4×4 for Foytack

When looking back on baseball in days of yore, it is difficult to avoid geezer-speak, something along the lines of, “When I was a boy…” or, “Back when I was growing up…” If you live long enough, it happens to you automatically. I have no grandchildren, yet I have all but become my grandfather, who use to recount tales of Rube Waddell and Sherry Magee.

One could write (and many have written) volumes about the differences in baseball culture today versus 50 or 60 years ago. As a fan, I think the biggest difference is the wall-to-wall coverage the sport gets today in the media. Some sports bars are reminiscent of Mission Control in Houston after the launching of a manned spacecraft.

When I was a boy—there I go again!—the only televised baseball involved the home team. There was a network game of the week, but it was blacked out in big-league markets.

If you grew up in a National League city, as I did, the American League was an exotic, mysterious realm. You never doubted it existed—it wasn’t like Camelot or Brigadoon—but it wasn’t part of your world.

In Philadelphia, one even heard stories that an American League team used to be play there, in the very same ballpark where the Phillies played. But other than the name of the edifice, Connie Mack Stadium, I could discern no hint that any team other than the Phillies ever had played there.

The American League was much in evidence on television during the All-Star Game and the World Series. One was certainly aware of the New York Yankees and such stars as Ted Williams, Al Kaline, and Rocky Colavito, as the sports pages delineated their achievements on a regular basis.

But what about all those other AL players you never saw on television? Every year they reported for duty in the Topps baseball card set, and their names showed up in the box scores regularly. But who were those guys?

Well, one of those guys was Paul Foytack. Once I started collecting cards, every year, without fail, I could count on getting a card of Foytack as surely as I could count on the Phillies finishing in the second division. In retrospect, it occurs to me that Foytack must have been a pretty decent player to show up year after year in the Topps card set. If not, he would have disappeared after a year or two.

As it turned out, Foytack was a mainstay of the Detroit rotation in the late 1950s. He made his debut with the Tigers in 1953, and from 1956 to 1959, he won 14 to 15 games and pitched anywhere from 212 to 256 innings. Today, a starting pitcher with stats like that would be a top-of-the-line free agent, and he’d be set for life no matter where he signed.

Unfortunately, during the 1959 season, Foytack, at age 29, was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. His 14-14 record with a 4.69 ERA was just an off year … or was it? He had led the league in earned runs with 124, but he also led in games started with 37, so it was hard to say.

In 1960, however, his 2-11 record and 6.14 ERA were definitely causes for concern. Foytack came back to some degree in 1961 (an expansion year in the AL) to finish at 11-10 with a 3.03 ERA, and in 1972 he was 10-7 with a 4.39 ERA. Not terribly shabby, but it didn’t appear that he was going to return to his late-1950s form.

So at age 32, on June 15, 1963, the Tigers traded Foytack to the Los Angeles Angels. To that point in the season, he had only pitched 17.2 innings and had an ERA of 8.66, so he was understandably expendable.

Foytack probably figured he would just play out the string and accumulate some more service time on his pension. That was one benefit of the 1961 AL expansion. By adding two more pitching staffs to the league, a number of pitchers who might have been out of baseball with an eight-team setup were able to prolong their careers.

But Foytack was not just marking time. He was about to etch his name into baseball history. He had a date with destiny in Cleveland on the last day of July.

Six weeks after he was traded, Foytack and the Angels faced the Indians in a four-game series, culminating with a doubleheader on Wed., July 31. The event was not keenly anticipated, as the Angels came into the night at 53-56 and the Indians at 51-55. Mammoth Municipal Stadium was about 90 percent empty, as only 7,288 fans were on hand.

Once Early Wynn had won his 300th game, there wasn’t much drama left in the Indians’ season. The fact that the Indians were willing to grant Wynn a roster spot solely to pick up that lone victory indicates that the Tribe had started the season with no great expectations.

In the first game, Barry Latman shut out the Angels 1-0 on four hits. It was all over in a mere one hour and 40 minutes. If you’re going to lose the first game of a doubleheader, that’s the way to do it. Get it over with quickly and save some energy for the next game.

Unfortunately, Ggame two went even worse for the Angels. Eli Grba was knocked out in the third inning and gave way to Don Lee. The Indians led, 5-1, and so it remained till the bottom of the fifth when Foytack came into the game. Foytack retired the side, giving up only a harmless, two-out single to Jerry Kindall. The sixth inning was a different story.

It all started out innocently enough with Joe Azcue striking out and Al Luplow flying out to right. Then Woody Held came up. Though batting in the eighth slot in the lineup, Held was not your prototypical eighth-place hitter.

With two out, it is preferable to get that eighth-place hitter out so the pitcher will lead off the following inning. but Held did not cooperate. His solo shot off Foytack was one of 179 dingers he hit during his career, so it was hardly a shocking turn of events. But the subsequent developments were.

Next up was pitcher Pedro Ramos, now enjoying a 6-1 lead. The possibility of back-to-back home runs probably never entered Foytack’s mind. Ramos was only hitting around .100 at the time, yet he took Foytack deep.

