All You Have To Do Is Dream
Every kid whoever picked up a baseball has dreamed that one day he would pitch in the major leagues. Tens of millions of tried, only a dozen thousand or so have ever toed the rubber of a big league mound and thrown his best pitch toward an awaiting slugger. This is the story of Larry Foss, a former Dublin Irish pitcher, and who he achieved his dream of becoming a major league pitcher and in the process winning his very first game against one of the game's most feared and revered pitchers, only to lose all of his remaining games on the worst team in professional baseball history.
Larry Curtis Foss was born in Castleton, Kansas on April 18, 1936, seventy years ago today. Foss was drafted out of West High School in Wichita by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Inthe summer before his senior year at West High, Foss grew an amazing eight inches to a height of six feet two inches, a stature which greatly helped the speed of his pitches. The young pitcher was assigned to the Dublin Irish, the organization's Class D entry in the Georgia State League.
During the 1955 season Foss appeared in 23 games posting an average record of four wins and four losses. His earned run average of 5.51 runs per game was not good and his future in baseball was in doubt. In eighty innings of pitching, he gave up 72 hits and 82 bases on balls. His strikeout ratio of seven per game was not too bad for a 19-year-old hurler more than a thousand miles away from home. There were no designated hitters in that era and Foss was expected to hit as well as pitch. In 28 at bats, he managed to bat a respectable .250 with seven runs batted in. In a sign of times to come, Foss ended his first year in professional baseball playing on one of the worst minor league teams ever assembled in Dublin. The Irish finished fifth out of six teams that season under the helm of George Kinnamon. George Arent, the team's best offensive player that year, couldn't break the .300 mark, finishing with a batting average of .294. Jim Hardison was one of the league's best pitchers, but couldn't help Foss from the bench.
Foss bounced around the minor leagues for six more seasons. His first taste of being in the major leagues came on March 11, 1960 when he came in relief against the Baltimore Orioles. He had control problems, but managed to give up only one run in two innings. Four days later he was brought in relief against the Kansas City Athletics. The first eight Athletics batters reached base. Ten runs scored. Foss's teammates got him off the hook when they scored eleven more runs to win the game. A March 25th appearance wasn't much better. He gave up four straight walks against the Senators before being pulled from the game. But Larry Foss refused to give up. He worked hard and pitched well for the Asheville Pirates of the Sally League.
Just when it looked as if he would never pitch in the majors, Larry got a call from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last weeks of September 1961. He was numb and exhilarated at the same time. Foss drove from Asheville, North Carolina to join the Pirates. The Pirates, the 1960 World Series Champions, were in a slump. With the memories of Bill Mazeroski's championship winning walk off home run against the Yankees still fresh in their minds, the Bucs lingered in sixth place in the eight team National League.
Foss remembered, "I get into the clubhouse and Danny Murtaugh, (the Pirates manager), says, "You're pitching tonight." Not only was he pitching, but he was starting. What the young pitcher didn't realize was that his opponent that night was a another 25- year-old pitcher for the Cardinals, Bob Gibson. Though he was still striving for his abominable hard driving style which catapulted him to the position as the National League's best pitcher and eventually into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gibson was still an imposing opponent.
It was a cool evening in Pittsburgh on September 18th. As he took his warmup pitches, Foss peered around the vast confines of Forbes Field. Tradition was all around him. The pressure was on. It must have seemed to Larry that it was now or never. He walked Curt Flood, Julian Javier and Bill White to load the bases. The first three pitches to the cleanup hitter Ken Boyer veered outside the strike zone. Then somehow Larry gathered himself and managed to get out of the inning without a single Cardinal runner crossing the plate. The Pirates took the lead, which they held until the fifth inning when Foss gave up the first run of his career. The Pirates bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the inning and five more in the seventh stanza. Foss pitched to two batters in the eight before being relieved by Harvey Haddix and Elroy Face, two of the game's best relievers. The Pirates held on to win 8-6. Foss gave up three runs, two of them earned. He struck out five and walked six. Larry had done it. He won his very first major league game and beat Bob Gibson and held the legendary Stan Musial to one hit in the process. He never won another regular season game.
Two weeks later, Larry took the mound against the Cincinnati Reds. Foss gave up three runs in the first inning and three more in the sixth lowering his record to 1 and 1. A third start resulted in a no decision. At the end of his first season, Larry Foss had accumulated a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 5.87.
After a stint in the winter Dominican League in 1961, Larry returned to the Pirates spring training camp in 1962 with high hopes of making the team's roster. Larry returned to his superb form of his first start when he pitched three scoreless innings against the Mets. His blazing fastball caught the eye of the venerable Met manager Casey Stengel, who had led the New York Yankees to an unprecedented string of World Championships, but who was then managing the cross town Mets in their inaugural season. Foss won his next game against the Twins. Larry didn't make the roster, but enjoyed a good season at Asheville with a record of 10-5. He was placed on waivers by the Pirates. Stengel, one of the game's greatest sages, remembered Foss, whom he called "Foos" and convinced the team's general manager to pick up the promising rookie for the $20,000.00 wavier price.
Larry Foss pitched his first game for the 1962 Mets. He lost to the Colt .45s on September 19th. Larry pitched well in relief in a 3-2 loss to the Cubs 9 days later. The Mets lost 120 of 160 games that year, the worst team record in the history of major league baseball. He returned to training camp in 1963. His last appearance for the Mets came on April 3, 1963, when he gave up one run in one inning against the Reds. He was picked up by the Milwaukee Braves and assigned to their Denver AAA team. Larry left professional baseball with arm problems, but pitched his hometown Service Auto Glass team to the 1964 National Baseball Congress World Series championship. He worked in the oil and gas business for twenty plus years before moving to the mountains of Colorado, where he enjoyed fishing and hunting. Larry Foss returned to Wichita in 1993 to open a sporting goods store.
Larry Foss loved baseball. Despite his short major league career he fondly remembers his victory against Bob Gibson, his favorite pitcher, and being a member of the hapless 1962 Mets. He told a reporter from the Wichita Eagle, I had no idea that team would become as legendary as it has. I would have grabbed a jersey or something or gotten some balls autographed." All he has to remind him of being a member of baseball's worst team is his old cap. But dreams do come true. Hard work and determination can take you to high places. All you have to do is dream. Happy Birthday Larry!