafter, he was sold to the last-place Atlanta Crackers of the Class A Southern Association.35

In 61 games spread across four major league seasons, Foxen went 16-20 (.444), with a commendable 2.56 ERA in 326 1/3 innings pitched. Over that span, he allowed only 283 base hits, good for a .244 OBA, decent for the Deadball Era. But his walks (140) to strikeouts (130) ratio was substandard. While this is speculative, he was likely hampered by not getting to the majors soon enough. He was already 29 during his rookie year with the Phillies, and had put a lot of innings on his pitching arm by then. Had he been given a shot in the big leagues earlier, when his fastball had some life, he might have had the more productive prime time career expected of him by admirers.

The sale to Atlanta placed Foxen at the starting line of a three-club Southern Association odyssey. He won his debut for the Crackers, 5-4, over Mobile on May 15. Two months later, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. After winning two of three starts for his new club, he was dealt to the Birmingham Barons for pitcher-shortstop Ivor Wagner and cash. At the conclusion of his SA sojourn, his record stood at 14-14 overall.36 He returned to Birmingham the following season, going a standout 19-9 (.679) and combining with right-hander Ray Boyd (23-11, .676) to lead the 88-63 (.583) Barons to the Southern Association crown.

Neither Foxen nor Birmingham could repeat the next year. The Barons slid to a third-place (74-64, .536) finish while his record dipped to 15-14 (.517) in 36 appearances.37 The disposition of the now 34-year-old, however, had not mellowed, as reflected in his ejection by SA umpires from three different games during one July week. During the off-season, Birmingham sold him to the Wilkes-Barre (PA) Barons of the Class B New York State League.38 But the lefty — either waiting on a hoped-for offer from the outlaw Federal League, dissatisfied with the likely pay cut that attended the assignment to Wilkes-Barre, or both — flatly refused to report to his new club. Wilkes-Barre thereupon rescinded the purchase and returned the rights to Foxen to Birmingham.39

Birmingham did not want him back and eventually worked out his sale to the Richmond Colts of the Class C Virginia League, to whom he reluctantly reported.40 In his final professional engagement, Foxen went 7-5 in 18 games before receiving his unconditional release from Richmond in late July.41 At age 35, his professional career had reached its end.

Foxen relocated to Brooklyn, where he found both employment and a wife, borough native Mary Scully, whom he married on October 19, 1915. In time, the couple had three boys: William (born 1917), Robert (1921), and Richard (1927). By 1918, Bill was working as an accountant for a Manhattan export-import firm. He later became the office manager for a midtown advertising concern. During the Great Depression, Foxen secured employment as an auditor for the federal Works Progress Administration. In his spare time, he tutored his boys in baseball, particularly eldest son Bill, a standout right-handed pitcher in high school.42

In early 1937, Foxen required treatment for various internal disorders, including nephritis (kidney disease). While an inpatient at Adelphi University Hospital in Brooklyn, he died from the effects of a peri-urethral abscess and underlying heart failure on April 17.43 William Aloysius Foxen was 57. After a High Requiem Mass was said at St. Saviour Church in Brooklyn, his remains were brought home for interment at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Tenafly. Survivors included widow Mary Scully Foxen; sons William, Robert, and Richard; his sisters Mary Sullivan, Julia Marshall, and Ella Hagen, and his brothers Pat and Tom Foxen.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Bill Johnson.

 

Sources

Sources for the biographical info imparted above include the Bill Foxen file with questionnaire maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; US Census and Foxen family data accessed via Ancestry.com; and certain of the newspaper articles cited in the endnotes. Unless otherwise specified, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.

 

Notes

1 Bill Foxen’s Sporting News salary contract card as well as certain older baseball reference works and generalized authority continue to embrace the Foxen-created fiction that he was born in 1884. But parish baptismal records irrefutably establish his birth year as 1879.

2 Our subject’s identifiable siblings were Edward (born 1874), Patrick, Jr. (1875), Mary (1876), Julia (1881), Ella (c.1883), and Thomas (1887). Both Pat and Tom Foxen became minor league pitchers.

