The Tribe’s Ray Fosse — Roger Remembers

Ray Fosse Cleveland Indians
AP Photo

“You call the next one.” In disc yard golf, the winner of the previous ‘hole’ chooses and describes the next ‘hole.’

Roger twirled the heavy Frisbee around his index finger. “Over the driveway, around the garage to the left, and hit the corner of the wooden fence in the side yard. The driveway, my truck, all trees, and any other part of the fence are one-stroke penalties.”

Nice. A few different ways to play this: A risky choice might only require two ‘shots’. I’d need to clear the top of the house, avoiding the driveway altogether. I couldn’t see the fence, however, and I realized I might hit the roof. Or, more likely, my Frisbee could sail halfway over the house, then curve and fade all the way back to the area of the front yard where we stood.

He peered at me. “You want to go for it. DOOOO ITTTTT.”

“A man’s got to know his limitations.” He wasn’t impressed. “How about: A man’s got to weigh the limitations of his brother.”

By the time he finished his dismissive snort, I’d wound up with a hop. I stepped out of it in a crouch as I released the disc. I held sort of a hybrid yoga master/disco king pose, with my arm extended. It was similar to a bowling follow-through. The Frisbee’s line drive had enough on it to carry past the driveway, and I was comfortable with my eventual lie- until the disc hit the ground and curled back sharply in our direction. The sudden prospect of it doubling back onto the driveway was fleeting, as the tall, thick spring grass halted its retreat.

Roger’s smile remained agape as he chided, “You are soooooo lucky.”

I was pretending my body language had not belied my brief moment of horror. “That’s why I cut the grass so high. Keeps weeds out, keeps the lawn from getting fried by August, and keeps the yard more ‘playable.’”

Roger chose to lay up safely, just shy of the driveway. While my second shot would be straight at the fence post, his blind shot would be a longer, trickier, curved path around the house. Once he cleared the garage, he’d be in danger of ticking the trees in the side yard. I was going to need to be near my Frisbee before his next throw, to see if he hit anything. We began our trek toward our respective lies.

“So you still writing for that website?”

His comp at the time was Johnny Bench. So in other words, his projected ceiling could not have been higher.

I nodded. “Waiting For Next Year. I contribute. It’s a really great site. I was going to ask you—what do you remember about that time we ‘broadcast’ an inning at The Jake back in ’94?”

“I have the audio cassette of that somewhere. I know Carlos [Baerga] hit a home run. We weren’t pretending to be real announcers; we were homers. Loud and unashamed.”

I was recalling the same thing. “That was terrific. It was a line drive that everyone knew had a chance. People began to stand as it just did clear the fence in right-center. Do real announcers high-five each other?”

I continued. “And remember how the new ballpark felt? You could see people standing and looking around, not believing that place was actually in Cleveland. Roger, do you remember the broadcast booth and the Plexiglas wall separating the booth to the left?”

“Ray Fosse was right there, like ten feet from us. He was a broadcaster for the A’s. He was just smiling, as always. We were wondering what he must have thought of The Jake, after playing at Municipal Stadium. You should write about him.”

In an important voice, I began. “In the 1970 Major League All Star Game, Cleveland Indians rookie catcher Ray Fosse and the Cincinnati Reds’ hustling Pete Rose had a date with destiny.” Roger smirked. I changed direction. “Raymond Earl Fosse was born in Marion, Illinois in 19…” He waited for more. So I gave it: “A key member of the 1972-1973 World Champion Oakland Athletics, Ray Fosse…”

He wasn’t impressed. “Do not write a Wikipedia-type article. And, keep it Cleveland. And for crying out loud, do not give a typical account of Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game.”

I shook my head. “I hear ya. If you did an internet search on Fosse, the straight bios would be as common as that crabgrass over there. The A’s-centric pieces would pop up occasionally, like the stray oak and maple sprouts you might see on the bare patch back near the compost pile.”

“And yeah,” I agreed further. “The Pete Rose stories are way out of control. They bloom every July, around the All Star Game, along with this patch of clover over here.”

Roger began to warm up to the subject of Fosse. “If that 1970 All Star Game had actually happened in the ‘80s or later, it would be referred to with a ‘name.’ “The Collision.”

“I have been doing some reading about Fosse,” I said. “You want to tell me all you can remember about him, and see how much you can cover?”

Roger was game. “His comp at the time was Johnny Bench. So in other words, his projected ceiling could not have been higher, right from the start. I think the Tribe selected him with their first pick in the 1965 draft- that was the first ever amateur draft in Baseball. The Indians made him their pick based on a scouting service they subscribed to, that recommended him.”

