Monday, November 8, 2010

The Foxx Who Found His Way

By: C.G. Morelli


Would you be interested in becoming a professional ball player? If you are, contact me.

Frank Baker

It was fitting the Hall of Fame career of slugging first baseman Jimmie Foxx began with this hastily scribbled message on the back of a penny postcard from one home run legend to another in the making.

He was only 16 years old at the time, but the young track star and baseball phenom had at least one notable fan keeping a particularly critical eye on him from the stands at Foxx’s Maryland high school games.

The eye belonged to one Home Run Baker, a former Philly A’s slugger turned Eastern League manager. He knew the young Foxx had the athleticism, the build, and just the right amount of stupidity to make a splash in the bigs. And, boy, could that kid hit the ball a country mile.

Baker quickly received a reply to his postcard and Foxx began, in 1924, a short-lived minor league career under his tutelage. I say short-lived because it lasted just 76 games. That’s all it took for the Foxx to hit .296, mash 10 homers, and draw a lot of interest from teams in the bigs.

Both the Yanks and the A’s became heavy suitors for Foxx after that ’24 campaign. Naturally, Baker steered his young project in the direction of his own mentor, Connie Mack, in Philadelphia.

Foxx spent the tail end of the ’24 season sitting inches from Mack on the bench and learning what the Tall Tactician referred to as the “finer points” of the game. After that, Foxx bounced around the A’s system for the next few years and by1929, at the much more prominent age of 21, “Double X” was finally unveiled as Mack’s everyday first baseman.

The wait would prove to be more than worth it.

The next few years were a blur of statistical achievements for Foxx. From ’29-’31, he and slugger Al Simmons combined for 192 home runs in leading Philly to three straight World Series. He won two MVP awards in consecutive years by smashing 58 homers and driving in 169 runs in ’32, and by earning the Triple Crown in ’33 with 48 taters, 163 RBI, and a .358 batting average. He would hit more than 35 homers and drive in more than 125 runs in each of the next seven seasons with the A’s and Red Sox, and would pick up an unprecedented third MVP award in 1938.

When all was said and done and the sun began to set on a 20 Major League year career, Jimmie Foxx had sent 534 baseballs into the cheap seats (that was 2nd to only the great Babe Ruth at the time) and maintained a .325 batting average. He was a unanimous selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, just six years after his official retirement.

But all the numbers and accolades and serious home run power aside, Jimmie was just a regular Joe. He was a guy you might see down at the end of the bar after a game sipping a beer, munching on stale peanuts, and mulling over a second match of darts. He was a farmer’s boy from rural Maryland who could probably 3-in-1 a tractor faster than he could round the bases. He was a fresh-faced 16-year-old with a penny postcard from his idol in hand and a slack-jawed, half-amazed look on his face.

And then he was a Hall of Famer.

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