The Year Of The Card–Joe Foy, 1969

JoeFoy1969

For a man who played just one season in Royal blue, Joe Foy has an important place in team history. He also has a sad personal story, although there are some redeeming elements. Since he spent just the one year in Kansas City, and that was five decades ago, I wonder how many Royals fans know about him.

Joseph Anthony Foy was born in New York City on February 21, 1943. Although he grew up near Yankee Stadium, young Joe was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. After graduating from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, Foy tried out for several teams before the Minnesota Twins finally signed him ahead of the 1962 season. Apparently, one reason scouts gave for passing on Foy was concern about his weight, which would be a theme throughout his career.

After a solid season (.285/.444/.422) for the Twins’ Class D (the equivalent of a Rookie league today) team in Erie (Pennsylvania), the Red Sox picked Foy out of the Twins’ organization in the 1962 minor league draft. Splitting time between two different Class A teams, Foy hit a more modest .281/.344/.428 in 130 games.

Yet somehow the Red Sox decided they should bump Foy all the way up to Class AAA Seattle for 1964. Foy struggled, hitting just .225/.311/.250 in 46 plate appearances before being demoted to Class AA Reading (Pennsylvania). There, he rediscovered his ability, batting .292/.382/.395 over 106 games. He started 1965 at Class AAA again, this time with Boston’s farm team now in Toronto. Now he was better prepared for the level and hit .302/.379/.460. That earned him the International League’s batting title, MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, and a spot on the league’s All-Star team. The only concern was that he also led the league in errors, committing 26 at third base. However, since Foy had changed positions plenty in the minors, moving from catcher to first base to shortstop to third base, perhaps it’s understandable that his fielding would struggle.

After four minor league seasons, and still at the young age of 23, Foy was deemed ready for the majors by Boston. It is hard for modern readers to imagine, but the Red Sox in the mid-1960s were struggling mightily. Going on two decades without a postseason appearance since dropping the 1946 World Series, Boston hadn’t even managed a winning season since 1958. The 1965 edition of the Sox had lost 100 games. And 1966 wouldn’t be much better, as Boston finished ninth in the 10-team American League (ahead of the Yankees!) with a 72-90 record. However, Foy did his best to help out, hitting .262/.364/.413 with 15 home runs and more walks (91) than strikeouts (80). Foy did well enough at third base that Boston moved another young prospect, George Scott, to first base.

For 1967, the Red Sox promoted manager Dick Williams from Toronto to take over the big-league club. With Carl Yastrzemski the oldest regular at the ripe old age of 27, the Red Sox surprised everyone by outlasting Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago to win the American League pennant in a classic race, but lost a heartbreaking World Series to St. Louis.

Foy’s numbers fell off a bit from 1966, as he hit .251/.325/.426 in 130 games. Williams, who had seemed fond of Foy when they were in Toronto, benched Foy a couple of times, especially as he struggled early in the season. Williams would also publicly mention Foy’s weight or otherwise criticize him. The Red Sox also traded for veteran infielder (and another future 1969 Royal) Jerry Adair as insurance. Foy also dealt with a personal crisis during a mid-June series in New York. His family lived in a three-story house near Yankee Stadium, and Foy and his wife were staying there as well. Foy was returning home one night when he realized the house was on fire. No one was hurt, but practically all of his possessions–clothes, mementos, trophies–were gone. Foy capped off that eventful visit to New York with a grand slam the next night and being in the middle of a brawl the night after that.

Perhaps Williams was trying to inspire Foy, or maybe he was just being a jerk. Foy might have been the first player to tangle with Williams, but he certainly wouldn’t be the last in Williams’ 22-year managerial career. Regardless, Foy ended the year with a poor showing in the World Series (2-15, with five strikeouts and just one walk) but Williams proclaimed that the third base job was his going into 1968.

Foy reported to spring training at a trim 195 pounds (best shape of his life!) but suffered through a tough season, on and off the field. His batting line tumbled to .225/.336/.326, although this was the Year of the Pitcher and Foy’s numbers were still good for a 96 OPS+, just a tick below average for third basemen that year. But in the context of 1968, that .225 was what mattered, and that was a big disappointment. Foy also committed 30 errors, leading the league. And on July 21, he was arrested after the car he was driving hit a taxi at 4 am. Foy and his passenger, pitcher Juan Pizarro, were both charged with public intoxication. Both players were fined and suspended by the Red Sox, and that apparently was enough for Boston to leave Foy unprotected in the expansion draft.

The Royals selected Foy with the fourth pick of that draft. Foy had been expecting his Boston days to end, but had expected a trade. On his way out of Boston, Foy ripped Williams:

“(He’s) a two-faced sneak. He takes pleasure in hurting people. He thinks that will make them better ballplayers. Well, I’ve got news for him. I expect to be a much better player with a new club.”—Foy, quoted by Larry Claflin, The Sporting News, October 26, 1968

Foy reported to spring training late due to an illness in the family, but soon discovered he was much more at ease as a Royal.

“Things are different for me. I can feel it. I’ve got confidence and (manager) Joe Gordon has confidence in me. When Gordon tells me I’m his third baseman, I believe him. It’s an honor when a manager treats you like this. You know you can succeed. I know I can help this club.”–Foy, quoted by Joe McGuff, The Sporting News, April 5, 1969

And on Opening Day, there he was, manning third base and batting cleanup for the first game in franchise history. After making outs in his first five at-bats, Foy singled with one out in the 12th. A passed ball, intentional walk, and wild pitch moved him to third, and Foy scored the game-winning run easily when Joe Keough singled.

