Bill Foster

Bill Foster

Negro League Emuseum

William Hendrick Foster (Willie)

  • Bats Both, Throws Left
  • Height 6' 1", Weight 195 lb.
  • Born June 12, 1904 in Calvert, TX USA
  • Died September 16, 1978 in Lorman, MS USA
  • Memphis Red Sox (1923-1924, 1938), Chicago American Giants (1923-1930, 1937), Birmingham Black Barons (1925), Homestead Grays (1931), Kansas City Monarchs (1931), Cole's American Giants (1932-1935), Pittsburgh Crawfords (1936)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1996

Half-brother of Negro League pitcher, pioneer and fellow Hall of Famer Rube Foster, Bill Foster was the greatest lefthanded pitcher in Negro League history. Over his 16 seasons, he compiled an official record of 143-69, for a winning percentage close to .700.

Born on June 12, 1904 in Calvert, Texas, William Hendrick Foster was raised by his maternal grandparents in Mississippi after his mother died when he was only four years old. After dropping out of school at the age of 14, Foster traveled north to Chicago, where he attempted to sign on with the Negro National League's Chicago American Giants, who were owned and managed by his much older half-brother, Rube Foster. The senior Foster's refusal to allow the youngster to join the Giants created a resentment in Bill that continued throughout his life.

Both an astute businessman and a shrewd judge of talent, Rube signed Bill to a contract five years later, after the younger Foster returned to the Negro Leagues as a hot 19-year-old pitching prospect. Bill divided each of his first three professional seasons between the American Giants and a southern team, posting records of 5-2, 6-1, and 7-1, before playing his first complete season in Chicago in 1926, the year after his older brother turned over the team's managerial reins to Dave Malarcher.

Foster was brilliant in his first full season, winning 23 consecutive games at one point against all levels of competition, while compiling a mark of 11-4 in league play to lead the American Giants to the second half title. Still, the team found itself in a desperate situation when it faced the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League playoffs.

Needing to win both games of a doubleheader against the first-half winners on the season's final day to capture the pennant, the Giants turned to their ace lefthander. Foster responded by starting and winning both games, hurling two complete game shutouts against Bullet Joe Rogan and the Monarchs, to put his team in the World Series. The lefthander continued his dominance against the Bacharach Giants in the Series, leading his team to victory by throwing three complete games, relieving in a fourth contest, getting two victories, including one shutout, and compiling a 1.27 ERA.

Foster's performance during the 1926 postseason was just the first in a series of outstanding pitching efforts that eventually earned him a reputation as an exceptional clutch performer. Blessed with near perfect control and featuring a wide assortment of pitches that were all delivered with the same motion, the 6'1" Foster always seemed to be at his best when the stakes were highest. With a crucial game to win, Foster's manager invariably turned to the lefthander to lead his team to victory. He was a smart pitcher who knew how to get the most out of his vast repertoire of pitches, which included a blazing fastball, a slider, an overhand curve, a sidearm curve, and a masterful change of pace. Hall of Fame umpire Jocko Conlon likened Foster to New York Yankee Hall of Fame lefthander Herb Pennock in terms of his delivery and assortment of pitches. But Conlon suggested that Foster was a little faster, adding that the Negro League hurler was "really something to watch."

Foster followed up his extraordinary 1926 campaign by compiling a record of 21-3 the following year and winning another two games in the World Series. Foster failed to win another championship with the American Giants in either 1928 or 1929, but the team advanced to the League Championship Series in the first of those years before finally being eliminated.

After the 1929 season, Foster participated in a two-game series against an American League All-Star team. He pitched poorly in the first contest, but he shut out the major leaguers in the rematch, striking out nine batters and yielding no hits over eight innings. After the series, Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer told Foster, "If I could paint you white, I could get $150,000 for you right now".

Foster continued to excel for Chicago several more years, posting league records of 16-10, 15-8, and 9-3 in subsequent seasons, and leading the Giants to pennants again in 1932 and 1933. The lefthander started for the West in the inaugural East-West All-Star Game in 1933, and, with no rules yet in place to restrict a pitcher to only three innings in All-Star competition, Foster hurled a complete game victory over a talent-laden Eastern squad.

Foster remained in Chicago until 1936, when he joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He returned to the American Giants the following year, before ending his career with the Memphis Red Sox in 1938. Foster's career also included brief stints with the Birmingham Black Barons, the Homestead Grays, the Kansas City Monarchs, and Cole's American Giants.

Always conducting himself in a gentlemanly manner both on and off the field, Bill Foster was one of the most respected men to compete in the Negro Leagues. He continued to pursue his educational goals each off-season throughout his playing career, enabling him to eventually become the dean of men and baseball coach at Alcorn State College in 1960. Foster remained in that position until shortly before his death on September 16, 1978. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996.

Legendary Negro League first baseman Buck Leonard considered Foster to be one of the toughest pitchers he ever faced, saying, "All the years I played, I never got a hit off him. He threw fire."

By Bob_Cohen

Bill Foster, Negro Leagues


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