Foxx and mounds

A memorable exit is a great way to cap off a memorable career. Going out Ted Williams-style, a home run in one’s last plate appearance, would be the ideal.

A former teammate of Williams, a renowned batsman himself, also had a memorable coda to his major league career. But it was not so much the culmination of his career as a departure from his previous accomplishments.

Jimmie Foxx was a certifiable Hall of Famer, but by 1942 he was all but washed up. He had lost his starting first baseman gig with the Red Sox and was shipped off to the Cubs. With a batting average that matched his limited number of at-bats (i.e., 205), he decided to retire.

After sitting out the 1943 season, he had a change of heart and signed on with the Cubs in 1944 as a player-coach. On the field, the results were hardly encouraging, as Foxx garnered just one hit in 20 at-bats.

Nevertheless, Foxx went to Clearwater, Fla. with the Phillies in 1945 and won a spot on the team after a productive spring. It is not necessarily a tribute to Foxx’s dedication that he was able to come back for one more season at age 37. The Phillies were desperate for warm bodies during the final year of World War II and Foxx hadn’t entirely cooled off. Also, the Phillies were lacking in drawing cards, and the former Philadelphia A’s strongman might attract a few extra fans to Shibe Park.

In 1944 the Phillies had finished in the cellar with a record of 61-92 and were in dire need of help. After the 1943 season, the team had been purchased by Bob Carpenter, who named Herb Pennock general manager. The front office’s efforts eventually bore fruit, but 1945 was still something of a lost season at the major league level.

Hard to believe, but the 1945 Phillies roster actually featured three future Whiz Kids, namely Andy Seminick, Granny Hamner, and Putsy Caballero. Considering how bad the team was in 1945, and the post-war return of the game’s top talent, it’s hard to believe any of the 1945 Phillies would linger another five years, much less play on a pennant winner.

Otherwise, there were few players of note. One was Vince DiMaggio, who actually had a pretty good season, with 19 home runs (including 4 grand slams) and 84 RBI’s. Another was Hugh Mulcahy, whose main claim to fame was being the first major league player to get caught in the draft. After missing more than four seasons, he was back with the Phillies, but considering his lifetime record before military service was 60-82 (including two seasons with more than 20 losses), he hardly qualified as a franchise savior. He had been something of a workhorse, with four straight season of 200+ innings pitched (culminating in 280 in 1940). The Phillies could have used an effort like that in 1945, but now Mulcahy was 32 years old, and getting back in harness didn’t produce the same results.

For his part, Foxx had a respectable season at the plate (.268 in 224 at bats with seven home runs and 38 RBIs) as a part-timer. It didn’t help the team much, as the Phillies finished the season in last place at 46-108 (a winning percentage of just .299), 52 games out of first place, and 15 games behind the next-to-last Reds. Attendance for the season was a paltry 285,057.

By the middle of July, the season was already a lost cause, as the team had a record of just 21-61. And so it came to pass that Foxx went to the mound for the Phillies. To that point, his major league pitching career consisted of just one inning of experience with the Red Sox six seasons before. On the other hand, the Phillies needed someone on the mound, and there was no downside in using Foxx. They could lose just as easily with him as with a “real” pitcher. And if he hurt his arm… well, he could just ease back into retirement.

Funny thing, though. The Phillies might have lost while Foxx was on the mound, but they never lost because he was on the mound. In other words, he did a pretty good job holding down the fort waiting for the offense to arrive… which was usually too little too late. Since the Phillies pitching staff gave up 864 runs (5.61 runs per game) in 1945, they obviously were overworked, and Foxx’s presence lightened the load.

All in all, Foxx made nine appearances on the mound for the Phillies in the second half of the 1945 season. They are as follows:

July 15, first game of double-header at Cincinnati: Foxx came into the game in the sixth inning in relief of starter Charley Schanz. He pitched hitless ball for 2.2 innings but gave up four walks. The Reds won 6-1 but all the runs were charged to Schanz. You have to wonder what the 8,104 spectators thought when they saw Foxx take the mound.

July 22, first game of double-header at Chicago: Foxx came into the game with the Phillies behind 8-4 after six innings. As the fourth pitcher of the day, he pitched the final two innings, giving up two hits and two walks but yielding no runs. He had one strikeout. Final score: Cubs 8, Phillies 5.

