This article was written by James Elfers
Francis Isaiah “Monkey” Foreman’s life began and ended in Baltimore, Maryland. In between he played virtually everywhere in the Northeast and Midwest and seemingly forever. He was one of 19 men who played in four major leagues: the Union Association, the American Association, the National League, and the inaugural seasons of the American League. His minor-league career took him through seven leagues, primarily in the East and Midwest.
Known throughout his career as a comedian, Foreman may not have had the temperament for
umpiring in the major leagues, a task he performed briefly on the major-league level in the twilight of his big-league career. He looked like the stereotypical 19th-century baseball player as he wore a well-maintained handlebar mustache which, at least according to Hollywood, was de rigueur for the day. He stood an even 6 feet tall and weighed 169 pounds. Fulfilling another stereotype of left-handed hurlers, Foreman was something of a flake and was always good for a joke or a laugh. His nickname came from one of his favorite on-field impersonations. So well did he impersonate a simian that Sporting Life was led to comment, “Frank Foreman should dispose of his inimitable impersonations. His portraiture of the monkey has a tendency to strengthen the Darwinian Theory.”1
Frank’s younger brother, John Davis “Brownie” Foreman, followed him to both the major leagues and the umpiring ranks. His father, George Washington Foreman, was born in 1837 and worked as a steamfitter, cotton mill worker, and engineer. His mother, Anne Elizabeth, was born in either 1841 or 1843. According to a distant cousin of the family, Suzanne De Vier, and Ancestry.com, there were three children in the family. Frank had an older brother, Joseph E. Foreman, born around 1860, who was employed as a machinist – the very same work that Frank sometimes engaged in when not playing ball. There was also a sister, Ella May, born in 1881.
Born during the Civil War, on May 1, 1863, Frank grew up in the Woodbury section of Baltimore. He and John, 12 years younger, grew up playing on the city’s lots where both boys distinguished themselves. Frank played for the local nine, the Woodbury Baseball Team. Though he tried all the positions, it soon became clear that pitching was his forte. A teammate and friend described a game from 1882 or 1883: “I think the last game I played with him was on the Huntingdon grounds against the pastime club. … Foreman struck out 16 men in that game.”2
Around this time Frank married a local girl, Annie Bates Barton. Like him, she was of English extraction on both sides of her family.3 The marriage lasted until Annie Foreman died in 1950. At the age of 21 he became a professional when he joined the Chicago/Pittsburg franchise of the upstart Union Association. The Union Association was the brainchild of Henry V. Lucas, a St. Louis railroad millionaire. Lucas went to war with the established National League and American Association and those leagues’ oft-opposed reserve clause. He attempted to lure big names to the new venture but was largely unsuccessful. Baseball historian Bill James maintains that, in retrospect, the UA should not be considered a major league. He notes that not even the Spalding Guide of 1885 considered the UA among the major leagues of the previous season. Of all the players of UA only about 40— including Foreman—had any sort of career after 1884. Illustrating James’s point is the league’s tendency for signing greenhorn players such as Frank Foreman.4
The Union Association was a woefully organized league. The strongest and only talented team was Lucas’s own St. Louis Maroons. Every other team in the league was a decided also-ran. The Chicago and Baltimore franchises were both owned by A.H. Henderson, a Baltimore mattress manufacturer. Foreman parlayed the Baltimore connection he shared with the team’s owner to land his contract with the Chicago Browns. Thus it was that he made what is considered his major-league debut on May 15, 1884.
Illustrating that perhaps Foreman was too green for even this maiden league, he had a thoroughly mediocre 1-2 pitching record with a 4.50 earned-run average. Mediocrity would be the hallmark of Foreman’s career: He ended his tour of the major leagues with a 96-93 record.
Not a lot of people saw Foreman pitch in Chicago. Because the UA was noncompetitive, the National League White Stockings easily outdrew the Chicago Browns and forced them to relocate from the Windy City to the Smoky City in August. Once in Pittsburg, the Browns were renamed the Stogies.
Demonstrating the fly-by-night nature of the Union Association, Foreman next played with a second franchise that was part of the UA’s musical-chairs season. Dropped by the Browns, he ended up with the Kansas City Cowboys. Until June 1 the Cowboys’ spot in the Union Association’s standings had been occupied by the Altoona, Pennsylvania, Mountain City. After compiling a 6-19 record Altoona, the smallest city to ever host a major-league franchise, folded and was replaced by the Kansas City Cowboys, who became the city’s first major-league team.
