By John B Holway
I first saw Jimmie Foxx on Memorial Day, 1940. Over 84,000 people, the third-largest crowd in Yankee Stadium history at that time, were also on hand. After ten years of Depression my entire life I was about to see my first major league game, the Yankees against the Red Sox. A rich friend of my father had bought box seat tickets right over the Boston dugout. The game was a few minutes old when we hustled through the tunnel from under first-base stands. Suddenly there, framed in the tunnel exit not 100 feet away, his muscles bulging beneath his sleeves, his cheek bulging with tobacco, brandishing his bat menacingly, crouched Jimmie Foxx.
I could have fainted.
That winter he sent me this picture.
Who was Jimmie Foxx? In a few weeks he would pass the dying Lou Gehrig and take over second place behind Babe Ruth in lifetime home runs. He would remain there for 25 years, until Willie Mays finally passed him in 1965.
Yet how many fans today know who Jimmie was? That includes the postmaster general of the United States, who has just put out a set of four great slugger stamps and left Double X off completely.
In his greatest year, Foxx walloped 58 homers. It might have been 60 or 61, but he fell off a ladder at home and missed the last few games of the season. He could blast line drives over the roof of Philadelphias old Shibe Park (Connie Mack) Stadium, and is the only man to conquer the centerfield wall there, 468 feet from home. Hes also the only man to smash two homers over the roof of Comiskey Park, both blows 500 feet, plus.
Lefty Gomez of the Yankees knew him well. Jimmie powered one of Leftys pitches so deep into the third deck in Yankee Stadium that Gomez said it took him 45 minutes to climb up to the spot after the game. Even his hair had muscles, Lefty winced. Next time Double-X came up, Gomez just stood motionless on the mound until catcher Bill Dickey jogged out to see what was wrong. Lets wait a few minutes, Gomez said, maybe he'll get a long-distance telephone call. When Leftys doctor prescribed glasses, he got his first clear look at Foxx at bat. The sight so shocked him that he threw glasses away and never wore them again.
And Jim wasn't that big. He stood six feet tall and is listed as 195 pounds by some authorities, only 185 by others. He is one of the handful of sluggers Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle are others who could drive a ball three feet per pound. Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire couldn't do that. Imagine Jimmie on steroids!
Jim won three MVPs, two batting titles, knocked in 175 runs in one season and anchored the great Athletics dynasty of 1929-31, which some consider greater than the 1927 Yankees.
What a sweet, lovable guy, the rookie Williams remembered. Ted marveled at the explosive Kee-RACK of Jimmies bat. He did fingertip pushups and squeezed rubber balls by the hour until he could have muscles like Jimmie.
Of the four men on the sluggers stamp, only one, Mantle, played in Jimmies class. In fact, the two are almost clones.
Foxx 8134 534
Mantle 8102 536
Both Foxx and Mantle came up young -- Jimmie was 17, Mickey 19. Both burned out young Foxx at 37, Mantle at 36.
The other three men in the stamp series Mel Ott, Hank Greenberg, and Roy Campanella weren't in the same league with these two.
The 170-pound Ott hit 511 homers. They weren't really homers, they were pop flies seven-iron shots into the 250-foot overhang in the Polo Grounds upper deck. Statistitian Pete Palmer broke his home runs down into home and away, and I think Mel hit 372 at home and 184 on the road. If he had played anywhere else, no one would have heard of him.
Greenberg slugged 331, though he might have been 150 more if he hadn't lost almost four years in the Army Air Corps. He also hit 58 in one year, though, like Ott, his home park, Detroits Briggs Stadium, aided him (39 at home, 19 on the road). He was the greatest Jewish hitter ever.
Campanella hit 242 homers into the cozy leftfield stands in Brooklyn (340 feet in the power alley. Even if one ads his Negro League homers 15 in 181 games Campy couldn't hit with Jimme and Mickey. I think Campy was chosen for the color of his muscles, not their size.
If Uncle Sam wanted a black, he could have picked two bona fide sluggers from the Negro Leagues -- Turkey Stearns or Mule Suttles. Turkey, the all-time Negro League leader, is already in the Hall. Mule will go in this weekend. (Josh Gibson already has a stamp.)
Campy is there for one other reason. Like Mantle and Ott, he played for a New York team. If Foxx had played in the Big Apple, I have no doubt hed have been in that stamp series. This is carrying New York chauvinism too far.
John Barleyorn did both Foxx and Mantle in. Jimmie picked up too many bar tabs for his friends, though switching to catcher to help out the Red Sox may have played a part in shortening his career. The Sox gave him a pension to help him through his retirement years. He managed in the All-American Girls League and was parodied by Tom Hanks in the movie, A League of Their Own. One of his players, Pepper Paire, used to ride in the front seat with him on all-night bus trips, sharing a bottle of champagne and listening to his stories. (If only she had had a tape recorder with her.)
The last time I saw Jimmie was the late 1950s. He was playing in a softball game in Washington, between the White House and the Washington Monument, and I chatted with him after the game.
He died in 1967, choking on a piece of meat in a restaurant.
The post office isn't the only institution that has forgotten Jimmie. To this day the Red Sox haven't retired his red #3. Its an oversight they should correct as fast as possible.