Foster Comes to Cincinnati


(Image courtesy of Bo Hussey)

It took about four years, but it was worth the wait. Well worth the wait.

On this day in 1971, the Reds acquired George Foster from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Frank Duffy and Vern Geishert. Geishert never donned a Reds uniform after coming to Cincy in a 1969 deal that also saw the Reds acquire Pedro Borbon and Jim McGlothlin. The Reds sent Alex Johnson and Chico Ruiz to the Angels. Duffy would have his productive years to follow as a member of the Cleveland Indians, not in San Francisco.

Prior to 1975, Foster did have a couple of seasons where he played in over 100 games while a member of the Reds. It wasn’t until that fateful moment in 1975 when, as legend has it, Sparky asked Pete Rose to move to third base. The plan, or as we now see it, was to have Foster man left field.

In November of 1974, the Reds had pulled off a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers (then in the AL) in which the Reds got John Vukovich and sent Pat Osburn to Milwaukee.

Osburn had appeared in 6 games in 1974 for Cincinnati, but would only own 6 appearances as a Brewer of which all came in 1975. He would never play in the bigs after that.

But Vukovich was, if my memory recalls, to be the answer at third base. As an everyday player, Vukovich had compiled a batting average of .250, but had driven in only one run. So no answer. Tony Perez had already moved to first from third after the trade with Houston that sent Lee May there. It was thought that at that time Dan Driessen wasn’t the answer at third either. This wasn’t going according to plan.

The first game where Rose was at third and Foster manned left was on May 8, 1975. The Reds won 4-3 over the New York Mets. The plan was possibly coming together.

Actually, we know it did and we know the rest.

Something you might not know. Vukovich was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis and never donned a Reds hat after May 18 of 1975. In early August of that same year, he was traded to the team that had made him the #10 overall pick in the 1966 draft, the Philadelphia Phillies.

If you look at the Reds offensive records, you will undoubtedly see Foster’s name sprinkled here and there.

In his 11 seasons as a Red, Foster forged a triple slash of .286/.356/.514 with 244 home runs and 861 RBI. Those 244 HR rank him 6th on the Reds all-time list. The 861 RBI ranks 9th. It could be a while before he is passed in either category. Brandon Phillips currently has 606 RBI as a Red, that’s a daunting 255 just to tie Foster. BP (150), Joey Votto (142) and Jay Bruce (141) have a ways to go as far as the big flies are concerned.

The one season that most point to is 1977. In reference to bWAR, his 8.4 ranks as the 8th best season in Reds history. In that year, Foster cracked 52 homers, drove in 149 runs and accounted for 388 total bases. And lest we forget, Foster’s triple slash that season was .320/.382/.631. His 52 HR, 149 RBI and 388 TB remain as Reds single-season records.

To this very day, that season is one for the ages by NL standards. Only five NL players have eclipsed 52 home runs since then. To some, it’s not an impressive list due to, well, you’ll see.

The five NL players: Barry Bonds (73 in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999), Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 63 in 199* and 64 in 2001), Luis Gonzalez (57 in 2001) and Ryan Howard (58 in 2006).

Note: McGwire did have 58 HR in 1997, but that season was split between Oakland where he hit 34 HR and St. Louis going deep 24 times.

As far as those 149 RBI, Sosa had 158 in 1998 and 160 in 2001. Andres Galarraga accounted for 150 RBI in 1996 and Howard tied the count of 149 during the 2006 season.

During his 11 seasons in Cincinnati, George Foster crafted three consecutive seasons with 100+ RBI (’76-’78), five straight seasons with at least 25 HR (’76-’80), four straight All-Star appearances, and garnered the 1977 NL MVP. He also owns a second place finish (1976 to teammate Joe Morgan) and a third place (1981).

Some like to mention the trade with the Houston Astros as far as a great trade for the Redlegs. I think it’s a fair assessment to say this deal wasn’t so bad either.