The Big Red Machine has seen many of its parts make their way to Cooperstown. The sparkplug, Joe Morgan, got things going while Tony Perez acted as the engine. Johnny Bench, the battery, gave the machine life but it still needed horsepower. The horsepower came in the frame of one George Foster. The keys to the machine, Sparky Anderson, have been elected to the Hall of Fame with the majority of its parts, but the horsepower – the booming bat of Mr. Foster – has yet to join his mates in the Cooperstown garage housing The Big Red Machine’s hardware.
It took George Foster some time to establish himself at the Major League level. Dipping his feet in the shallow end, Foster wasn’t the player that made an immediate splash but the swimmer who waded in the water – learning the best stroke for him – before he swam with the big fish. Originally a San Francisco Giant, Foster was dealt to the Reds in 1971 in a transaction that amounted to highway robbery. The Reds didn’t have a quick getaway. Their robbing of the Giants took time. Foster, the getaway driver, proved to have a feather-weight foot but it became leaden in 1975.
Foster struggled for the Reds for a few years before his breakout 1975 season. He showed signs of the authoritative bat that would be his calling card in the late 1970s by hitting .300 with 23 homeruns. In that year’s NLCS, George hit .364 and then helped Cincy sink the BoSox by hitting Boston pitchers at a .276 clip. But 1975 was just a small taste of what was to come.
Foster capitalized on his breakout season by erupting in 1976 – leading the NL in RBI and coming in second in the MVP voting. A first time All-Star, Foster’s .306 batting average topped all Major League left fielders as did his .530 slugging average and 29 long balls. The horsepower of the Big Red Machine swatted a pair of homers in the ’76 NLCS and then guided his team to a romp over the Yankees in the World Series, smacking around Pinstripe pitchers at a .429 clip. Although Foster was just reaching his prime, The Big Red Machine had reached its and he would only make one more postseason appearance for the Reds.
The MVP Award made its way to Foster’s den in 1977 when he led the NL in a number of categories. Foster bested all senior circuit sluggers in homers (52), RBI (149), runs (124), slugging average (.631) and total bases (388). George missed the Triple Crown but still hit for a mighty batting average of .320. Foster had become the top slugger in the late 1970s by ’77 and he showed his mammoth power by leading the NL in homeruns again in 1978 with 4o while copping his third straight RBI title with 120.
The horsepower suffered a minor steback in 1979 when Foster missed some action with an injury, but despite missing some time, George managed to hit 30 homeruns with 98 RBI. An All-Star for the fourth straight year, Foster led the Reds to the postseason, smacking a long ball in an NLCS loss to Pittsburgh. It would be Foster’s last trip to postseason play.
Foster drove in 93 runs in 1980 and then tied for third in the NL with 22 homeruns during the strike shortened 1981 season. He made his fifth All-Star game in ’81 and finished third in MVP voting. Despite the accolades and the thunder he supplied during their best years, the Reds shipped George to the Mets for pitchers Greg Harris and Jim Kern and reserve catcher Alex Trevino.
The lone deficiency in Foster’s game was his high strikeout totals. He offset these well with his tremendous run producing skills and above average defense, but teaming with Dave Kingman in 1982, he and King Kong combined for 50 homers and 279 strikeouts for the Mets. Foster was beginning to slow down – his batting averages dipped into the .240s his first two years in New York – but he rebounded to hit .269 in 1984 while driving in 86 runs (his eighth season with 80 or more RBI) and leading NL left fielders with 24 homers.
Foster clubbed 21 long balls for the Mets in ’85 at the age of 36 and during the Mets magical season on ’86, he smacked thirteen homers for the New Yorkers before catching on with the White Sox to end the season and his career.
G 1,977/R 986/H 1,925/2B 307/HR 348/RBI 1,239/BB 666/SO 1,419/SB 51/BA .274/SA .480