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MIKE DOWNEY

White Sox's George Foster--Lookin' for Love in All the Wrong Places

August 18, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY

CHICAGO — It will be interesting to see what sort of stink George Foster raises about the Chicago White Sox if they do not invite him back for next season. Maybe he will complain to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Maybe he will wonder if the team should consider changing its name.

When Foster and the New York Mets parted company earlier this month, the outfielder questioned the club's ulterior motives, intimating that the Mets were more interested in headlining white ballplayers than black ones. Considering that their roster includes the esteemed Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, and that Foster was succeeded in left field by the young and gifted Kevin Mitchell, this seemed tantamount to Baby Doc Duvalier bitching that he was kicked out of Port-au-Prince because he was Haitian.

Foster didn't leave Cincinnati like a lamb, either. When he was traded to the Mets in February 1982 for two pitchers and a catcher, he dispensed a few choice words for Red management on his way out of town. This is a guy who does not go quietly.

"It seems like every time I leave someplace, I leave under a dark cloud," Foster said last week, having experienced a change of scenery once more.

The first-place Mets somehow decided that they could get along without a man who was pushing 38 years old, was batting .227 and was making $2 million a year. To them, it was a business decision. They were mystified by Foster's nasty insinuations.

Players such as second baseman Wally Backman sure were sorry to see Foster go.

"Good riddance," Backman said.

Foster found it difficult to believe that he could not be of use to the Mets. Obviously, he was wondering why he was being gypped out of a possible World Series paycheck, not to mention some jewelry to go along with the diamond rings he earned in Cincinnati. For 4 1/2 years he worked for the Mets, and now, with the pot of gold so near, they were setting him adrift.

Rather invisibly, Foster swatted 21 home runs for the Mets last season. He hit one every 16.7 at-bats.

Why such numbers disappointed the Mets so, Foster can not understand. Maybe it was the money he was making. Maybe it was something else. Whatever the case, he felt unappreciated in New York, almost from the start.

"My first year with the Mets, I had 28 homers, 90 runs batted in and I hit .241," Foster said. "That isn't a bad year. There are guys hitting .241 now who they made heroes out of."

Foster recited his statistics from memory, a memory that was failing him. These numbers represented his second season with the Mets. For the first, he delivered 70 RBIs and batted .247. In left field, he committed eight errors. And the slugger acquired to supply power to the Mets batted 550 times and slugged 13 home runs.

This was what actually alienated some of New York's affection. Foster was the fellow whose black bat had been as forceful and as intimidating as a sheriff's night stick. When he crunched 52 homers for the Reds in 1977, he was a sight to behold, and a name to remember, seeing as how no major leaguer has reached the 50 mark since.

Foster has always been able to pound the ball out. He even did so Friday night, in his second turn at bat for the White Sox--not to mention his second time up in the American League.

The Comiskey Park crowd stood and made Foster take a curtain call. He was happy, and so was General Manager Ken Harrelson, whose opinion of Foster was: "If he's happy, he'll hit. I don't believe he was ever completely happy in New York."

Foster's sheer power and National League experience might have been of use to a team like the Dodgers, whose sluggers have struggled. No active non-Dodger has hit as many homers at Dodger Stadium as Foster has. He could have been sent out there to take a whack at the Mets when they arrived in Chavez Ravine tonight.

Instead, he chose the Hose. No one else showed nearly as much interest as the Sox did, Foster said.

Again, he wondered why the demand was not greater, or why the Mets would consider him so expendable. "You would think after all the years that I put into the game, I would deserve better than that," Foster said.

"But, it's over . . . " he said, and let the thought trail away. Time to forget about the Mets. Time to worry about the Sox.

Foster does not have a guaranteed contract for next year. Harrelson has no obligation even to invite him to spring training.

"I know," Foster said. "What this gives me is a chance to show this team and other teams that I can still be a productive player."

Will he? Maybe. Maybe not. Foster homered in his Chicago debut, and tripled the next night. But he also struck out twice Saturday, with feeble swings. Evidently it will be all or nothing for the new man at Comiskey, who introduced himself Friday by taking the third batting-practice pitch into the faraway upper deck in left, leaving early arrivals oohing and aahing.

Maybe Chicago will take Foster to its heart. Maybe not.

His concern is to get as much attention for his successes as for his failures.

"I didn't even get that much pub (publicity) the year I hit 52 home runs," Foster said. "I got a lot more pub the next year, because I didn't. "I mean, I hit 40 home runs and drove in 120 runs, and people were asking me: 'What's wrong?' "

By an odd coincidence, this is just what some of the Mets were asking about George Foster, right after his parting shots at them: "What's wrong with that guy?"

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