OCTOBER 11, 1976
When the hall of Fame finally tabbed him in November, George Foster's reaction was...what? Joy? Relief? Confusion? Ever since 1986, when his four-team, 18-year major league career came to an end, Foster had dreamed of being enshrined. "At first I didn't know what to think," says Foster, "but then I realized what an honor it was." After all, it's not every man who gets to join legends like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Billy Williams, Early Wynn...in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Of course the Tuscaloosa-born Foster still hopes for induction into a slightly more prestigious Hall. Before it became as common as daylight to hit 50 homers in a season, Foster was briefly the game's most feared slugger. In 1977 Foster, the Cincinnati Reds' leftfielder, won the National League MVP award by hitting 52 dingers and driving in 149 runs while batting .320. He followed that performance with another 40 homers and 120 RBIs, becoming the only Red to lead the league in home runs in consecutive seasons. With his black bat, iron jaw and lamb-chop sideburns, Foster was an ominous presence at the plate. As Terry Leach, who was later a teammate of Foster's on the New York Mets, says, "George was the biggest, baddest guy on the planet."
Because of his quiet nature, Foster was often described as moody, and he was routinely overshadowed by a quartet of Big Red Machine stars—Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose. At the time, says Foster, he didn't mind being the ignored man. Heck, the Big Red Machine won two World. Series with Foster in the middle of the lineup. Looking back, however, he regrets not having tried for a larger share of the spotlight. "I should have set more individual goals for my career," says Foster, who wound up with 1,925 hits and 348 homers. "The best players help their teams and also try to reach a certain level year after year. I never established that."
He did establish another benchmark, however. In 1982 he signed a five-year, $10 million contract with the Mets, becoming baseball's first $2 million man. Nowadays Foster, 53, is still making his mark. Two years ago he started a baseball academy, and he currently serves as an assistant coach for the team at Fort Pierce ( Fla.) Westwood High, under head coach Charles Johnson Sr. (the father of the Florida Marlins catcher). There is, Foster says, no greater joy than teaching a youngster the game. "Hitting a home run was great," says Foster, who lives in Vero Beach with his wife, Sheila, and daughters Starrine, 19, and Shawna, 15, "but watching one of the kids do it is even better."