“You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!”

19 Mar

Elmer Foster became better known after his career had ended than he ever had been as a player because of sportswriter Hugh Fullerton who included stories he said were about Foster in his columns for more than twenty years.

Elmer Foster

Elmer Foster

The first story appeared in 1897, shortly after Fullerton arrived at The Chicago Tribune:

“The long-lost is found.  A few days ago a traveling man who is a baseball fan climbed on the train with the Colts and engaged Jimmy Ryan in Conversation.

“’Who do you think I saw the other day?’ he queried…I was up in Minnehaha, the village at the falls of St. Paul.  About 10 o’clock at night I was preparing to go to bed, when suddenly there came a series of war whoops up the street.  A man came tearing down on horseback, whipping the animal to dead run and whooping like a Comanche Just as he got to where we were standing he pulled two revolvers and, still whooping, emptied them into the air.  I was scared to death, but no one else paid any attention.  When the danger was over I crawled out from under a cellar door and said ‘Who is that?  ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ said one of the gang.  ‘It’s only Elmer Foster going home.’”

The 1897 article also told a more accurate version of the incident in Pittsburgh that led to Foster’s release than Fullerton told in later years–it mentioned that he was with Pat Luby (incorrectly identified as “Harry” Luby), and Fullerton, in this version, did not claim to be present.

With that the legend was born.

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

By the turn of the century the legend grew.  Fullerton said:

“Foster was a great baserunner…He ran regardless of consequences, and perhaps no man that ever played in fast company ever took an extra base on a hit oftener than did Elmer.  He simply refused to stop at his legitimate destination, and kept right on.  When he got caught he always said: ‘Why, I wasn’t a bit tired.  Why should I have stopped running?’”

By 1903 Fullerton said of Foster:

“No man who was interested in baseball during the early ‘90s can certainly have forgotten the name of the man who was perhaps the best center fielder who ever wore a Chicago uniform.”

Like Bill Lange, another player he helped make famous long after his career was over, Fullerton’s most often repeated story about Foster was a dubious one involving a catch—a story that was repeated over the years as having happened three years after Foster’s big league career was over:

“Back in ’94 one of the Eastern teams was playing Chicago on the West Side, with Foster in center field.  The man at bat made a terrific swipe at the ball and hit it.  The shadow was deep over the infield and Foster could not see the ball.  He started to run out into far center, so as to be prepared.

“As a matter of fact the ball was only a bunt.  The shortstop caught it and threw the batter out at first.  But Foster kept on running—running like mad….Foster ran at the top of his speed almost to the center field fence.  Then he jumped high up into the air, threw up his left hand, and came down to the ground with—an English sparrow tightly clenched in his fist.”

In addition to Fullerton repeating the story over the years,  “Gentleman” Jim Corbett retold it in his syndicated sports column in 1919 and Al Spink, writing for The Chicago Evening Post in 1920 quoted former Chicago White Sox Manager Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan telling the story in 1920—like the original, both Corbett’s version and Spink’s via Callahan say the “catch’ happened three years after Foster left Chicago.  The story survived until at least 1925 when it appeared in several paper as park of a King Features syndicated column of short baseball stories.

Fullerton’s Foster stories—including several regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in 1912:

“It is now an accepted tradition that Elmer Foster, the famous fielder, led the Chicago team on a glorious, care-free, drunk through a whole wild merry season in 1891.  That is believed by everybody—yet the records show that Foster played just a few games with Chicago in 1890, and was released in April [sic] of 1891, before the season was even one week old!  Oh, you legends!  Oh, you deceiving old stories!  You are mostly fakes, and yet I love you all!”

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8 Responses to ““You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!””

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