Who is the greatest Cincinnati Reds player, not named Pete Rose, who’s yet to become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Pete Rose is the best Cincinnati Reds player not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but who else has been forgotten? A Big Red Machine teammate of his may have been gotten lost in the shadows of Pete, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench. We make the case for George Foster.
The Cincinnati Reds of the 70’s were such a powerhouse, they were given their own moniker, the Big Red Machine. Players such as Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench garnered much of the spotlight from the era, for good reason. They were all elite players at their positions, and in Pete’s case, many positions.
However, a team takes a full 25-man squad to compete each season and there were bound to be players forgotten after the dust has cleared. An integral cog of the BRM who played a key role in the 1975 and 1976 seasons was George Foster.
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Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1948, George Foster was destined to play baseball. His athletic build and muscular stature screamed athlete. He played 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds from 1971-1981 as part of an 18 year Major League career.
After being acquired from the San Francisco Giants for Frank Duffy and Vern Geishert in one of the biggest steals in Reds trade history, he would quickly become the final piece the Big Red Machine was looking for.
A left fielder who could swing a mighty stick, he became an RBI machine in the heart of the Reds lineup. Often hitting 4th or 5th in the lineup most games, he produced these stats from 1975-1981: .297 BA, 149 avg. OPS+, 221 HR (32 avg.), 749 RBI (107 avg.).
His 52 homers in his 1977 NL MVP season were 11 more than the next player (Jeff Burroughs), broke the streak of 11 straight seasons without a 50-plus home run hitter, and began another streak of 12 seasons without one until Cecil Fielder hit 51 in 1990. For comparison sake, here are two players career slash lines
Player A: .274/.338/.480 and 126 OPS+ over 18 yrs.
Player B: .267/.342/.476 and 126 OPS+ over 17 yrs.
Player A is George Foster and Player B is Johnny Bench. His case for the Hall isn’t just a matter of Foster vs. Bench. Even though their career numbers are almost identical in counting stats, with Johnny Bench being elite offensively as a catcher, it makes the comparison cross-positionally not as black and white as it might seem. Comparing Foster to other players of his own position does him justice as well.
Jim Rice and Lou Brock are both players of the same era who put up similar numbers throughout their careers and later received their calls to Hall. While being very different players, Rice and Brock put up almost an identical career bWAR of 47.7 and 45.3, respectively. Foster had a career bWAR of 44.2 over his 18 year career. The career OPS+ for each of those players? 128 for Rice and 109 for Brock.
Does this mean Foster is deserving of the Hall of Fame? Quite possibly considering other players of his caliber have received their nods. He might not have been flashy, fast, or hit 500 homers in his career, but he sure helped the Reds of the 1970’s win a lot of ballgames while putting up incredible single season numbers, and that’s what matters.
To me, George Foster is the best forgotten Cincinnati Reds player to don their uniform, whose name wasn’t Pete Rose, and then get snubbed for the Hall of Fame. Who would you choose?