Aug. 19, second game of double-header against Reds at Philadelphia: This was Foxx’s most memorable appearance—and his only victory. He actually started this game and pitched hitless ball for five innings. Altogether, he pitched 6.2 innings, giving up four hits, two walks, striking out two, and yielding two earned runs. The result was a 4-2 Philadelphia victory. A crowd of 10,418 was on hand at Shibe Park and doubtless many of them harkened back to Foxx’s glory days with the A’s dynasty of 1929-1931. I’m guessing he got a pretty good ovation when he left the mound in the seventh inning.

Aug. 27, first game of double-header against Giants at Philadelphia: Foxx entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter for starter Charley Schanz. He stayed in the game and pitched a scoreless ninth inning, giving up no hits but walking one batter. It was all in vain, as the Giants defeated the Phillies 4-0.

Sept. 2, first game of double-header at Boston: Foxx started this game and didn’t last long, but it wasn’t exactly a disaster. In two innings he gave up three hits, one walk, and just one run. He had one strikeout. With the score tied at 1-1, he shifted to first base after leaving the mound. Rookie Dick Mauney took over on the mound and went the rest of the way. Unfortunately, after the shift, Foxx made an error in the third inning, leading to three unearned runs. In the long run, it proved costly, as the Braves won by a 6-3 score. So Foxx might have “lost” the game, but it was not reflected in his pitching record.

Sept. 6, at Cincinnati: When starter Izzy Leon couldn’t get anyone out in the 5th inning, Foxx came into the game. He went the rest of the way and yielded nothing. In four innings pitched, the only blot on his record was one walk yielded. Another good job all for naught, as the Phillies could muster only one run in the top of the 9th. Final score: Reds 4, Phillies 1. The “crowd” was announced at 346. Must have been a chilly, rainy day/night at Crosley Field.

Sept. 14, second game of double-header at Chicago: This ended up as a six-inning game, which leads one to believe that rain must have played a part at some point during the day. The first game of the double-header (a 4-3 Phillies victory) didn’t run into extra innings, and the second game was called after an hour and twenty minutes, so it’s hard to believe darkness was a factor, unless rain had delayed the proceedings. At any rate, Foxx took the mound in the fourth inning. He pitched the final 1.1 innings, yielding nothing to the Cubs’ offense and striking out one. Again, it was to no avail, as Claude Passeau pitched a six-inning shutout. Final score: Cubs 6, Phillies 0.

Sept. 16, second game of double-header at St. Louis: Not much to see here. Foxx., the fifth pitcher in the game, entered with the Phillies down to the Cards by a 10-3 score. Foxx pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth and when all was said and done, the final score remained 10-3.

Sept. 17, at St. Louis: Foxx’s last appearance on the mound for the Phillies was not memorable. As the third of three Phillies’ pitchers, he entered the game in the seventh inning with the Cardinals leading the Phillies 6-2. He pitched two innings, giving up four hits and one earned run. It didn’t really matter, as the Phillies could add only one more run. Final score: Cardinals 7, Phillies 3.

For the season (actually, less than half a season), Foxx was 1-0 with an ERA of 1.59. He gave up 13 hits and had 10 strikeouts. The only real flaw in his stats was 14 walks, way too many for 22.2 innings. For the record, his last appearance as a major leaguer came six days later when he played first base at Ebbets Field. He had a double in three at bats to go with two RBI’s in a 4-3 victory over the Dodgers.

Of the 22 pitchers who toiled for the Phillies’ staff that season, only one pitcher had an ERA lower than Foxx’s. Rookie Mitch Chetkovich was invincible at 0.00, but he only pitched three innings in four appearances.

Surely, Foxx must have played with the idea of continuing his career as a pitcher in 1946. Knowing that he would be 38 years old and that bona fide major league hitters would be back on the scene after the war, he doubtless figured that the success he enjoyed in 1945 was not likely to be repeated in 1946.

Since all but two of his mound appearances came in double-headers, one might conclude that the Phillies’ pitching staff was strained and someone had to eat some innings. Foxx responded to the challenge splendidly, but in the long run it didn’t make much difference in the team’s fortunes.

Still, you have to wonder how he did it. Judging by the number of walks he yielded, we can likely conclude that he wasn’t a control pitcher. Did he get by with just a fastball? Did it have a lot of motion on it? Had he been experimenting with breaking pitches over the years? Just what did his repertoire consist of?