Foy had been prone to slow starts in his career, but he ended April with a respectable .264/.346/.375 mark. He had batted fourth in all 19 games, but had only one home run. However, he had six stolen bases while being caught just once. 

As late as May 11, Foy was still holding steady with a .716 OPS, but he suffered through a terrible slump (11 for 64) the rest of the month to end May with a .227/.322/.331 mark on the season. His BABIP in those 18 games was just .179, and he still drew eight walks against 11 strikeouts, so it seems to be a case of mostly bad luck.

Things turned around quickly for Foy, though. He enjoyed a season-best nine-game hitting streak to start June, although he only collected 11 hits in those games. However, he also had nine walks in that stretch, boosting his season numbers to .249/.354/.348. He would end June with similar numbers: .251/.350/.343. By this point, Gordon had tinkered with the lineup and had Foy batting leadoff. Since Foy ended the year with one of the best on-base percentages (.354) and second-most steals (37), this wasn’t a bad idea, although as an expansion team, the Royals had too many lineup holes to paper over. They went 10-18 in June, erasing any hope that had sprung up after a solid 21-25 start.

After Foy hit just .212/.289/.333 in the first nine games of July, Gordon benched him for a couple of weeks to start giving Paul Schaal a look at third base. Foy returned to the lineup after the All-Star break and would play regularly the rest of the year, but he would see time at first base, center field, and even a couple of games at second base. He ended July with a .245/.338/.335 line; the Royals went 11-18 for the month, so Foy was hardly the only struggling hitter on the team.

Although the team continued losing in August, going 10-17, Foy had an excellent month. He hit .300/.400/.422, with 15 walks against 13 strikeouts. He also belted two home runs and stole five bases. Then Foy ended his season with another very good month, hitting .286/.368/.439 in September. For the season, Foy wound up with a .262/.354/.370 line. His 11 home runs were tied for fourth on the team with Lou Piniella (Ed Kirkpatrick was the leader with 14; Foy was one of only five Royals to crack double digits in that category). He was second in stolen bases with 37, three behind Pat Kelly. And Foy led the team in runs scored (72) and RBIs (71). And he was able to cut his errors down to 18 (12 of them in his 113 games at third).

But while Foy was compiling those numbers, the New York Mets were authoring a surprising world championship despite their third baseman, Wayne Garrett, hitting .218/.290/.268 for the year. The Mets’ complete group of third basemen hit .213/.276/.285. And that wasn’t a new development; in their eighth year of existence, the team had tried 41 players at third base. One of those was a fleet outfielder who, for some reason, New York had tried to convert to the hot corner. His name was Amos Otis.

I suppose the good thing about being an expansion team is you have few untouchable players. Foy had enjoyed a good season, but the Royals were willing to deal him. On December 3, 1969, he became part of perhaps the biggest heist in team history. Foy returned home to New York in exchange for Otis and pitcher Bob Johnson.

Johnson made 26 starts for the Royals in 1970, going 8-13 despite a 3.07 ERA. And then the Royals packaged him in a deal with Pittsburgh for shortstop Freddie Patek. Just like that, the Royals had two key pieces in their three division winning teams in the 1970s.

The deal really became lopsided, however, when Foy failed to repeat his Kansas City success in the Big Apple. Foy played in just 99 games and hit just .236/.373/.329. Even worse, he began struggling with alcohol and drug addictions. That spilled over from his personal life to his work, as evidenced by a couple of incidents: the day when he walked in front of manager Gil Hodges in the dugout and just stood there, blocking the skipper’s view of the field, and an even stranger moment when, stationed at third base, Foy seemed oblivious to a ground ball hit past him and then began pounding his glove and yelling “Hit it to me!”

The Mets demoted Foy to the minors after the season, and to do so, they had to put him on waivers. No one claimed him. Later that winter, the Washington Senators drafted Foy in the Rule 5 draft. But Foy would only last 41 games in the nation’s capital. He was sent to the minors to get in better shape (but not before he basically admitted to using marijuana in an interview, probably not the best PR move in 1971). While there, he got into an argument with that team’s general manager and was unceremoniously released. That was the end of his baseball career.

Foy struggled for years with his addictions, but he ultimately conquered them. Even better, he put his experiences to work as a drug counselor in New York. Sadly, he died very young, dying in 1989 after suffering a heart attack at age 46. He left behind a wife and two children. It is sad that Foy didn’t realize his potential on the baseball field, but any troubled youths he helped before his untimely passing more than make up for it.

Joe Foy’s best games of 1969:
9/20 vs. CHW: Homered, doubled twice, scored twice, and drove in five in 9-8 win.
4/14 @ SEA: Collected four hits in 2-1 victory.
6/27 vs. MIN: Had three hits, including game-tying single in ninth, in 9-8 triumph.
5/4 @ CAL: Homered, singled, walked twice,  and drove in three runs in 15-1 laugher.
6/16 @ OAK: Picked up three hits and doubled to tie game in ninth in 7-5 loss.

About the card:
When you’re an expansion team, you get a lot of airbrushed cards. This is no exception, and it makes for an unremarkable card…except for whatever is happening behind his right shoulder. Is that a painting of the sun or what? I can’t tell. Personally, on this card (and in lots of the images of Foy available online) I really don’t see evidence of the weight problem he supposedly had. On the back, I notice Topps got Foy’s birthdate wrong.

Sources:

https://baseballhall.org/discover-more/stories/card-corner/1967-joe-foy-topps-card

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/0cc84530

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1989/10/13/Joe-Foy-member-of-67-Red-Sox-dead-at-46/2001624254400/

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