Here’s To Leo Foster And Old-school Ball

by Kevin Burton

   Gonna tell you everything I know about Leo Foster, then I’ll tell you why.

   Foster was a utility infielder who played parts of five seasons for the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets between 1971 and 1976.  He hit .198 in 262 at bats. He had two home runs and 26 runs batted in.

   He spent a lot more time toiling in the minor leagues than he did in the bigs. Even in the minors he appeared in more than 100 games in a season just once, in 1973 with Richmond.

   He was one obscure dude.

   One day, it must have been in 1975, I was listening to baseball on the radio and did not know who was playing.  They kept mentioning a player named Foster. I knew it wasn’t my hometown team the Reds and that the announcer wasn’t talking about George Foster, the Reds’ big slugger. 

   I figured it must be Leo Foster and what I was hearing was a Braves game.  Foster appeared in 72 games for the 1974 Braves, just enough that The Topps company made a baseball card featuring him. 

    Obscure or not Foster was someone I knew about because I made it my business to know all the major league players and some of the minor leaguers too.

   I did this by studying baseball cards, listening to as many games as I could find and devouring The Sporting News and all things baseball in the Dayton Daily News.

   How times have changed.

   Spin it all forward to Tuesday night. The American League Wild Card game was about to begin and I realized I could not name any of the Boston players. Not one. 

   Once the game got started my memory was refreshed. Oh yeah, Xander Bogaerts. I’ve heard of him. 

   Baseball has fallen off my radar just about completely. 

   I had a hard time finding a radio station that was carrying the Yankees/Red Sox game too.  That would have never happened in the old days.

   Baseball just isn’t as interesting these days. The game has devolved into home runs and strikeouts and not much else. It’s all about launch angle, and nobody knows how to bunt. 

   My favorite player right now is Whit Merrifield of the Royals.   He’s an old-school player. He steals bases, does the little things it takes to win.  He approaches his at-bats based on the game situations.

   But the sport is so unappetizing to me right now that I just had to look up the spelling of my favorite player’s first name.  It’s one T, not two.

   According to the Associated Press, baseball attendance was just 45.3 million this year, down from 68.5 million in 2019, the most recent full season.  That’s a more than 33-percent decline.

   A part of me wants to love baseball again.  This post-season isn’t helping. 

   My Royals and Reds each got a first-round bye in the playoffs this year. Based on their respective regular seasons they have advanced straight through to the 2022 season. No waiting involved.

   And there is no team left in the post-season that makes me want to jump on their bandwagon.  I was counting on San Diego to be that team.  But they imploded late in the season (and their manager got fired Wednesday).

   So I’m left rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that didn’t exist when Leo Foster was playing. Wake me up when Wichita State basketball starts.

   I wonder what Foster thinks of modern baseball. He’s 70 now. I bet he shakes his head when/if he watches.  

   Here’s something I didn’t know about Foster until this week: He had one of the worst major league debuts imaginable.  Got this from Wikipedia:

    Foster was “playing his first game for the Braves against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium on July 9, 1971. Fielding at shortstop, he commits an error on the first ball hit to him. After flying out in the 3rd inning, Foster hits into a double play in the 5th inning, followed by hitting into a triple play in the 7th inning.”

  But he persevered, playing mostly minor league ball and with the Braves and Mets, who at the time were not much better than minor-league.

   A career highlight? He did drive in 15 runs for the 1976 Mets in only 59 at-bats.  Made the most of his opportunities.

   He wasn’t a great player, but he played a great game in its golden era.  He’s famous, at least in my household.

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