I suspect it’s no accident that all of Foxx’s appearances on the mound occurred in the second half of the season. Freddie Fitzsimmons, a former pitcher (19 seasons with a 217-146 record), was fired as Phillies manager on June 30. A 17-50 record will do that to a manager, no matter how low the expectations for the team. The new manager, Ben Chapman, had been traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies just two weeks before Foxx’s first appearance on the mound.

Like Foxx, Chapman was a late convert to the mound. After 12 seasons as a position player with six AL teams (he missed only the Browns and the Tigers), Chapman retired as a player after the 1941 season. He managed the Richmond (Va.) Colts in the Piedmont League in 1942 and 1944 (he was suspended in 1943 for punching an umpire).

In 1944, for whatever reason, at age 35, Chapman started writing himself into the lineup as a pitcher. The results were encouraging, to say the least. After 163 innings he had a 13-6 record and an ERA of 2.21. The Dodgers took notice and signed him up for major league duty. He pitched 79.1 innings for them, ending up with a 5-3 record and a 3.40 ERA. All in all, a pretty successful transition—and he might have put the idea into Foxx’s head.

In 1944, Foxx spent part of the season as interim manager of the Portsmouth (Va.) Cubs of the Piedmont League, where Chapman was toiling. Even if he didn’t actually witness Chapman pitch, he would have been aware of his transformation. Possibly, Foxx needed to save wear and tear on his Portsmouth staff and thought he’d take a page from Chapman’s book. Or maybe he just wondered if he could do it. Like their major league counterparts, minor league teams were strained for personnel, so no one would look askance at an old-time slugger taking up the slack on the mound.

For whatever reason, Foxx made two minor league appearances as a pitcher in 1944. The results were inconclusive (one victory, 11 innings), but maybe those stints on the mound kindled something in him.

At any rate, Foxx’s first stint on the mound in 1945 came just two weeks after Ben Chapman took over the team. During the first half of the season, if Foxx had suggested to Freddie Fitzsimmons that he could handle himself on the mound, he was likely rebuffed. As a veteran pitcher, Fitzsimmons would surely be less sympathetic to Foxx than Chapman, who had found a new home on the mound late in his career.

Chapman made 13 appearances with the Dodgers and Phillies in 1945, but his 5.79 ERA likely convinced him that Jimmie Foxx outranked him on the depth chart. Foxx had originally been a catcher and had also played some third base, so he was probably not lacking in arm strength. Playing his usual position of first base, which demanded relatively little in the way of throwing, might have protected him from arm woes.

Even with the suspect competition of National League offenses in 1945, Foxx’s proficiency on the mound must have been a cause of wonderment. Since pitchers had frequently gone on record referring to how menacing Foxx looked in the batter’s box, one wonders if he looked as formidable on the mound.

When Foxx retired, the only man with more major league home runs was Babe Ruth. In 1932, just five years after Babe Ruth’s record season of 60 home runs, Foxx was the first hitter to seriously challenge that record (he ended with 58). The Bambino, thanks to his youthful exploits with the Red Sox, also bettered Foxx on the mound.

The real surprise, however, is that Foxx took to the mound at all. You might think that a veteran with his stellar background would have worried about tarnishing his legacy. If Foxx gave it any thought, he needn’t have bothered.

Foxx certainly didn’t add to his Hall of Fame credentials in 1945, but you have to think that a lot of the fans—and sportswriters—who saw him in the second half of the season never forgot that the last time they saw Double XX play, he was toiling on the mound—and doing pretty well!

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Comments

  1. sleepyirv said...

    I don’t remember where I read it, but I believe Foxx threw the knuckler which would certainly explain the walks.

  2. MikeS said...

    According to farmersalmanac.com, on 9/14/45 the weather in Glenview Illinois (the closest weather station to Wrigley Field, about 15 miles north of there) was a high temp of 63, low of 56 and their was fog and rain/drizzle. So it may have been a rain out that shortened the game.

  3. Frank Jackson said...

    Apologies for the slip-up on Clearwater.  Foxx and the Phillies trained in Wilimngton, Delaware in 1945.  The Phillies went to Miami Beach in 1946 before settling in Clearwater, their longtime spring home, in 1947.

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