3 According to Foxen himself in a 1912 interview. See “Bill Foxen Tells Age-Herald Readers His Real Name (i.e., William),” Birmingham (Alabama) Age-Herald, March 5, 1912: 7. Some three decades after Foxen’s death, a posthumously submitted questionnaire completed by his widow asserted that he had gone to Tenafly parochial schools. But the small populace and religious demographics of that community in the 1880s make it improbable that Tenafly had Catholic schools during Foxen’s childhood.

4 Per the 1900 US Census.

5 See “Bill Foxen Tells …,” Birmingham Age-Herald, March 5, 1912: 7. At the time, St. Peter’s Prep was an academic component of the adjoining college, both run by the Jesuit order. But given virtually non-existent playing eligibility rules, that does not mean that Foxen was enrolled as a student in either the prep or the college when Murray is said to have scouted him.

6 See the Jersey (Jersey City) Journal, August 27, 1902: 10. The Foxen mentioned in a June 1902 Jersey Journal as pitching for a Jersey City amateur club was likely older brother Pat, but that is only the writer’s best guess.

7 Including his obituary. See “Billy Foxen, Former Jersey, Interred,” Jersey Journal, April 20, 1937: 15.

8 See “Official Association News: Contracts,” Sporting Life, May 2, 1903: 5, Jersey City: W.A. Foxen.

9 As noted in “New England League News,” Sporting Life, June 6, 1903: 17.

10 “New England League,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Globe, July 16, 1903: 3.

11 See “Almost a Riot,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Evening News, August 17, 1903: 1.

12 “New England League,” Fall River Globe, September 9, 1903: 6. League fielding and batting stats indicate that Foxen appeared in 53 games (including 19 in the New Bedford outfield) and batted .229. New Bedford, meanwhile, went 46-63 (.422) and finished next-to-last in NEL final standings.

13 As reported in “Another Sweep for the Champions,” Jersey Journal, September 24, 1903: 3.

14 Per the Hartford Courant, April 25, 1904: 2, which exclaimed that “the Foxens are great pitchers,” equating Pat’s outing against Jersey City with an excellent preseason effort by brother Bill for the Skeeters against the New York Giants.

15 “Hartford Club Looks Very Well,” Meriden (Connecticut) Journal, April 19, 1904: 8.

16 See “Patrick Foxen Hit by Train,” Hackensack (New Jersey) Record, July 25, 1904: 1; “Pitcher Pat Foxen Both Legs Broken,” Meriden Journal, July 25, 1904: 8; “Connecticut League: News and Gossip,” Sporting Life, August 27, 1904: 24. The Hartford club later arranged a benefit game for Pat who recovered from his injuries to outlive his brother Bill by some 13 years.

17 See “Connecticut League: News and Gossip,” Sporting Life, August 27, 1904: 24.

18 Per the 1905 Reach Official Baseball Guide, 232, and Sporting Life, January 14, 1905: 10. Baseball-Reference provides no stats for Foxen in 1904 and the Reach Guide/Sporting Life data do not include win-loss records. But one circuit newspaper listed Foxen’s record as 22-19 and had him leading the CSL in pitching appearances in mid-September. See Fall River Globe, September 14, 1904: 3.

19 Per “Eastern League Reserve List,” Buffalo Evening News, September 28, 1904: 8. See also, Sporting Life, October 15, 1904: 16.

20 See e.g., Hackensack Record, September 13, 1904: 2.

21 Early reports on the youngest Foxen brother misidentified him as Jack Foxen. See e.g., “The 1909 Team,” Sporting Life, April 17, 1909: 15. The first name of Jersey City’s new hurler was corrected in the Jersey Journal, April 14, 1909: 9. Tom Foxen spent the 1909 through 1912 seasons pitching for the Portsmouth (Virginia) Truckers, but never was unable to rise above Class C minor league ball.

22 See “Griffith After Foxen,” Waterbury (Connecticut) Evening Democrat, June 20, 1905: 7. Foxen had impressed Griffith with a strong spring exhibition game outing against the Highlanders. The Pittsburgh Pirates were also reportedly interested in acquiring Foxen. See “National League News,” Sporting Life, July 22, 1905: 10.