Even more astonishing was the fact that Ramos had already homered off Grba. Ramos was not one of the elite-hitting pitchers, but he did have some power. In fact, 13.33 percent of his 15 career home runs came in this one game. Speaking of 15, Ramos also struck out 15 Angels in this contest.

So now the score was 7-1 in favor of the Indians, and it was back to the top of the order and Tito Francona. Today, he probably is better known as the father of Terry Francona, but in his day he was a solid hitter.

As was the case with Foytack, Francona was another AL player whose Topps card I could count on obtaining year after year. He had reached double figures in home runs during his previous four seasons with the Indians. So when he homered off Foytack, the shock was not so much that he homered, but that he had hit the third in a row, making the score, 8-1, Indians.

Had manager Bill Rigney made a pitching change at that point, Foytack would have just been one of a number of pitchers who had suffered the ignominy of coughing up three consecutive gopher balls. Maybe Rigney figured the game had been pushed out of reach, and he just didn’t want to waste any more pitchers. For whatever reason, Foytack remained in the game.

The next batter was Larry Brown, a rookie who had only been with the Indians a few weeks. He quickly made his presence known with one swing of the bat, hitting the Indians’ fourth four-bagger in a row. In retrospect, his home run might have been more unlikely than Ramos’. When Brown retired after 12 seasons, he had just 47 home runs and a .233 batting average.

After Brown’s homer, Rigney had seen enough. Foytack was finished for the night, but baseball history had been made. This was the first time in the American League that a team had hit four consecutive home runs. In the National League, the Milwaukee Braves had achieved the feat two years before, but they had done so with bona fide sluggers (Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Joe Adcock, and Frank Thomas).

More importantly, this was the first time one pitcher had given up four consecutive home runs. You have to wonder what was going through Foytack’s mind after he left the game. From an ERA standpoint, giving up four consecutive solo homers is no worse than giving up a grand slam. But plenty of pitchers had given up grand slams. No one had done what Foytack had done.

One wonders if Foytack knew he had set a record as he left the mound. He might have known before he left the ballpark. If not, when he picked up the newspaper the next morning, he surely was aware of it.

Foytack retired in 1964 with a record of 86-87 and a 4.14 ERA, so the four-HR barrage may well be the most significant event of his career. Subsequent teams have hit four consecutive home runs, but Foytack remained the only pitcher to surrender four in a row—until April 22, 2007.

On that day, the Yankees started rookie Chase Wright at Fenway Park. He had won his first start against the Indians five days earlier. In his second start, all went well until the third inning.

As with Foytack’s problem inning, the first two batters made outs. Then Manny Ramirez went deep … as did J.D. Drew … and Mike Lowell … and Jason Varitek. One wonders if Boston manager Terry Francona flashed back to his father’s participation in the July 31, 1963 onslaught. He was only four years old when it happened, so even if he was in the ballpark, he probably didn’t remember it.

Unlike Foytack, Wright had the opportunity to give up a fifth home run. He remained in the game to pitch to Wily Mo (short for Modesto, if you’ve ever wondered) Peña. As he did so often, Peña struck out swinging.

Surely, the 36,905 on hand enjoyed the proceedings, but by the end of the inning, the Red Sox lead was only 4-3. The Yankees took back the advantage, but at game’s end, the Red Sox prevailed by a 7-6 score. So Wright, like Foytack, was not the losing pitcher. Unlike Foytack, Wright’s MLB career was almost over before it started.

Wright had just one more appearance (a two-inning win in relief) for the Yankees. His totals for the year (and his career) were 10 innings pitched, a 2-0 record, and a 7.20 ERA. So the pitcher who co-holds the record for most consecutive home runs allowed was undefeated in big league competition. Figures don’t lie, but somehow that just doesn’t add up.

Foytack was 76 years old when Wright had his memorable meltdown inning. I’m sure some sportswriters rang him up afterwards for comments.

The next time a team goes deep four straight times off some unlucky hurler, the name Paul Foytack will emerge again from the dusty files of the baseball archives. Chase Wright’s name will come up, also. And one fine day, if they’re lucky, an even unluckier hurler will be tagged for five in a row, and Foytack and Wright will be written out of the record books. There are worse fates than anonymity.

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Comments

  1. J. Henry Waugh said...

    Thank you for that interesting bit of baseball history, wonderfully told. Your introductory paragraphs are so “right on” and brought back memories of how I viewed the AL growing up in St. Louis.

  2. Dan Jeffers said...

    My first memory of Foytack’s name was in a 1970s Tigers scorebook that had a recap of over-the-roof home runs at Tiger Stadium.  Foytack had given up two, both to Mantle.  He may be the only pitcher to have allowed more than one rooftop shot.

  3. Rich Dunstan said...

    Foytack was one of my favorite players back when, even though I lived in a National League market and never even saw him play on TV or heard one of his games on the radio—I guess I just liked his name and wanted him to recover from his terrible 1960 season. He’s apparently a good-humored, self-deprecating, articulate man, and he has been interviewed many times over the years about the four home runs and the “straight balls” he says he pitched that day.

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