Willie (Bill) Foster
A half-brother of the famous Rube Foster, Willie Foster was the greatest left-handed pitcher from the Negro Leagues. With near perfect control and a wide assortment of pitches, all delivered with the same motion, the tall left-hander was at his best when the stakes were highest. With a crucial game to win, Bill was the kind of pitcher that a manager wanted on the mound. He was a smart pitcher who knew how to get the most out of his vast repertoire of pitchers, which included a blazing fastball, a slider, a fast- breaking drop, a sidearm curve and a masterful change of pace. Jocko Conlon, a Hall of Fame umpire, regarded Foster comparable to another Hall of Famer, Herb Pennock but said that Foster was a little faster. Conlon added that Foster was “really something to watch.”
Foster was a star pitcher for the Chicago American Giants for over a decade. His tenure included pennants in 1926, 1927, 1932 and 1933, and near misses two other years (1928, 1934) when they lost the League Championship Series. In the 1926 season, he compiled an 11-4 league record and followed with a sensational performance in the Negro World Series against the Bacharach Giants. He pitched three complete games while relieving in another, getting two victories, including one shutout, and compiling a 1.27 ERA. The following year Foster compiled a 21-3 league ledger and was again the workhorse in the Series, pitching two complete games and relieving in two others, while picking up two more victories.
Foster was named manager of the American Giants for the 1930 season and although he fashioned a 16-10 record in league play, he couldn’t produce a pennant. In 1931 he was enticed away from the Giants temporarily to join the Homestead Grays, where his presence made an already good team one of the greatest teams of all time. In September, in a rare occurrence, he pitched Cum Posey’s Grays to a victory over J. L. Wilkinson’s Kansas City Monarchs and then, with the permission of both owners, switched teams for the remainder of the season.
Back in the Chicago fold, his league ledger showed seasons of 15-8 and 9-3 in 1932-1933, each producing a pennant. The first year they copped the Negro Southern League flag, and the latter year he pitched the American Giants to a pennant in the new Negro National League. His performance in 1933 earned him the distinction of being the starting pitcher for the West squad in the first East-West All-Star game. At that time, the rules did not restrict a pitcher to only three innings in All-Star competition, and Willie pitched the complete game victory over an East line-up that read like a Hall of Fame roll call.
In 1934, the American Giants won the first-half championship but lost a tough seven-game play-off to the second-half champion, Philadelphia Stars. Foster joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1936 and although past his prime, he was still a formidable presence on the mound. The 1937 season was the left-hander’s last full season with a top team in the Negro Leagues.
During his baseball career, Foster had pursued his educational goals in the off- seasons, and after retiring from baseball, he coached for many years at Alcorn State College, a position that he held until shortly before his death.
Foster was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame March 5, 1996.
Memphis Red Sox, Chicago American Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords
Herb Pennock and Lefty Gomez, but with a bit more effectiveness overall than Pennock. He usually pitched on winning teams and pitched in more important games than any other pitcher in black baseball. Among current players, Tom Glavine is comparable because of his variety of pitches, overall effectiveness and consistent wining performance.