Foreman was either given his outright release or traded to Kansas City. In any event he was on the mound for Kansas City on June 19 when they appeared in Chicago. He pitched for his new team against his old teammates and was completely ineffective in a 7–1 loss. Dropped after the one game, Foreman returned to Baltimore, but not for long. Within days he had journeyed to nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he joined the Ironsides of the Eastern League. Piecing together how good a player he was is difficult because the league’s statistics are incomplete. Playing primarily in the outfield, Foreman was also given a chance to pitch. He started 15 games, completed 14, and had a 5-9 record in 120? innings with an ERA of 2.24. Not bad at all for a 21-year-old rookie. But Foreman’s actual statistics may be quite different due to the incompleteness of the statistics.
After wintering in Baltimore, Foreman found work in the 1885 season with the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association. Before he was dropped in late June, he had his first winning season, 2-1 with a 6.00 ERA. He also put in a two-game appearance with the Newark Domestics of the Eastern League. He acted strictly as an outfielder and got just seven at-bats. After the season Foreman managed and served as an instructor at a roller rink. (1885 was a banner year for roller skating. In 1884 ball bearings had been added to roller skates, creating the modern roller skate. For the first time virtually everyone could skate with minimal effort or athleticism. This kicked off a worldwide craze for four-wheeled relaxation. Rinks popped up everywhere from the smallest country hamlets to the largest cities. Foreman got in on the ground floor and profited handsomely.5)
Foreman claimed that skating kept him in shape but by 1887 the fad had abated somewhat and Foreman sought work again in baseball. He played for both the Mansfield and Columbus Buckeyes in the Ohio State League. He appeared in eight games, seven as a pitcher. According to baseball-reference.com, he won one game for each team and lost three for Mansfield and one for Columbus. At home in 1888 he was scouted by fellow Baltimore resident Thomas York, manager of the Albany (New York) Governors of the International Association, and easily landed a position on the team. Foreman’s appearance with Albany, if the statistics are to be believed, was one for the ages. He appeared in 42 games in the outfield and 39 on the mound (he probably played in the field on some days on which he also pitched). He went 9-24 with a 2.96 ERA on a truly terrible team. The team went 18-87, meaning that Foreman won half of his team’s games! His batting, on the other hand, was an abysmal .199. His workhorse heroics must have appealed to the Orioles, who needed pitching, so in 1889 Foreman was back with the team. He had turned down several offers from teams in both the American Association and the National League to play in his hometown.
In a remarkable turnaround, 1889 was be one of the finest seasons Foreman ever had. As part of the Orioles’ rotation he pitched 414 innings, won 23 games and lost 21 with an ERA of 3.52. Demonstrating a knack for wildness, Foreman led the league with 40 hit batsmen and walked 137. He started 48 games and completed 43. His wildness caused Sporting Life to assert, “Frank Foreman is not quite up to the standard of Association pitchers”6 – a characterization that neatly summarized his entire career.
In March 1890 Foreman’s contract was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. One negative was that it took him away from his batterymate, Tom Quinn, probably the most effective catcher Foreman had ever been teamed with. Sporting Life noted: “Foreman is most effective when Quinn catches him.”7
Before agreeing to the contract with the Reds, Foreman passed up a chance to join with disgruntled players who were moving to the upstart Players League. He flirted with an offer from the Philadelphia team, going so far as to accepting an $800 advance from the Athletics. Only personal intervention from the Reds president kept him in the National League.8 The final destination of the Athletics advance is lost to history.
In Cincinnati Foreman stayed with his young family in a boarding house only a few blocks from the boarding house where team manager Tom Loftus and several teammates roomed. The Queen City was the only other place besides Baltimore where Foreman lived for any length of time.
He was not entirely happy with the Reds. He really missed Tom Quinn. “Frank Foreman would like to go back to Baltimore for the sake of having Tommy Quinn catch him. He says, ‘Unless a pitcher is receiving co-operative assistance from his catcher he suffers from a terrible handicap.’” 9 The loss of Quinn resulted in a severe dropoff in his skills. His final results for the season were a 13-10 record with a 3.95 ERA. Despite his gripes about missing Tommy Quinn, Foreman had a pretty good first season in the National League. While he racked up more walks and fewer strikeouts, the competition was tougher. He started 24 games and completed 23 of them, something for anyone to be proud of.
