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George Foster, 1979

August 20, 2009

George Foster 79

Yesterday morning on the 606 bus a man sitting next to me began a loud monologue about a series of subjects. He was about my age, maybe a little older, a white guy with a mustache and a faded baseball cap that said “Chicago” in script lettering. The theme he kept circling back to the most was that “God decides.”

“People think they decide, that they’ve got it all figured out. You’re all plugged in. You’ve got it surrounded. You don’t decide. God decides,” he said.

“Net-book him, Shaq,” he added.

He said this a few times throughout his speech, which had pauses now and again as if to make room for the words of a questioner that no one else could see or hear.

I tried to keep as flat a poker face as I could, since he was right next to me and seemed at times to be addressing his speech to me.

“Sylvester always wanted to eat Tweety, but he never did,” the man said. “Yosemite Sam. The coyote. Never get what they wanted. But you’ll never see those cartoons. Too damn educational!

“Net-book him, Shaq,” he added.

None of this has anything to do with George Foster, except that my favorite thing in the world besides baseball during a childhood that coincided exactly with George Foster’s heyday was the Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner hour (or was it an hour and a half?). I never liked the Roadrunner cartoons, however, and because I liked Sylvester and hated Tweety (as does everyone in the entire world) I found those other most common diversions from Bugs Bunny to be profoundly frustrating.

My friend Pete tells of a heroic act by a friend of his many years ago, when he was in college: Pete and his friend, Gavin, were watching a Tweety cartoon and at one point the annoying yellow bird ended up in Sylvester’s mouth. At that moment, Gavin shut off the television. The last image before a blank screen was Sylvester closing his mouth.

“That’s how it ends,” Gavin announced.

“For the next 48 hours,” Pete told me last night, “I was flying.”

In a way, my childhood performed a similar kind of magic for George Foster. I was too young to know George Foster as an expendable young player for the San Francisco Giants, and I stopped collecting baseball cards and worshipping the players in those cards right before George Foster plummeted off of the up escalator to immortality. This card here, from 1979, is my last George Foster card. The impressive stats on the back (92 home runs in the previous two seasons), the ALL-STAR banner on the front, a perpetual element of my George Foster cards, the very look on George Foster’s face, determined, confident, indomitable: That’s how it ends.

As for the disappointments and frustrations of life, the diminishing performance, the boos raining down, faltering playing time, the yellow bird that always escapes: it’s all a lesson a madman knows. You don’t decide. I don’t know who does, but you don’t.

Furthermore: Net-book him, Shaq.

***

For more on George Foster, you can do what I was unable to do (who likes the sound of his or her own voice?) and listen to me read my post on George Foster’s 1978 card on the The Baseball Chronicle podcast.

While you’re at The Baseball Chronicle, check out Jeb Stewart’s article on the Topps’ 1971 set of baseball cards.

16 comments

  1. It’s funny you you didn’t like the the Roadrunner cartoons. I was pretty meh on the roadrunner, but I loved Wile E. Coyote. I actually wrote a college application essay about persistence and never quitting and relating myself to him. It was, I’m afraid, not hugely successful. I was always pretty meh on the whole Sylvester Tweety thing. Sylvester is funny, but I always liked him better when he was with Porky or Elmer Fudd.


  2. Though I didn’t like the Roadrunner cartoons (in part because whenever they came on it meant Bugs had to take a backseat), I like Wil E. Coyote, and in fact one of my favorite cartoons when I was a kid, partially because it upends the disappointment of (apparently) seeing that the cartoon is going to focus on the roadrunner, is when Bugs Bunny “stands in” for the roadrunner. In that episode, Wil E. speaks, and it turns out he’s an erudite British dude.


  3. I hated the Road Runner cartoons. It was the same damn cartoon over and over again, talk about lazy writing.

    Then it was painfully masochistic. It was kind of like watching that kid in high school, who has absolutely no shot ask out the head cheerleader over and over again. The Coyote was really smart, why didn’t he just use his genius move out of the friggin desert and open up some small business venture in California?

    As far as Foster goes, I always though that ’79 card looked really cheesy. Where’s the logo on helmet? It makes it look like one of those cheap “hostess cup cake” cards that were too cheap to pay the Reds for their copyright.

    Foster really didn’t fall off the cliff until 1982 and then had a mini bounce back in ’84 & ’85.

    Maybe if he had stayed with the Reds or at least stayed in a hitter’s park he wouldn’t have fallen off the cliff.

    In reality I don’t see a big difference between Jim Rice and George Foster, except one guy is in the HOF.


  4. Loved what you said about George Foster. We are almost the exact same age and I have the same feeling about him. I would say the same thing about Dave Parker: the Dave Parker I knew was rocketing straight to Cooperstown on the basis of his ’76-’79 seasons and the last ten years of his career still seem an aberration to me.


  5. Of course to the Met Faithful, George Foster was the next in a long line of past-their-prime acquisitions who bore their uber-messianic hype with an absolute bare minimum of charisma, character, or enthusiasm. Not a fan favorite.

    HE was going to be The Savior. And why not? George was a five-time-All-Star/shoo-in Hall-o’-Famer when the Mets grabbed him before the 1982 season, to hypothetically lead the team out of the woebegotten wilderness. Never before had the Mets spent millions on a star. As the yearbook cover said, “By George, We’ve Got It!!” (featuring the glossy airbrushed visages of Foster and ineffectual new manager George Bamberger.)

