Hi friends. Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, October 14, the morning of game 5 of the NLDS. Late tonight, (needlessly late since they’re the only game in town), the Dodgers and Giants will play for the right to face the Braves in the upcoming NLCS. Before focusing on that game, a word needs to be said for Ray Fosse-former catcher, broadcaster with Oakland since 1986. Just this past August, he owned up to the fact that cancer had dogged his footsteps since 2005. After so many years, he was stepping away from the microphone to battle the cancer for all the marbles. Like fellow broadcasters Bob Murphy and Jack Buck, cancer claimed its victim all too soon when Fosse passed away last night. For Fosse, it wasn’t just cancer he lived with.
Ray Fosse was a relative newcomer in July of 1970. He was 23 and the world was his. A rookie big leaguer with the Indians, he was an All-Star and had a chance to play at the newly opened Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Earl Weaver, the Orioles’ manager gave him that chance following a 23-game hitting streak by Fosse, the longest in the junior circuit in 9 years.
The Tigers’ Bill Freehan was the American League’s starting catcher on that hot summer night. Fosse spelled him as the game went on. The National League tied the game at 4 in the 9th inning, sending the contest into extra innings. In the home 12th, Fosse, all unknowing, had his rendezvous with destiny. The moment that marked his life with unending pain from then on would be shown repeatedly on TV for decades to come. With two on and two gone, the Cubs’ Jim Hickman singled up the middle. Running like the game was life and death instead of a meaningless exhibition, Pete Rose buried Fosse who didn’t have a ball to tag him out with. By the time the ball arrived, Fosse was already planted in the astroturf. On NBC radio, with classic understatement, NBC’s Jim Simpson said “Fosse is slow to get up.”
All that was bad enough. Fosse’s problem was compounded by the primitive state of sports medicine a half century ago. The Indians were going nowhere. Today, he probably would have sat out the rest of the season. How he might come back would be a question even today. The human shoulder is more difficult to put right than the elbow or the knee. As it was, Fosse was told nothing was broken and had to play on. Only the following year, 1971 did doctors discover his shoulder had been broken and dislocated in the collision with Rose. The break and dislocation didn’t heal correctly. Fosse wasn’t to live pain free until the end.
Somehow, pain or not, Fosse was chosen as an All-Star again in 1971. He couldn’t play in Detroit owing to an unrelated injury. A year later, on a last-place team, pitcher Gaylord Perry gave much of the credit for his Cy Young award to his catcher. Fosse. That winter, Fosse was shipped to the world champion A’s, where he caught 3 20-game winners-Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman and Catfish Hunter. He lost much of 1974 to a crushed disc in his neck. He got it by trying to stop Reggie Jackson fighting teammate Bill North. By the time he regained his health as best he could, he’d been replaced behind the dish by Gene Tenace. His last playing highlight came in May of 1977. He’d been sent back to the Indians and was the catcher for Dennis Eckersley’s no-hitter.
He spent his last 35 years behind a microphone, mostly on Oakland A’s telecasts but occasionally on radio if Oakland wasn’t showing the game on local TV. He hailed from Bloomington, Illinois, as did the A’s lead radio broadcaster Bill King. While Fosse was nominated for the Ford C. Frick award in 2004, King would win it after his death.
I don’t pretend to know the pain Fosse suffered between his ruined shoulder and the cancer that took his life. What defeats me is how he kept it quiet. I know a minor amount of pain following spinal surgery some years back. Minor though it is, any new doctor almost immediately asks me “Do you have a bad back?” Following two rotator cuff injuries in my boyhood, I’ve had a shoulder that talked to me at night since I left baseball. While it talks to me and always will after nightfall, I would hardly call it the chronic pain Fosse knew. The broadcasting world has lost a trooper in Ray Earl Fosse. R I P0