Once the season was over, Foreman found himself in a low-stress job, no doubt set up by the Reds. He worked in Stern’s Clothing store for $80 a month. Alluding to possible family troubles, Sporting Life mentioned that “Frank Foreman’s family have gone to Baltimore and Foreman would not mind getting back there himself. He seems imbued with the idea that his room in Cincinnati is preferred to his company.”10 As it turned out he spent most of the offseason in Cincinnati apart from his family. Eventually he did return east, finding work as a machinist in Woodbury.
Desperate to return to the baseball in the Baltimore area, Foreman jumped his contract with the Reds to sign for $300 a season less to play with Washington of the American Association. His 1891 season with Washington was a bit of a step down from Cincinnati. He won18 games and lost 20 with a 4.34 ERA, pitching 345? innings. Like other pitchers he had to adjust to a new longer pitching distance of 60 feet 6 inches, an increase of 10½ feet. The increased distance and his extensive pitching took a toll on Foreman’s arm, however, and he complained of arm trouble throughout the following season.
Evidence of arm trouble is seen in his statistics. Completely ineffective in 1892, he appeared in only 11 games for Washington, now in the National League, winning two and losing four before he was traded to Baltimore (then in the National League), for whom he pitched in four games and lost three without a win. He also played five games in the outfield for Baltimore. He ended the season with Buffalo of the Eastern League strictly as an outfielder and hit .267.
Foreman kept himself in baseball shape. On May 13, 1893, Sporting Life reported, “Pitcher Frank Foreman says this is the first year since 1890 that he has not had a sore arm. He practices at Union Park in Baltimore every day.”11 The paper also said he would be given a trial by the Giants. Foreman was quite full of himself in 1893: “Pitcher Foreman who is free to sign with any club writes from Woodbury, Baltimore, that he is in the best condition. Far better, in fact, than at any time last season. He thinks he could hold his own against all comers in the big leagues this season.”12
Foreman did in fact end up with the Giants in 1893, for two games with a record of 1-0 but a nightmarish ERA of 27.00. When not working on his pitching, Foreman once again managed his skating rink. He was out of Organized Baseball completely in 1894 as his arm was completely useless. In 1895 he recovered enough to turn in an 11-14 record with a 4.11 ERA for eighth-place Cincinnati. He batted.309 with seven doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBIs. Despite his sore arm, this season may have been his best. His earned-run average was the best on the Reds’ pitching staff.
After the season Foreman found a novel way to keep himself in shape. Already an adept roller skater, he added ice skating to his résumé. The brand-new North Avenue Rink was a wonder of 19th-century technology. Wrote the Baltimore Sun: “The building is of brick with a graystone front and iron roof, and is 75 feet by 300 feet. The skating surface is 55 feet by 250 feet on a foundation resting solidly on the ground. Seven consecutive floors were laid with interlinings of waterproof paper and wool. On this foundation is built a seamless pan, which contains the artificially frozen ice for skating. Over three and one-half miles of one and one-half inch pipe are laid throughout the pan. This is covered by four inches of water, which is frozen solid to 100 tons of ice in 37 hours.” 13 The day the Sun ran this article the rink hosted the first ice hockey game played in the US on an artificial surface when players from Johns Hopkins University challenged the Baltimore Athletic Club to a match.
The 1896 season in Cincinnati was a turnaround. Either Reds coach Buck Elwood or Denver’s coach McGlone (sources vary) developed an exercise regime that was credited with bringing Foreman “back to life again.” 14
The process hardly seems revolutionary. Foreman described it thusly: “Just take and rub your arm in a brisk manner. Then let cold water run on it for fifteen or twenty minutes, hold it under the hydrant. Then give it another good rub and that will help it.”15
However primitive the treatment seems today, there is no doubt that it worked wonders. In 1896 Foreman had perhaps his best major-league season so far: 14-7 with a 3.97 ERA. He appeared in 27 games, started 22 and completed 17. The Reds were much improved, especially on the mound. The third-place team’s ERA was 3.67, second best in the league. (Younger brother Brownie was briefly a teammate. He appeared in four games, winning one and losing three. It marked the end of his abbreviated playing career.)
