The Catcher in the “Why”: Ray Fosse’s America
Throughout our lives we make conscious decisions designed to construct a level of predictability or controlled outcome from those decisions. We may decide to buy a new car in order to get to a certain location faster or we may decide to change jobs because of the benefits that employment has for us. But ultimately one has to accept that with each breath of life we take there is a level of control we must sacrifice to surrender to the notion that events which transpire in the time frame of a few seconds or in the direction of a few inches can change one’s life forever. Someone with limitless physical potential can in one second become a shell of the man he or she was and what could be a friendly exhibition of talent and skill one moment can just as quickly turn into an unnecessarily violent war the next. For a 23 year old, Raymond Earl Fosse, the cruelty of bad timing and coincidence essentially wiped away the promise of a baseball career while the seeds of a career in broadcasting were unknowingly planted. All within the blink of an eye.
Baseball isn’t designed to go into extra-innings but when it does each pitch plays a huge part in the march towards victory for a team. In the twelfth inning of the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati’s two week old Riverfront Stadium, extra innings came to end when NL batters squared off against Cylde Wright pitching in his second inning of relief for the AL. With two outs, local hero Pete Rose and Billy Grabarkewitz hit back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second. Jim Hickman followed and singled to center field where Amos Otis fielded the ball and fired a one hopper just slightly on the third base side of the plate where catcher Ray Fosse retrieved the ball and was subsequently bowled over by a charging Rose, forcing Fosse to lose control letting Rose score and win the game for the NL. Fosse was hit hard and suffered a fracture and separated left shoulder and since the damage was not immediately noticed by x-ray, Fosse continued to play for another couple of months before the injury worsened and eventually took its toll on his swing. He never quite regained the level of play or potential he once had before the injury and to this day, Fosse cannot fully lift his left arm and suffers from arthritis as a result. Meanwhile Pete Rose has full capabilities in both arms yet seems to lack a full understanding of the English language when asked about gambling.
The drama of the 1970 All-Star game isn’t new and with each mid-summer classic we’re shown the replay of the collision again and again. We’re also reminded of good ‘ol Charlie Hustle’s intensity and reminded that Pete Rose was such a gamer that All-Star game or not, he gave his all while Fosse became a sad footnote. We also know that baseball can be harsh and injuries can end a career in one play so one could argue that if it didn’t happen to Fosse on that date, it could have happened another time. In fact, Fosse seemed to always be suffering from strange injuries such as the time in 1974, a season after becoming an Oakland Athletic, he suffered a separated disk in his neck after breaking up a clubhouse brawl between A’s outfielders Reggie Jackson and Billy North. Fosse was just one of those guys who seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But when that’s your legacy to the world and you’re constantly reminded as such, how do you not ask “why me?” How do you deal with the idea that you will be best remembered as the guy Pete Rose demolished in a meaningless game? Perhaps the greater question we need to ask is why we let events which are out of our control define our legacy anyway. Our legacies are an ever evolving set of events which are constantly open for reinterpretation and the more we ask, “why” the less time we are allowed to create the legacy we see fit for ourselves and of the two men involved in that collision, Fosse seems to be the one less concerned with his legacy via the world’s perception.
After that play, Ray Fosse did manage to play several more seasons before calling it quits in 1979 with the Brewers organization. He was a .256 career hitter who was a two-time All-Star, won two gold gloves behind the dish and owns two World Series rings as a member of the 1973 and 1974 Oakland Athletics. Beginning in 1986, Fosse began working as a radio and television broadcaster for the A’s and has held that job ever since (despite the occasional interruption by Scott Hatteberg). If you head out to a game you’ll notice a fan portrait of him in hanging from the right field bleachers and above the broadcast booth, you’ll see a group of fans identifying themselves as members of “Fosse’s Posse”. Ray isn’t the greatest announcer to grace the broadcast booth. In fact, throughout the course of a game you’ll likely hear Ray become, for what seems like several innings, fixated on what type of equipment the catcher is wearing and will discuss in a rather rambling manner how nicely a ball boy along the third or first base line looked while nabbing a stray foul ball. But he knows the security guards by first name and will give a shout out if he seems them in the background while the camera rolls on an on deck hitter. He knows the names of the ball and bat boys and will give them shout-outs as well. When the A’s were on their division winning runs in the early to mid-2000’s as well as last season, the camera crew would always head down to the locker room and film Ray exuberantly interviewing players as they doused champagne on him. He grins from ear-to-ear during these exchanges and seems like he has inside jokes with the players. He knows and mentions their wives and kids names on radio and TV broadcasts and as a fan, this makes you feel as if you’re a part of this extended family. Basically, the guy seems to love his job and seems to have no regrets about how he got there. You have to respect a guy who chooses to define his legacy on his terms without looking back or asking “why?”
For Pete Rose, life took a different turn filled with gambling debts, womanizing, banishment from baseball, tax evasion, prison sentence and general scum baggery. Pete Rose is someone who asks, “why me?” anytime there is a microphone around and his legacy continues to stagger at every turn. All-time hits leader or not, the guy is classless and for his compromising of the game I really do think a life time ban should be upheld! That’s a rant by the way!
Try as we may, we really have no control over how our lives will play out. We deal with the unpredictability of work, family, a tumultuous country, day-to-day life or whatever else comes barreling down the third base line the best way we know how and the freedom of choice on how we decide to make the best of it and how we define ourselves belongs to us. Ultimately, this is what America was supposedly founded on; the belief that each of our destinies and futures lay unwritten with hopefully some ice-cold champagne ready to be dumped on our heads in celebration. All within the blink of an eye.
Ray Fosse’s legacy today: Pretty girls wearing his jersey. Well played, Ray!