Barry FooteMarch 2, 2011
According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview
In 1973, Montreal Expos manager Gene Mauch, quoted in a Baseball Digest article on the league’s best catchers, referred to Barry Foote as “the next Johnny Bench.” Foote appeared in his first few games that season, then made the Topps all-rookie team the following year, logging promising stats for a 22-year-old rookie catcher in a pitching-dominated era: 11 home runs, 61 RBI, .262 batting average. But that’s about as far as things went toward a realization of Gene Mauch’s foray into fortune-telling. In his second full season, Foote’s average dipped to .194. His numbers climbed from disastrous to mediocre in 1976, but in 1977 Gary Carter took over the Expos’ catching duties, and Foote was shipped to the Phillies, where he hung around on the bench behind the starter, Bob Boone, and also behind Steve Carlton’s personal backstop, Tim McCarver. He got a post-season at-bat with the Phillies in 1978 (he struck out), then in 1979 after a trade to the Cubs he got one more chance as a regular, and he did pretty well, smacking a career-best 16 home runs. Two years later, with the Yankees, he got an at-bat in the World Series (he struck out). All in all, not a bad career, the kind of thing, really, that most of us can only approach in our wildest dreams: an entire decade in the major leagues. And he wasn’t just standing around in a warmup jacket with a bat on his shoulders the whole time. He hit some dingers, got a taste of the post-season, logged an admirably thick, full entry into the swinging ’70s parade of baseball mustaches. And in the midst of it, as shown in this 1978 card, Barry Foote even seemed to be enjoying himself, despite his recent fall in status to third-string catcher. So, in terms of what all this means for the purposes of using a randomly selected piece of cardboard from the past to see into the flesh and blood of the future, I predict that there will be good moments and enjoyment for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, but the sky-high hopes for the team, predictions of historical greatness abounding, will make those shoulders slump a little off to the side, like The Next Johnny Bench in this 1978 card, as if in an attempt to casually shuck the weight of almost impossible expectations. Weight like that, no matter what you do, tends seep under the skin and harden into disappointment.
How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 3 of 30: Read Peter Schilling Jr.’s 2008 novel, The End of Baseball. The book, the best baseball novel I’ve read in a long time, brilliantly imagines an alternative history in which Bill Veeck, during World War II, purchases the Philadelphia Athletics and stocks the team entirely with Negro League stars such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Martin Dihigo.