“Nice,” I allowed. “Who were the other catchers on the Indians when Fosse broke into the bigs?”

“I’m thinking of baseball cards here. Duke Sims. Kenny Suarez? How about Joe Azcue?”

“You, my man, have a good memory. Azcue was dealt in 1969, in the trade that brought Hawk Harrelson to the Tribe.” My delivery of that item was as pleasant as possible, because I knew what was coming next.

Spit. Roger does not like The Hawk. “I think Fosse’s hand was injured in ’69, and he began 1970 in a platoon with Sims. But within a couple weeks, the manager- Alvin Dark- moved Sims to the outfield and the catcher position was all Fosse’s.”

I chimed in. “Ah, Alvin Dark. According to a Pluto book, owner Vernon Stouffer’s only friend.

“What a season Fosse began to put together. By the All Star break, he was hitting .313 with 16 home runs and 45 RBI. He’d hit in 23 straight games as well, which represented the longest streak in the A.L. in nine seasons.

“He entered the All Star Game in the 5th inning. In the 6th, he singled to right, and was bunted over to second by Indians battery mate Sudden Sam McDowell. Yaz drove him in for the game’s first run. The National League would eventually score three times in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game and send it into extra innings.”

Sighing a little, I continued. “Bottom of the 12th. The Cubs’ Jim Hickman singled with Pete Rose at second base. Rose sprinted (he always sprinted) around third, and third base coach Leo Durocher wave him home. Center fielder Amos Otis of the Kansas City Royals sent a strong throw to the plate, and it was coming in a couple steps up the third base line. Ray Fosse stood ready to receive the throw, and just as it arrived, Rose barreled into him and scored. Fosse went tumbling, and his glove and the ball were separated. The National League won, to the delight of the Cincinnati crowd’s glee.”

Roger spat again. Cincinnati. “These days, Fosse would have undergone an MRI of his shoulder, in addition to the X-ray that was taken at a Cincinnati hospital. The X-ray didn’t show any damage, but that was only due to the inflammation that obscured the fracture. Much later, a second X-ray revealed the problem, but the bone had partially healed incorrectly and needed to be broken again and reset.

“Even though he could not lift his arm after the All Star Game, Fosse started the next Indians game, in Kansas City. He wasn’t going to ask out of the lineup, and Dark wasn’t going to ask him if he was hurt. Fosse did hit close to .300 in the second half of the season, but his home run production was reduced to almost nothing. It is amazing that he actually hit two home runs with a broken shoulder.

“Pete Rose has spoken about the collision dozens of times. A shocker, I know. He likes to point out that while Fosse did not miss any playing time, he himself missed three games with a bruised knee. Rose has said he tried to avoid hitting Fosse; he also has said if he hadn’t run into him, he’d never be able to face his father.”

Me: “That, right there. I think there is a lot of meaning in that last statement.”

“These days,” he resumed, “Fosse seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder over feeling as though it was intentional. As for Rose, what’s the saying? ‘Methinks he dost protest too much.’”

Roger let loose with the rest of the Cleveland side of the Ray Fosse story. “He was an effective catcher for several seasons, after 1970. Not a lot of people seem to know that. Maybe not Johnny Bench-quality, but still. It’s too bad, but his list of injuries grew over time.

“He did make the All Star Game again, in 1971 (along with winning his second Gold Glove). He received a lot of credit from Indians ace Gaylord Perry in 1972, when Perry won the Cy Young Award. 24-16 and a 1.92.

“The Tribe traded Fosse in ’73, with Jack Heideman, to Oakland for outfielder George Hendrick and catcher Dave Duncan.”

“Joggin George,” I interrupted.

Fosse won a couple rings in Oakland, and suffered a few more injuries.

“Yeah. Fosse won a couple rings in Oakland, and suffered a few more injuries. One was a vertebra fracture suffered while breaking up a clubhouse fight between Reggie Jackson and Bill North. In ’76, Fosse returned to the Tribe. Once fellow catcher Alan Ashby was traded to Toronto in 1977, Fosse became the Indians’ regular catcher again. That was the year he caught Eckersley’s no-hitter. When manager Frank Robinson was fired, Fosse was traded to the expansion Seattle Mariners and wound his career down there.

“Fosse still returns to Cleveland multiple times every season, as a radio broadcaster for the A’s. Tribe fans remember his promise and his effort and his toughness which was a constant. It matched the chronic pain in his shoulder.”

I waited for more, but he appeared to be finished. “Wow, pretty impressive. Very nice. Can I quote you?”

Picking up his Frisbee, Roger pulled it back and let it go. It gained altitude as it arced past the downspout at the corner of the garage, and floated to the left beyond his view, toward the trees and the wooden fence post.