23 Per the Waterbury Evening Democrat, August 15, 1905: 16.

24 Per the 1906 Reach Official Base Ball Guide, 301. Baseball-Reference provides no info regarding Foxen’s 1905 season.

25 See “Eastern League Events,” Sporting Life, November 11, 1905: 9.

26 As reported in “Eastern League Players,” Baltimore Sun, September 28, 1905: 9; “Eastern League Reserve List,” Buffalo Evening News, September 28; 1905: 8; and elsewhere.

27 See “Pitcher Foxen for Jersey City,” Meriden Journal, January 10, 1906: 8; “The Coming Battle,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, January 7, 1906: 2; “News Notes,” Sporting Life, January 6, 1906: 10.

28 See “Foxen Attacks Umpire with Baseball Bat,” Jersey Journal, August 29, 1907: 10; “Bat in Hand, Assaults Umpire,” Newark Evening Star, August 29, 1908: 10; “Foxen Attacks Umpire with Bat,” Trenton Evening Times, August 29, 1907: 13. Ironically, Foxen got way the worst of the fray, being quickly disarmed by Sullivan and then thoroughly battered by the enraged umpire until pulled off Foxen by third parties.

29 As reported in “The Recruits,” Sporting Life, September 7, 1907: 5; “Eastern League Men Go Up,” Jersey Journal, September 4, 1907: 15; “National League,’ Washington Evening Star, September 2, 1907: 15; and elsewhere. Once Foxen was owned by the Phillies, Eastern League president Pat Powers dropped taking further disciplinary action against him.

30 Baseball-Reference and other modern authority list Foxen as 5’11” or 5’11½”/165 lb., the latter proportions provided by his widow in the posthumous questionnaire on file at the GRC. But a contemporary news account described him as “quite a hefty man, standing 5 feet 11¾ and weighing 199 pounds.” See again, “Bill Foxen Tells …,” Birmingham Age-Herald, March 5, 1912: 7.

31 “Phillies Draw Blank in Gotham,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 6, 1908: 6.

32 See “Boston Failed To Score on Foxen,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 1909: 6. The blast earned Foxen temporary possession of the locally-coveted Grady Cup.

33 Per “Chipped Diamonds,” Providence Evening Bulletin, September 29, 1909: 17.

34 As reported in “Cubs Trade Luderus,” Rockford (Illinois) Republic, July 30, 1910: 3; “Foxen Goes to Cubs,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times, July 30, 1910: 13; “Cubs Get Southpaw,” Denver Post, July 31, 1910: 25; and elsewhere.

35 As reported in “Foxen Released to Atlanta,” Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press, May 8, 1911: 28; “Foxen to the Minors,” Trenton Evening Times, May 9, 1911: 12; and elsewhere.

36 Per the 1913 Reach Official Base Ball Guide, 294. Baseball-Reference has no pitching numbers for Foxen’s 1912 tour of the Southern Association.

37 Per Southern Association stats published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 1914: 10, and the 1914 Reach Official Base Ball Guide, 276.

38 As reported in “Foxen To Pitch for Barons,” Wilkes-Barre Times, January 1, 1914: 9; “New York State League Gets Foxen,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, December 23, 1913: 7; “Southpaw Bill Foxen Released to Wilkes-Barre by Molesworth,” Birmingham Age-Herald, December 20, 1913: 9.

39 See “Southern League News,” Sporting Life, April 18, 1914: 1.

40 As subsequently reported in “Baron Stars of Other Days,” Birmingham (Alabama) News, June 14, 1915: 5.

41 Per “Pitcher Foxen Released,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 26, 1914: 8.

42 As noted in “Last Strike Called!” the Foxen obituary published in the Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1937: 22.

43 According to the abstract of New York City death records contained in the Bill Foxen file at the GRC.

Full Name

William Aloysius Foxen

Born

May 31, 1879 at Tenafly, NJ (USA)

Died

April 17, 1937 at Brooklyn, NY (USA)

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