    Bamberger always reminded me of a pleasant, slightly over-matched middle school principal who couldn’t wait to start collecting his pension and take up embroidery or something. Foster reminded me of Dionne Warwick, but scowlier.

    Man, I miss those Warner Brothers cartoons.
    I concur with your choices. Bugs was a huge influence. I also loved those old surreal ones where all of the products in a grocery store, or a pharmacy would come to life…


  6. Finally, the truth?
    “You don’t decide. God decides.”
    Amen.

    Put a public transit-riding maniac having a monologue with himself onstage at a poetry slam,
    and you have art.

    “You don’t decide. God decides.”
    And what if everything The Bible says is true?

    “You don’t decide. God decides…”

    It very well may be true,
    in which case the only logical conclusion that one can come to is
    that this this “God” fellow is some kind of a dangerous lunatic who ought to be stopped…


  7. “Foster reminded me of Dionne Warwick, but scowlier.”

    Ha!

    I associate Foster’s Met sojourn with the team’s doomed “The Power Is On!” ad campaign that featured Foster alongside Ellis Valentine and Dave Kingman.


  8. Seeing Foster go from bench guy to 52 home run guy, is there any doubt if he played today we’d all be anxiously awaiting his PED tests?

    I was surprised to read that Foster was invited back for the final game at Shea. He accused the team of racism in benching him and I’ve heard but negative feelings about his stay with the Mets. I wonder what the motivation was to ask him back for the final Shea game?

    I also remember that Foster claimed to have the ball Fisk hit for his famous ’75 Series home run. Foster made the claim about 20 years after the fact and there was skepticism (to say the least) about the ball. I remember somebody looked at tape of the game he was seen tossing the ball or something like that. Anybody else remember that?


  9. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour was on CBS for years. Good one! A half hour would only be a few cartoons (our local station did it that way).

    Did I ever mention to you that El Duque is one of my favorite players because he is the pitcher that most resembles Bugs Bunny’s performance in “Batter Up Bugs”?

    “I’ll perplex him with my slooooow pitch.”


  10. jrosenfelder:
    Funny that you mention favorite players and “Batter Up Bugs.” One of my all-time favorites is Steve Balboni, in part because his cartoonish topheavy frame and grizzled face and all-or-nothing swings made him seem as if he could fit right in with Bugs’ foes, the Gas House Gorillas.


  11. that’s too awesome. who are some of the other parallels? i’d say pujols could play a role too… i seem to remember some gargantuan dudes who all went down on three pitches. “1, 2, 3 strikes you’re out! 1, 2, 3 strikes you’re out!”

    incredible stuff. incidentally, there’s a guy who wrote both a great bio of mel blanc, ‘that’s not all folks,’ AND a good book about the yankees called “dog days, the fall from grace and return to glory, 1964-76.”

    which brings us back to george foster.


  12. Now I’ve got the Bugs Bunny Overture running through my head.


  13. Great comments all around.

    Ramblin Pete, your 100% correct in your assessment of most of the Mets’ acquisitions during the last 40 odd years. Starting with the Joe Foy for Amos Otis trade.

    The Mets have had this odd way of trading or signing for a 30 year old star whose past his “peak” years and then the star rarely comes anywhere near his previous star performance. Somehow the Mets always seem shocked when the players don’t perform to their previous “star” performance. To make matters worse, there is almost always a backlash from the fan base that was promised a star and received an over-hyped past-his-prime player.

    The difference with Foster was that this was the Mets first foray into Free Agency. Although they acquired Foster in a trade, they soon signed him to a then large contract.


  14. Josh, your friend on the bus reminded me of an interaction of several years ago. My wife and I were on a city street corner waiting for a bus when we became the sole audience to a speech from a semi-lunatic standing next to us. He was basically incoherent and kept repeating three things over and over. It was unclear what he was saying and my wife and I did not converse with each other until we were out of his company. Now, my wife could not care less about baseball but amazingly we agreed on what we thought the guy was chanting, “Reggie Jackson, Candlestick Park, Kansas City Royals!”. I’d love to know what made him thread those things together.


  15. My first post on this incredible site that I have been perusing for a few weeks, as I contemplate my own existence. Yearning for the passion of my youth in the 70s and revering the cardboard gods. Only to now despise pro sports now with the PEDs and the money. These would never be the people that I would hang out with in real life. Arrogant a-holes. But I want to hang on to my cherished childhood memories when I was naive. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Maybe that is why Wild E would continue to chase the road runner.
    I was always intrigued when WB characters would take on other roles. Like Wild E teaming up with the sheepdog and saying that famous phrase…’Morning Sam, Morning George’ as they clocked in.

    I am sure there is good cardboar blog waiting to be written relating a cbg that took on different surprising roles…i’ll check out lee lacy next and see if it has been written :)


  16. Just wanted to add to others posts that the 52 mark was incredible to watch, well really read and see on this week in baseball, pre espn and all.

    I think the lack of espn added to the allure and spectacle.

    When juiced mcguire and sosa started the chase i really was not the least bit excited….the thing i found incredible was that people back then didnt believe they were juiced when it was so flipping obvious.

    Sigh, that makes the marvelous season of Foster in that more special.

    Why isnt there an Ed Armbrister section? Imagine what he could have done not have to sit behind Foster :)



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