Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Hall of Fame first baseman Jimmie Foxx led the Athletics to two World Series titles.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Jimmie Foxx was born in Sudlersville, Maryland, on October 22, 1907. He was the son of Irish grain farmers and began to learn about baseball at an early age from his father. An exceptional athlete, he dominated every sport he played, eventually pursuing a career in baseball. He first played in the major league with the Philadelphia A's while still a teenager. Once given adequate playing time, he became one of the best right handed power hitters of all time while also spending time with the Red Sox, Cubs, and Phillies. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951 and died on July 21, 1967.
James Emory Foxx was born on October 22, 1907, on the eastern shore of Maryland in Sudlersville. His parents, Martha and Samuel Foxx, were Irish grain farmers, and his father was a member of the 1902 Sudlersville baseball team, playing mostly right field. By the time James could sit up in a high chair, his father was tossing him a soft rubber ball and teaching him how to catch it. On more than one occasion, neighbors complained to Samuel that he was throwing the ball too hard and would hurt his son if he missed it. His simply responded, "He won't miss it. He'll catch it. He's going to be a big league catcher." By age three, Foxx had upgraded to hardball playing out in the yard with his father, and by age 11 he won the baseball throwing contest at the County Athletic meet at 183'5". Even as a teenager, there was high demand from local teams for Foxx's talents, so his father took him to games by horse and buggy. He soon realized that he was quicker and stronger than the other children his age: "I was rather proud of my strength and took a boyish delight in turning down the hand of the older boys with a quick snap of the wrist and brawny paws and big forearms that had been made hard from years of milking cows..."
In school "Jimmie," as he became known by friends, had average grades in Latin, math, chemistry, and history, but did better in English, agriculture, manual training, and conduct. While he received average grades in academics, he was superior in athletics. In 1921, before he even finished elementary school, Foxx was batting second and was the starting catcher for the high school team. That same year he won the junior unlimited division 80-yard dash at the county track and field meet with a time of ten seconds. He went on to finish first in the high jump and advanced to the State of Maryland's Olympiad, where he finished fourth in the junior divisions 80-yard dash and running high jump. While his first ambition was to run track, on the baseball diamond he quickly became the star of the team. His coach stated: "He was the greatest natural athlete I have ever seen." Baseball and track were not the only sports Foxx dominated; he was also a star in soccer, volleyball, and basketball throughout high school, leading each of his teams to championships.
In 1924, Foxx was still playing catcher for Sudlersville High School, but then he was given a tryout from Frank Baker, a retired major league star from the Philadelphia A's. Baker was managing a new team in Easton. Foxx's extraordinary speed, strength, and versatility in being able to field every position except shortstop impressed Baker so much that he signed him a few days later. Foxx was allowed to finish the high school season, and he ended with a .552 batting average and was among the league's leaders in hits, walks, and stolen bases.
Foxx's first game with Easton drew mixed reviews from the 3,000 onlookers as he gave up two passed balls, although neither resulted in runs in the 9-3 loss. Despite early jitters, his potential ensured him a spot in the starting lineup for the rest of the season. Throughout the year he continued to hit well, and at the age of 15, Foxx was piquing the interest of the New York Yankees, New York Giants, and Philadelphia A's. On July 30, 1924, Foxx was sold to the Philadelphia A's for approximately $2,000, under the condition that he finished the season with Easton. He quickly became a local hero as Easton fans could easily make the drive to Shibe Park and see him continue to play in the major leagues.
At the conclusion of Easton's season, Jimmie Foxx was fit for his A's uniform and joined the team in September as a benchwarmer and understudy, not appearing in any regular season games due to Mickey Cochrane's presence behind the plate. His first major league hit did not come until the following season when he lined a pinch-hit single off of Vean Gregg. His playing time that year was sparse; he only managed to collect nine at-bats (with six hits). He was optioned to Providence of the International League. While there, he played catcher in 41 games and hit .327. In 1926, he made his way back onto the Philadelphia A's roster, but he only managed to get into 26 games. While frustrated at the lack of playing time, at age 18, Foxx was pleased to enjoy playing in the majors whenever he was given an opportunity.
The 1927 season saw a position change for Foxx; he played a majority of his 61 games at first base, hitting .323 in 130 at-bats. The A's finished second to the New York Yankees. At this point, his incredible versatility allowed him to play in 101 games between third base, first base, and catcher in the following 1928 season. Unfortunately, even with Foxx's bat in the lineup, the A's could not find a way to get past the Yankees.
In 1929, Foxx finally settled in on a fixed position at first base, replacing Joe Hauser. Given regular playing time, he was able to finally translate his excessive power into the majors, hitting 33 home runs in 149 games with a .354 batting average and 117 RBI (fourth best in the league). Along with Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, and Al Simmons, Foxx was able to lead the A's to the first of three successive pennants. The World Series was done in five games, with Foxx supplying two homeruns and a .350 average. The A's won another pennant in 1930, with Jimmie "The Beast" Foxx crushing 37 home runs with 156 RBI, finishing third in the league behind the Yankees' Lou Gehrig and his teammate Al Simmons. The team won its second consecutive World Series over St. Louis in six games, with Foxx contributing a ninth-inning game-winning homer off of Burleigh Grimes.
The last pennant won by the Philadelphia Athletics was in 1931, with Foxx supplying 30 homeruns and 120 RBI. The World Series rematch between the A's and Cardinals was lost this time around, though through no fault of Foxx. The powerful first baseman hit .348 during the series and raised his batting average over the 18 World Series games to .344. While the following season did not restore Philadelphia to the rank of champions, it did showcase a great historical event. Jimmie Foxx provided the finest season of his career, hitting .364 with a league leading 169 RBI and 58 homeruns. He would have reached the magic number 60, known only to Babe Ruth at the time, had two of the homeruns not been erased due to game rain outs. Teammate Bing Miller stated, "Jimmie should have had at least 65 homers in 1932... rain outs robbed him of two and the right field screen at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis robbed him of at least five more."
