Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Andrew "Rube" Foster

The Philadelphia Giants (yes the name "Giants" was a very popular name for Negro ball clubs), owned by Walter Schlicter, a white businessman, rose to prominece in 1903 when they lost to the Cuban X-Giants in their version of the "Colored Championship."  Leading the way for the Cubans was a young pitcher named Andrew "Rube" Foster. 

The following season, Schlichter, in the finest black baseball tradition, hired Foster away from the Cubans, and beat them in their 1904 rematch. Philadelphia remained on top of the black baseball world until Foster left the team in 1907 to play and manage the Leland Giants (Frank Leland renamed his Chicago Union Giants the Leland Giants in 1905).

Around the same time, Nat Strong, a white businessman, started using his ownership of baseball fields in the New York City area to become the leading promotoer of black baseball on the East coast. Just about any game played in New York, Strong would get a cut of the gate. Strong eventually used his leverage to almost put the Brooklyn Royal Giants out of business, and then he bought the club and turned it into a barnstorming team.

When (Rube) Foster joined the Leland Giants, he demanded that he be put in charge of not only the on-field activities, but the bookings as well.  Foster immediately turned the Giants into the team to beat. He indoctrinated them to take the extra base, to play hit and run on nearly every pitch, and to rattle the opposing pitcher by taking them deep into the count.  He studied the mechanics of his pitches and could spot the smallest flaw, turning his average pitchers  into learned craftsmen.  If that wasn't enough, Foster was also able to turn around the business end of the team by demanding and getting 40% of the gate versus the 10% that Frank Leland was getting.

As early as 1910, Foster started talking about reviving the concept of an all-black league. The one thing he was insistent upon was that black teams be owned by blacks.  This put him in direct competition with Nat Strong.  After 1912, Foster renamed his team the Chicago American Giants to appeal to a larger fan base.  During the same year, J.L. Wilkinson started the All Nations traveling team.  The All Nation team would eventually become one of the best-known and popular teams of the Negro Leagues, the Kansas City Monarchs.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I.  By the end of the war in 1919, Foster was ready to start a Negro baseball league.

On February 13-14, 1920, talks were held in Kansas City, Missouri that established the Negro National League and its governing body the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs.  Foster was named the league president.  He controlled every aspect of the league, including which players played on which teams, when and where teams played, and what equipment was used (all of which had to be purchased from Rube himself).  As a booking agent of the league he took a 5% cut of all gate receipts.

You could say, and I am, that Andrew "Rube" Foster was a good businessman and a tyrannical person.  Much the same way some of the major league owners were back during this day and age. Although he may have been overbearing in his demands and appeared (to those whose perspective may have been on the outside looking in)  Andrew "Rube" Foster was known to have helped those out who couldn't make payroll because they were losing money.

A gas leak in his home nearly asphyxiated Rube Foster in 1926, but the toxic intake caused him to behave in an erratic manner.  In time he had to be committed to an asylum.

Foster died in 1930, never having recovered his sanity.  A year later the league he had founded disbanded.

(thanks to Wikipedia and inspiration from Rob Ruck's book, How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game.)

Kevin J. Marquez