Leo Foster got his first major league at bat July 9, 1971, with his team, the Atlanta Braves, down 3-0 in the third inning to the fearsome Pittsburgh Pirates. He flied out to center. He batted again in the fifth with the score 5-0, but the Braves had gotten two men aboard with only one out. If they were going to make a game of it, this was their chance. Foster grounded into an inning-ending double play. His third major league at-bat came in the seventh with the game completely out of hand, the Pirates leading 11-2. Could some pride still be salvaged? Foster came to the plate with two men on base again, this time with no one out, and grounded into a triple play.
Some years later, things evened out for Leo Foster in terms of memorable days. After never cracking the Mendoza line in three partial seasons with the Braves, he’d been traded to the Mets for Joe Nolan, and on September 7, 1976, in Wrigley Field, he singled twice and homered, driving in five runs, or 19% of his career RBI total, which, in terms of percentages and big days, would be like if Hank Aaron had a game where he erupted for 436 RBI.
You get good days and bad days, and then it all ends in tears, or so it did for Leo Foster, at least according to the memory shared on the endlessly entertaining Ultimate Mets Database site by a commenter named Vito: “I vividly remember the Star-Ledger article reporting that he started crying when the Mets told him he had been traded. Personally, I was amazed that anyone would trade for him.”
The Boston Red Sox saw value in Leo Foster, or else saw value in unloading Jim Burton on the Mets. Neither Burton nor Foster would appear in another major league game. I don’t know if Burton ever had the kind of day Leo Foster had in 1976 at Wrigley, but he definitely had a bad day, when he lost Game Seven of the 1975 World Series as a reliever. The following year, when my family was at Fenway for a game, a few players were giving autographs and my brother, unable to get through the throng to anyone else, got the autograph of a player he didn’t recognize who was standing all by himself. Maybe Leo Foster cried when he heard he’d been traded because he didn’t want to leave the Mets, with whom he’d experienced his one big day in the sun, or maybe he cried because trades are just inherently cruel, not just for requiring an uprooting of every aspect of your life but for the way they fix your worth so rigidly and graphically in terms of what you can fetch on the human meat market. And Leo Foster, who had once been traded for Joe Nolan, a decent-hitting young catcher destined to stick around in the majors for over a decade, now amounted exactly to a luckless pitcher young autograph seekers avoided.
Leo Foster stuck it out for one season in the Red Sox minor league system in 1978, avoiding being part of the catastrophe on the parent club that season, then he called it a day, or maybe had it called a day for him. I don’t know what point I’m groping for in these notes on Leo Foster, but I guess I’m hoping Leo Foster was able to look back past the tears and the bad days to see that one big day when the ball kept rocketing off his bat and his teammates kept crossing the plate in front of him and he couldn’t be stopped and was, in those hours, the best baseball player in the world.