The best player to wear the #15 in Reds history, may also be one of the strongest. George Foster was a quiet man, who swung a mighty bat that served as the powerful backbone of the Big Red Machine in their heyday.
As dominant as any man during the mid-portion of the 1970s, Foster led the league in homeruns twice, along with RBI’s three times in a row from 1976-78. His career began slowly and deliberately out in San Francisco before coming over to the Reds. Even upon his arrival, Foster was not immediately slotted into a spot. The 1975 season saw Sparky Anderson make the daring move of shifting Pete Rose to third base in order to free up a spot in the outfield for a quiet, young player he thought could give the lineup some much needed thunder.
Foster certainly answered the challenge, as he was an All-Star the following season, and was the runner-up for the National League’s MVP trophy. After having won back-to-back championships, Foster really hit his stride. In what is considered one of the best offensive seasons for an outfielder ever (performance-enhanced or not), Foster led the league in runs (124), homeruns (52), RBI’s (149), slugging percentage (.631), OPS (1.013) and total bases (388) in 1977.
As a follow up, he clubbed the most homeruns and RBI’s again, the very next season, good for a sixth place finish in the MVP voting. With the nucleus of the Big Red Machine coming apart, the proverbial writing was on the wall for the once great Reds slugger. After another top 3 MVP finish in the 1981 season, Foster was shipped off to the New York Mets after the club decided they needed to go in a new direction.
The Mets certainly did not receive the amount of thunder they assumed they were getting when they acquired Foster. He had a handful of admirable seasons in Queens, but was widely looked down upon for not fulfilling his hefty contract. Never again would Foster make an All-Star Game, and five years later, he was finished. Foster’s 18-year career had come to a close.
So many great ball players seem to hang on past their prime and want to get every last drop of ability out of a body that was once able to perform at a higher level. Foster seemed to be caught up in that category after his power left his body, and he struggled to adapt. A legitimate borderline Hall of Famer, George Foster finished his career with 348 homeruns and over 1,200 RBI’s. Not to mention, he was the premier slugger in the National League for a 2-3 year window.
While Reds great Barry Larkin did don the number his first two seasons, they obviously did not produce the same amount of significance as Foster’s reign of terror over National League pitching. Infielder Grady Hatton, he of the same town as Jay Bruce, Beaumont, Texas, was a member of the club for nine seasons around the infield. Even during his extremely short tenure in the Queen City, Jim Edmonds wore the number in 2010 as he played the role of late-inning pinch hitter before being injured.
Ultimately, there was no competition for one of the best sluggers of his era. Noted as a quiet type of man, Foster certainly did not swing the bat that way over the course of what was an exemplary career. He is a member of the Reds Hall of Fame, but curiously enough, his number remains in circulation for the club. Young speedster Derrick Robinson wore it last season, but with his departure, there is a chance even more greatness can be bestowed upon a number with a stout legacy.