But physical assets are only one of the reasons for Foster's success. Few players have his ability to adjust their stances to different kinds of pitching. He crouches low against a sinkerballer, stands erect against a pitcher who throws higher deliveries and moves deep in the box against a fastballer. Like most good hitters, he has learned to swing slightly down on the ball. Perhaps most important is his attitude. "In the long run I'm different from other players because of my inner strength," Foster says. "I'll never lose my dedication." Or, as Rose puts it, "George has way more than average pride."
This pride can express itself in unusual ways, including Foster's reluctance to steal bases. Anderson believes that this may prevent him from becoming one of the game's elite.
"George has reached the point where he needs to ask himself, 'How great do I want to be?' " says Anderson. "He's totally conquered the hitting part of baseball, but I want him to become a more complete player. If he wants to, he can become a well-rounded star like Aaron, Mays and Clemente. And one of the most important things he's going to have to do is be more outgoing on the bases. He should be stealing 40 a year."
Foster has stolen only five bases this season. "To do something well you have to have confidence in it," he says. "I don't relax when I get the steal sign; I'm thinking about the possibility of getting hurt or worrying that the other team has stolen the sign and knows I'm running. If I can get to the base without sliding, fine." Pride, apparently, doth go before a fall.
Dirty uniform or not, Bench is willing to grant Foster superstar status right now, but he does not think Foster will be accorded that distinction outside of Cincinnati unless he opens up—not on the base paths but in the clubhouse. "On the field George is of superstar quality," says Bench. "The players are aware of this, even if the fans aren't. Public relations have a lot to do with making a player a star. Recognition has come late for him, and he is just starting to break through the aura that surrounds some of the other players on the team. George isn't as outgoing as some of us, so he doesn't always get as much attention as he should."
This is why you are never likely to see Foster on television telling America that a man wants to smell like a man. He is shy and reserved and has little use for the glamour that comes with being a successful athlete. While Bench signs autographs and joshes with strangers, Rose makes his TV commercials and Morgan keeps his mouth motoring, Foster quietly goes his own way. And his path does not lead to any bars. He spends much of his spare time reading the Bible.
"George is not a sinner like the rest of us," says Bench. "You want to know who he took to Hawaii for that Superstars TV show?" says Rose incredulously. "His mother!" Says Morgan, "A man with George's good habits should hit 50 home runs."
All of which does not mean that Foster is humorless. Recently he has taken to explaining that his home-run output has increased "because balls that used to bounce off the walls are now bouncing off the seats." His black bat, he once proclaimed, was intended to integrate the bat rack. That may have been true, but these days it is segregating Foster from the rest of the hitters. They have been relegated to a class that is definitely separate, but certainly not equal to the one to which Foster belongs.