Yesterday I discussed a couple letters from Dave Malarcher about the pitching prowess of the Chicago American Giants’ ace pitcher from the 1920s and ’30s, Bill “Willie” Foster. Today I’m gonna shift to Bill’s big brother, the great man himself, Andrew “Rube” Foster, and how highly Malarcher regarded Rube as a manager and a mentor.
Quite simply, Gentleman Dave believed Rube Foster was perhaps the greatest figure in Negro Leagues history, especially when it came to the big man’s managerial acumen. Here’s an excerpt from a narrative Malarcher told to Negro Leagues historian and documentarian John Holway:
“Rube was the greatest baseball genius that ever lived. I say Rube was a greater manager than any manager in the Major Leagues. Yes, greater even than John McGraw. I’ve looked at Major League teams from 1920 until now, and I have never seen one who played the kind of ball Rube played. Not the diversified game, you know.
“… I learned from Rube how to put [players] in condition and then how to direct them, which makes me know that Rube was the greatest of the two [between Indianapolis’ C.I. Taylor]. Rube was a master, he was a master. After I became manager [of the Chicago American Giants] I used to win so many ball games the fans used to say to me, ‘You’re a greater manager than Rube.’ You know what I said? ‘I’m just doing what the master taught me.’”
Dave went on to recall how Foster wrote to the former while Dave was touring Europe on a military team after the end of World War I. In the communiqué, Rube urged Malarcher to join the American Giants once Dave’s tour of duty had been completed.
Dave jumped at the chance to do so, and he related to Holway how, when he came back Stateside after the war, Dave made a beeline for Chicago, where he met Rube and asked the big man — “all the ball players called him Jock” — for a little scratch to go to New Orleans “”to see my mother and my sweetheart … I would like to borrow $75.’ …
“He just rolled up the top of that desk and reached in the drawer: ‘There it is.’ He gave it to me just like that. He didn’t ask any questions, he didn’t say whether he wanted me to play with him or not. Smart enough to know that that’s it; I’ve got me a ball player. He didn’t even talk contracts or anything. That’s all, we talked about other things. Oh God, it really broke my heart to see an honest man. Well, you know, a grateful heart …”
Gentleman Dave also felt that Rube saw the “big picture” when it came to the eventual integration of organized baseball and the inevitable eventuality that African-American players would, someday indeed, get their chance to shine in the Majors. In a June 1972 letter to other former Negro Leaguers urging them to fill out Hall of Fame questionnaires, Malarcher wrote:
“… It is a fact that ‘Rube’ Foster — at one time the greatest attraction in baseball, outside of the Major Leagues — refused a handsome offer to join and play on a white unorganized (called ‘Semi-Pro’) team. He … stated that it was his duty to remain with and maintain Negro baseball playing standards equal to Organized Baseball and The Major Leagues, in order that Negro players would be equal to the opportunity when the bars were let down. Thus ‘Rube’ had faith in the justice of America, and the sportsmanship of white America to eventually emancipate the black baseball player in our National Pastime.”
In his own filled-out questionnaire for the Hall, Malarcher attributed pretty much all of his success as a manager to his mentor. Here’s what he wrote in answer to the question, “What do you consider your outstanding achievement in baseball?”:
“That I was selected by Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster, in my opinion, the greatest manager of all time, black or white, and that, employing his baseball techniques, training and strategy, I, as his successor manager of the great American Giants, won five pennants and world champions [sic] out of seven years as manager … and that when I became manager, there was never any dissension on my teams, proving the fact that it is possible to have and maintain complete harmony in baseball and other athletic aggregations.”
That’s all in addition to all the glowing praise Malarcher bestowed on the Master in various Negro Leagues books, beginning with “Only the Ball Was White” and in various other interviews Dave gave over the years before his death in 1982.
As a final note, it’s worth pointing out that Foster held Malarcher in high esteem as well, as evidenced by a copy of the contract Malarcher signed with Foster and the American Giants that’s housed among the David Malarcher papers at his alma mater, New Orleans University/Dillard University; the contract states that Malarcher will receive a salary of $225 a month between April 15 through Oct. 1, 1926, with a $500 bonus at the end of the year.
And no, I didn’t have a copy made of the contract when I was coming through the Malarcher files at Dillard, a fact for which I’m now kicking myself.