For his efforts Frank thought he deserved a big pay raise, but the Reds thought differently. At the close of the season he remained the only unsigned Red, and in 1897 he was with the
Indianapolis Indians of the Western League. There Foreman put together the two best seasons of his professional career. The Reds must have kicked themselves when they saw the Western League box scores. In 43 games in 1897 Foreman went 30-9 in 332 innings with a 1.87 ERA. The next season, 1898, was a bit of a drop-off but still impressive, especially since Foreman was now 35 years old. He won 24 games and lost 11. In both seasons he also played the outfield, batting .225 and .231. After those seasons Baltimore and Louisville, among other teams, wanted Foreman but couldn’t land him. The main problem was the contract he had signed with John T. Brush, owner of the Indians. No one wanted to pay Brush the money to buy out his contract.
In protest, Foreman sat out the entire 1899 season. He worked at the skating rink and hung out with the legendarily rowdy Orioles. He was part of the circle of high-living, hard-partying Birds including Wilbert Robinson, Ned Hanlon, and John McGraw. He was a regular at Robinson’s bowling alley. (Late in life Foreman claimed to have been the first man to bowl 200 in a duckpin game.)
After Foreman refused to report to Indianapolis for spring training in 1900, the Indians’ manager, Bill Watkins, dropped him from the team. Watkins was convinced that Foreman was through. Foreman proceeded to sign with the Springfield, Massachusetts, Eastern League team on May 1. He was released on July 8. (League records are incomplete and his statistics have not been unearthed.) Within a few days the 37-year-old had signed with Buffalo of the nascent American League.
Not yet a major league, Ban Johnson’s brainchild was marking time until it emerged to challenge the monopoly of the National League. Foreman seemed to have found a home by Lake Erie. His pitching did not go so well; he won seven and lost six with a 5.38 ERA. The Lake Erie nine finished seventh in the eight-team league. There was talk of Foreman’s taking over as manager in 1901, but Ban Johnson dumped Buffalo in favor of placing a team in Boston. It was from the Bisons that the nucleus of the Boston Americans was drawn.
The lure of managing was too much to resist, so in the offseason Foreman began a stint as coach for Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. There he coached a local boy, Eddie Plank. Foreman is said to have told the youngster, “If you follow my instructions closely I’ll make you one of the greatest southpaws in the country.” 16 Foreman recommended Plank to Connie Mack. With the Athletics Plank became a starter in 1901 and was the first left-hander to win 300 games. In 1946 he was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Plank always credited Foreman for his major-league career.
Foreman was still not through with baseball. On April 27, 1901, he signed with the Boston Americans. He appeared in exactly one game for the Americans. He pitched in Washington on May 3, 1901, going the distance in a losing effort. He surrendered eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks. Not surprisingly, on May 16 Foreman was dropped from the roster. His outing on the mound, as bad as it was, did indeed count as an official appearance in his fourth major league. While 18 other men share this distinction, few have had as odd a trajectory as Foreman. At the age of 38 he gave no thought to hanging up his spikes. He was nothing if not persistent and stubborn. He signed with the Orioles on June 16, determined to show that perhaps Boston had given up on him too soon. Pitching like a man much younger, Foreman became a part of the Orioles’ rotation and put together a solid season. He went 12-6, with an ERA of 3.67, a hair above the league ERA of 3.66. Proving that he was still a workhorse, he started 22 games and completed 18. In 1901, at least, Father Time had been defeated.
If this were fiction, the 1901 season would have been Foreman’s last – a final hurrah worthy of the dime novels of the day. But as the 1902 season began, Foreman’s 40-year-old body and arm were once again a part of the Orioles. This season Father Time had the upper hand. As the second oldest player in the American League, he went the distance in two games but lost both. His ERA at 6.06 was almost doubled from 1901. Sporting Life covered Foreman’s dismissal by John McGraw in its May 24 issue.17
Still feeling that he had something to offer baseball, Foreman spent the rest of 1902 bouncing between three teams in two leagues. In rapid succession he played for and was released by Omaha, Colorado Springs, both of the Western League, and Kansas City of the American Association, the city where he had played in his rookie season 18 years previously. After this Foreman could no longer deny that his day had passed.
Having had experience as a fill-in major-league umpire in 1895 and 1901, Foreman spent 1903 trying to hack it as a professional umpire. It was not necessarily the best fit. Umpiring has always been a thankless job, even more so at the turn of the 20th Century. Foreman may have been too gregarious for umpiring. He started out in the American Association, just a rung below the majors. His name dots the box scores of Sporting Life throughout the 1903 season. He was regarded as a fairly good umpire by the publication even though he did not always maintain a cool head, calling the police in at one point in a game to restore order.
