Monday, December 1, 2008

Ghosts of the Past - Jimmy Foxx

Jimmy Foxx may end up being the most recognizable name I spotlight in the GotP feature. After all, Foxx is not only a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he is also one of the most greatest power hitters to ever play the game. But, there is a lot that people may not know about Foxx (plus it gives me the chance to feature some great 1930’s baseball cards).

Jimmy Foxx made his major league debut with the Philadelphia A’s in 1925 at age 17. Though he was signed as a catcher, the A’s already had a Hall of Fame catcher in Mickey Cochrane (the guy Mantle was named after). Foxx was moved to first base and by 1929 was an offensive force. Though he is enshrined as a Boston Red Sox, Jimmy Foxx arguably had his best years with the A’s. In 1932, he hit 58 home runs and was named the American League’s MVP. He followed this up in 1933 by winning the Triple Crown (with a batting average of .356, 163 RBIs, and 48 home runs) and a second MVP award. Foxx is one of only 11 players who have won back-to-back MVP awards (the others are Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy, Ernie Banks, Joe Morgan, Frank Thomas, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Hal Newhouser).

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Great Depression hit in the midst of Jimmy Foxx’s prime. A’s owner Connie Mack was forced to sell off many of his best players, and in 1936 Foxx was sold to the Boston Red Sox for $150,000. Foxx provided Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey with a genuine star, something the team had lacked for years. Foxx didn’t disappoint. In 1938, he hit 50 home runs, drove in 175 runs, batted .349 and won his third MVP award (he also nearly won a second Triple Crown finishing 8 HR shy of Detroit’s Hank Greenberg). His 50 home runs stood as a Red Sox team record until David Ortiz hit 54 in 2006, and his 175 RBI is still a team record despite the best efforts of guys like Ted Williams, Carl Yazstrzemski, Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez.
Jimmy Foxx would go on to have two more good seasons with the Red Sox before showing a dramatic decline in 1941. Foxx’s decline was most likely due to a severe drinking problem and in 1942, the once gigantic slugger was placed on waivers. Though he went on to play parts of two more seasons, he never again showed the form that earned him the nickname, “The Beast”.

Over the span of a twenty year career, Jimmy Foxx hit 534 home runs and when he retired was second only to Ruth on the all-time list, and first among right-handed hitters (Willie Mays would eventually surpass him in both regards). His twelve consecutive seasons with 30 or more home runs was a major league record until it was broken by Barry Bonds in 2004. Perhaps most telling of Foxx’s raw power though is this - in 1937, he hit a ball into the third deck of the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium. Lefty Gomez, the pitcher who gave it up, when asked how far it went, said, "I don't know, but I do know it took somebody 45 minutes to go up there and get it back."

Following his playing days, Jimmy Foxx worked as a minor league manager. In 1952 he managed the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and was immortalized in the film A League of their Own as the source for much of Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan.

"Next to DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx was the greatest hitter I ever saw. With all those muscles, he hit drives that sounded like gunfire." Ted Williams

Image Key:
1. 1935 National Chicle Diamond Stars (R327)
2. 1933 Goudey (R319)
3. 1941 Play Ball (R336)
4. 1938 Goudey Heads Up (R323)

5. 1939 Goudey Premiums (R303-B)

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