George Foster, 1979August 20, 2009
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.