Friday, August 24, 2012

#420 - Ray Fosse

Ray Fosse revives the action shot as he appears to be adjusting his facemask before one of those typically overflowing crowds in Texas (thanks Jim). It is fitting that Ray’s photo was taken in the field because in ’73 Ray led the AL in picking off attempted base stealers, which he did at a 56% clip. It was his first season in his new home after his trade from the Indians (boy, that must have felt good), so it was nice he could contribute as a league leader. He did better in that area in the post-season as in the AL Playoffs he threw out four of five. ’73 would also represent the most catching work Ray ever got up top as he was a magnet for odd injuries. If Pete Rose didn’t nail him and wreck his shoulder in that All-Star game, it is very likely that one of the other odd instances that befell him would have done as much damage.

Ray Fosse was born and raised in Marion, Illinois, where his nickname was The Marion Mule because he was tough and adept at playing through injuries. He was a fullback in football and a forward in hoops and in baseball hit nearly .500 during his three-year varsity career. His senior year of ’65 he was Cleveland’s first ever draft pick and that summer got off to a rough pro start, hitting .219 in Double A ball. In ’66 he moved down to A ball where he hit .304 in a full season though with only one homer. In both ’67 and ’68 he would put in some military time so his seasons got truncated but both years he hit well at Triple A Portland and made significant improvements defensively. In ’68 he hit .301 with nine homers in what would be his final season in the minors.

Fosse got a couple short looks in Cleveland in both ’67 and ’68 before in ’69 making the opening roster out of training camp. After the trade of former number one guy Joe Azcue in April, Ray took the number two spot behind Duke Simms and was getting a decent workload when he broke a finger that June and was on the shelf until September, pretty much killing his season. Pitchers loved Ray because besides his playing ability he was very generous in boosting their spirits when they were in a jam. Even Sam McDowell loved him and Sam shook off nearly every sign Ray gave him (mostly because manager Al Dark was really calling them). In ’70 Ray got bumped in front of Simms as the number one guy behind the plate and had a pretty amazing first half: .316 with 16 homers and 45 RBI’s. And he did that despite some idiot at Yankee Stadium throwing a cherry bomb at his head during a game. Then came the All-Star selection and the Pete Rose collision and a .297, 2 homer, 16 RBI second half of the season. The shoulder separation and fracture wasn’t even diagnosed until the next season which probably worsened the damage. Finally, to add injury to injury, he fractured a finger that September for the third time in as many seasons. He did, though, win the first of his two successive Gold Gloves. That winter he played ball in Venezuela and was involved in something much worse than an injury when he had to save a teammate caught in a rip tide on an off day at the beach. Another teammate was killed in the same tide. After his Job-like experiences during the second half of ’70 the shoulder injury was finally diagnosed and he went on to have a very nice season though his power never recovered to its level from the first half of the prior year. Ray was voted starting catcher on the All-Star team but had to miss it because he was – guess what – injured, this time from a brawl initiated by a pitch thrown at his head. After a disappointing offensive year in ’72 he went to Oakland with Jack Heidemann for Dave Duncan and George Hendrick.

1973 would end up being by far Fosse’s best year in Oakland. In ’74 he missed about half the season after getting hurt breaking up the big locker room fight between Reggie Jackson and Billy North. He returned to put up a .333 average in the AL playoffs, though. Then in ’75 he played even less as Gene Tenace took over the primary catching role so Joe Rudi could play first and Claudell Washington could get starting outfield time. Both seasons he also had a tough time behind the plate as his percentage of nailing base runners was pretty far below league average. After the ’75 season he went back to Cleveland in a sale and promptly got hurt when Jim Rice stepped on his throwing hand in April. But this time when Ray returned he did well offensively, upping his average to .301 in nearly as many plate appearances as in the prior two combined seasons. Then in ’77 he split starting time with new acquiree Fred Kendall – Jason’s dad – and hit .265 before being traded to Seattle that September for pitcher Bill Laxton. For the Mariners Ray hit .353 the rest of the way. Prior to the ’78 season he signed as a free agent with the Brewers but that spring went down with a debilitating leg injury after he stepped in a hole running to first. He missed the whole season and then got into only 19 games in ’79 and those were his final games. Ray finished with a .256 average with 61 homers and 324 RBI’s. In the post-season he hit .172 with two homers and seven RBI’s in 22 games. For his career he threw out 40% of attempted base stealers against a league average of 38%.

In 1980 Fosse began working with a media company making instructional videos about baseball. A couple years later he hooked up with Oakland in various admin roles. Then in ’86 he began announcing for the team which he still does on both TV and radio.

Ray’s star bullets are all All-Star stuff. The real estate bit didn’t become a career but probably helped for his first couple gigs in Oakland which were in sales.

To complete this cross-league battery we use lots of hair:

1. Fosse and George Hendrick ’76 Indians;
2. Hendrick and Oscar Gamble ’73 to ’75 Indians;
3. Gamble and Wayne Twitchell ’71 to ’72 Phillies.

1 comment:

  1. Bluse seats and red railing do not belong to Oakland; looks more like Arlington.