In 1904 Foreman was making noises about pitching again. In April Sporting Life reported, “Frank Foreman persists in declaring that he can still pitch, and he is trying himself out with the Baltimore Eastern Leaguers.”18
In May the journal had the following one-line notice: “Frank Foreman, the veteran pitcher, has signed with the Roxborough (Pa.) Independent club.”19 Roxborough is a prosperous suburb of Philadelphia, close enough to Baltimore to go home on offdays. Foreman’s last two years in baseball were by far the saddest part of his long story. By 1905 he was playing for anyone who would have him. He ended up with Holyoke in the Massachusetts amateur leagues. He did about as well as one might expect a 42-year-old to do, and he was cut from the team. Yet this was still not the end. Having been cut by Holyoke he was signed by the Meriden Silverites of the Connecticut State League. Amazingly, Foreman had worked his way back into Organized Baseball, just barely. The Connecticut State League was a Class B league, equivalent to the very low minors today. He was abysmal, going 4-10 primarily against players young enough to be his sons. At this point even Foreman had to admit that it was over.
His final major-league totals after 11 years of service stood at 96-93 with a 3.97 ERA. His lifetime batting average stood at .224 with nine home runs.
For the next few years Foreman kept himself in the game by scouting for various teams, though he never made a discovery on a par with Eddie Plank. (Foreman’s sons, Elmer E. and J. Barton Foreman, both pitchers like their dad, also pursued baseball careers. Neither reached the major leagues. By 1910 Elmer had made it as high as Reading in Class A ball. J. Barton Foreman signed with Jacksonville of the South Atlantic League in 1911.)20
In retirement at last, Foreman returned to Baltimore and held several jobs. At various times he ran ice-skating and roller rinks. Like many former ballplayers of his era he owned a billiard hall. Foreman ran the Fayette pocket billiard parlor on 223 West Fayette Street, not far from where he played ball as a youngster. He resided at 1410 Union Avenue, where in 1945 he and Annie celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. Although the census recorded Foreman’s occupation from 1900 through 1930 as machinist or clerk, his obituary makes no mention of these jobs. Instead it focused upon his career in ice and roller rinks. Aside from their sons, Frank and Annie had two daughters, Helen and Frances.
Foreman was the oldest living major leaguer in 1957. He was 94 when he died on November 19 of that yer. He had been ill for 18 months. During that time he gave interviews to various reporters about his career and long life. He told The Sporting News in an interview that it included in his obituary the following tall tale: “A faint heart is one of the big causes of sore arms. In the old days we were ready to pitch every day. I never had a sore arm.”21
Foreman is buried in St. Mary’s Episcopal Cemetery, in the same neighborhood where he was born.
This biography can be found in “New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans” (SABR, 2013), edited by Bill Nowlin. To order the book, click here.
1 Sporting Life June 22, 1895 6.
2 Unattributed press clipping from Foreman’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
3 Letter to Lee Allen from Ted Baldwin in Foreman’s Hall of Fame file.
4 James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. (New York: The Free Press, 2001).
5 For a look at roller skating in the 1880s see: http://www.suite101.com/content/shall-we-rinkulate-a124550
6 Sporting Life, April 3, 1890, 4.
7 Sporting Life, July 3, 1889, 3.
8 Press clipping from Foreman’s Hall of Fame player file
9 Sporting Life, January 24, 1891, 3.
10 Sporting Life, December 31, 1891, 6.
11 Sporting Life, May 13, 1893, 2.
12 Sporting Life, February 15, 1893, 6.
13 Baltimore Sun, December 27, 1894, quoted at http://scottywazz.blogspot.com/2010/01/baltimore-hockey-history-first.html
14 Sporting Life, December 28, 1895, 6.
15 Press clipping dated 12-27-1895 in Foreman’s Hall Of Fame player file.
16 “Veteran Plank Bids Game Farewell,” undated press clipping in Foreman’s Hall of Fame player file.
17 Sporting Life, May 24, 1902, 7.
18 Sporting Life, April 30, 1904, 13.
19 Sporting Life, May 21 1904, 3.
20 This information is gleaned from reports in Sporting Life.
21 The Sporting News, November 27, 1957, 46.