Foxx’s Hard Life After Baseball Included Stop in Cleveland
Vince Guerrieri | On 10, May 2017
He never played for the Indians – and in fact for more than a decade he terrorized pitching in Cleveland and in all the other cities in the American League – but Jimmie Foxx’s post-baseball life involved a stint in Cleveland – and he still has a baseball field named for him in Lakewood.
Foxx dropped out of high school in Maryland to play baseball and signed as a catcher by the Philadelphia Athletics. But the Athletics already had a future Hall of Famer behind the plate in Mickey Cochrane, and Foxx was switched to first base and was a mainstay for the A’s teams that won pennants from 1929-1931, and the 1929 and 1930 World Series. (Those three seasons would mark Foxx’s only postseason appearances.)
With the Depression in full swing, Athletics owner/manager Connie Mack had to sell off his talent. Cochrane went to Detroit, and Foxx got some starts at catcher. But his productivity at the plate continued, with three straight 40-home run seasons from 1932 to 1934, including 58 in 1932. Foxx estimated that he lost six home runs to the screen set up in St. Louis, and Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 would stand until Roger Maris broke it in 1961.
In 1935, the All-Star Game made its first appearance in Cleveland. Because Lou Gehrig was firmly ensconced at first base, Foxx started for the American League at third. He went 2-for-3 at the plate, including a mammoth home run as the junior circuit won its third straight Midsummer Classic.
Eventually, the wheel stopped spinning on Foxx’s name as well. Indians owner Alva Bradley dispatched Cy Slapnicka during the offseason meetings after the 1936 season to at least test the waters on an asking price for Foxx. The Indians were coming off two straight third-place finishes, and perhaps Foxx’s power could make the difference for them.
As it turned out, the price for Foxx was $150,000 – paid by Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Red Sox. It was too mighty a sum for the Indians, who had never paid more than $55,000 for a player (and that was Tris Speaker, 20 years earlier). Foxx’s best season in Boston was 1938, when he hit 50 home runs and drove in 175 runs.
However, he started to drink heavily, possibly a consequence of a sinus injury from a beaning in an exhibition game after the 1934 season, and his productivity started to slip afterward. Midway through the 1942 season, he was sold to the Cubs – this time for a scant $10,000 after clearing waivers – and hit .205 for the rest of the season, and announced his retirement.
In 1945, with World War II depleting most major league rosters, Foxx was brought back to Philadelphia – this time with the Phillies, where he hit his last seven home runs and even pitched, going 1-0 in 23 innings on the mound. Then he was done as a player.
His post-baseball career was a difficult one, as a divorce and bad investments depleted his savings. He tried broadcasting for a year, and worked as a coach in the minor leagues, at the University of Miami, and for one year he managed the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional League (Tom Hanks’ character in “A League of Their Own” is loosely based on him – as evidenced by his poster at the end in Cooperstown saying he hit 58 home runs).
By 1958, Foxx was nearly destitute. Former catcher Mickey O’Neil arranged for Foxx to get a job at a nursery in the Cleveland area. But as he was preparing to move, Foxx fell down a flight of stairs, fracturing his skull, getting a concussion and injuring his spine. “The doctor took a look at the X-rays and said, ‘I don’t know how you’re here,’” Foxx recalled.
But he couldn’t work at the nursery. Foxx, then living in Lakewood, latched on first as a deputy clerk in Cleveland Municipal Court and then with the state Office of Unemployment. But those were both short-lived because of his lack of qualifications. By January 1962, when legendary Plain Dealer sports editor Gordon Cobbledick found him, Foxx was selling sporting goods – with Maris’ name on them – at the May Company department store on Public Square downtown.
Foxx lamented his spending habits, but the story also noted that he’d never made more than $27,000 in a year as a baseball player – still better than the average worker, but nowhere near what he could have made even if he was playing at the time. “I was talking to Joe DiMaggio recently,” Foxx said. “Joe said, ‘Jimmie, you were born 25 years too soon.’”
Foxx gave clinics with new equipment, appearing at local baseball fields for children to take lessons from a man who at one point was the scariest hitter in the American League. In 2000, a field at Kauffmann Park in Lakewood was named for him.
After his bankruptcy, many former major leaguers rallied to help him, but he knew his days in baseball were over, writing as much in a piece for Baseball Magazine. Foxx was recognized in 1963 at the All-Star Game, which had returned to Cleveland. He suffered another heart attack later that year, and finally retired due to disability. He spent most of his time in Florida from then until his untimely death on July 21, 1967, when he choked on a piece of food while at dinner with his brother.
Coincidentally, Foxx died the same day as Basil Rathbone, the actor most famous as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Errol Flynn’s “Robin Hood” and as Sherlock Holmes in several movies (his home was purchased by Rams owner Dan Reeves when he moved the team from Cleveland to Los Angeles). The following day, poet Carl Sandburg died. All three were memorialized in a Plain Dealer editorial as people from divergent paths who “each, in his own way, gave to the art of pleasing others.”
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project (Foxx pictured with Bob Feller)