Foxx won two consecutive MVP awards between 1933 and 1934, hitting 48 and 44 homeruns, respectively, with the Triple Crown also being won in the 1933 season. Looking back, Hall of Famer and American League President Joe Cronin stated, "I never saw a player with more natural ability than Double X. He had everything you could ask for in a player."
Unfortunately, one thing that Foxx did not have was money, and, for all of his accomplishments at such a young age, he did not get much financial benefit. After two of his finest seasons, Jimmie Foxx received a pay cut from $16,333 to $16,000 due to the financial difficulties of the Athletics owner, a practice unheard of in modern baseball. While the slugging first baseman was at the prime of his career, the Athletics were in a downward spiral, leading them sink to fifth place and a 68-82 record. They fell further in 1935, winning only 58 games and ending the season in last place, only four seasons after they fell to the Cardinals in the World Series. At this point, Foxx was the only player that Connie Mack, the Athletics owner, had not sold. That changed on December 10, 1935, as the rights to Jimmie Foxx and pitcher John Marcum were sold to the Boston Red Sox for a sum of $150,000.
While in Boston, Foxx quickly learned to take advantage of the shallow left field due to the enormous wall now known as the Green Monster. In his first three seasons with the Sox, he hit 41, 36, and 50 home runs respectively, while collecting his third MVP award. His hits were so powerful that Yankee catcher and Hall of Famer Bill Dickey stated, "If I were catching blindfolded I would always know it was Foxx who connected. He hit the ball harder than anyone else." In 1939, Foxx won his final home run title with 35 and went on to hit 36 and 19 in the next two seasons. By 1942, Jimmie Foxx was no longer a regular player; his aging body combined with excessive drinking left him a shadow of his former self. "He used to say that he could drink 15 of those little bottles of Scotch, those miniatures, and not be affected. Of course nobody could do that and stay healthy, and it got to Jimmie later on," recalled Ted Williams years later.
He was released by the Red Sox in 1942, after hitting .270 over the first 30 games, and he finished the season with the Chicago Cubs, batting a measly .205 over 70 regular season games. With the sun setting on his career, Foxx flirted with retirement in 1943, working briefly for a Philadelphia oil company, only to be lured back by the Cubs the following season when World War II depleted much of the talent in the Major Leagues. His one hit in twenty at-bats quickly ended his playing time, as the Cubs offered him a position of manager for their Portsmouth team for the remainder of the season.
Foxx gave playing one more shot in 1945 when he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, ending his career in the same city in which it started. Unfortunately, the reunion did not result in the return of the pure athletic ability that Foxx used to have when he left Philadelphia; he was only able to hit .268 with seven home runs in 89 games. The most notable contribution of the season was his pitching. He appeared in nine games at the position, compiling a 1-0 record and 1.59 ERA with having only pitched one inning in the majors previously for the Boston Red Sox in 1939.
Jimmie Foxx finished his 20-year, 2,317-game playing career with 534 home runs, 1922 RBI, and a .325 batting average. His homerun total was second only to Babe Ruth, and he was later quoted as saying, "If I had broken Ruth's record, it wouldn't have made any difference. Oh, it might have put a few more dollars in my pocket, but there was only one Ruth." While he may not have left baseball with the homerun record, he still had the highest total of any right-hander to play the game, which was not passed until Willie Mays hit his 535th in 1966. After Mays passed his total, Foxx said, "I hope Mays hits 600. For 25 years, they thought only left-handers could hit the long ones. They even teach right-handed youngsters to hit left."
Foxx then began managing; he managed St. Petersburg of the International League in 1947, Bridgeport of the Colonial League for part of 1949, and even managed the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In 1951, six years after he played his final game for the Philadelphia A's, Jimmie Foxx was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after receiving 79.2 percent of the total votes cast. He was wearing a Red Sox cap. After being inducted. his financial woes continued. He needed one more season of playing to qualify for Major League Baseball's pension plan. His final season of managing was in 1958 with Minneapolis of the American Association.
In his remaining years, Foxx lived near Cleveland, suffering a heart attack in 1963. He died four years later on July 21, 1967, while visiting his brother in Miami, having choked on a piece of meat. Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez later reflected on Foxx's incredible athletic ability: "When Neal Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and all the space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I knew immediately what it was. That was a home run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx." Red Sox great Ted Williams said, "Next to DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx was the best hitter I ever saw. With all those muscles, he hit drives that sounded like gun fire." Commenting on his life outside of baseball, sportswriter Al Hirshberg said, "His personality was one of the gentlest in the game. Foxx hated no one and no one hated him. From the day he first went into the major leagues, he was pleasant to everyone, never impatient with the fans or admirers, always, always accessible to anybody who appreciated him."
The character of Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, in A League of Their Own was largely based on Foxx, although the producers admitted taking a number of liberties in creating the role. A statue commemorating James Emory Foxx's great accomplishments was completed on October 15, 1997, in his home town of Sudlersville. He was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century team and has been named within the top 100 baseball players of all time in multiple polls, including one by The Sporting News.
Appel, Martin and Burt Goldblatt. Baseball's Best: The Hall of Fame Gallery. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1980. 158-160.
Dewey, Donald and Nicholas Acocella. The New Biographical History of Baseball. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2002. 137.