George Foster of the Cinninati Reds has 29 home runs this season. If we put a pencil to it, do some long division and addition, we discover he will hit exactly 53.4 hone runs before Bowie Kuhn puts on his thermals for the World Series.It has been a dozen years since anyone hit 50 big ones, and Foster says he isn't thinking about it.
"I don't project in that fashion," he said. "Goals and guideposts sometimes get in the way. I'm only striving to do my best. Sometimes you can amaze yourself by making demands of yourself. You can do amazing things."
Such as hit 53.4 home runs in a season?
"I'll just add them up at the end of the year."
Foster, 28, the left fielder for the defending world champions, is fascinating. There's the name. Plain, unvarnished George Foster. Could be a banker's name, or the name painted with white-wash on a grabage truck. If a guy's going to hit 53.4 homers, he ought to be Willie or Mickey or Hack. Flash is what we need, some style. Not George. George Herman Ruth was nobody. Babe Ruth was a prinstriped deity.
And there's George Foster's face. An unforgettable face. Strong chin.High cheekbones. Slanting eyes, small and pinched. Oriental even. He wears sideburns cut in an arrowhead pattern, the points slashing along his jaw line. If the name, George Foster, suggests deserved anonymity, then the face says here is a man of majesty, a creation in black jade.
On a team of voluble stars, Foster has risen to acclaim silently. Unlikely some outfielders, he has not asked his city to name a candy bar in his honor, nor has he asked that a Brink's truck made home deliveries three times a week. What Foster has done is wait. And wait. Then wait. And at least he says, God made him a man who could h53.4 homers.
Originally a Giant, Foster was nailed to the bench, watching fellows named Willie Mays nad Bobby Bonds. The Reds traded for him in 1971, giving up a mediocre infielder, Frank Duffy, and a forgotten pitcher, Vern Geishert.
Four undistinguished years later -- "They don't make bats long enough to swing from the dogout," Foster said in rationalization -- the outfielder suddenly was made a regular in the grand experiment of moving Pete Rose to third base.
Foster responded by hitting 300 with 23 home runs. The Reds, once dead, overtook the Dodgers and won the first of two straight National League pennants. And last year, Foster was even better, striking 29 homers, driving in 121 runs and hitting 306. For that. The Sporting News named him the league's player of the year.
"People are always searching for something in their lives," Foster said. "I felt a void in my life. My only ambition had been to make it to the big leagues. When I did, it was over. I needed something else to really motivate me. I didn't know what."
Foster said he turned to "introspection, research, reading books on self-confidence and positive thinking." Most important, he said, "I let God take control of my life. I accepted things as they were. I was patient. I knew my time would come."
Now hitting 316 with those 29 home runs and 90 runs batted in -- at this rate, he'll have 160 RBI -- Foster has arrived. His manager, Sparky Anderson, said, "There's not any end now to what George is capable of." The manager says Foster succeeds not on strength, although he is uncom- monly strong, but on fast hands. "Like Henry Aaron," Anderson said. "The last six inches, that bat is flying."
Then the ball flies. Anderson calls him "Foster the Launcher." "When he hits it, it's gone immediately, no questions asked," Anderson said. The manager has only one complaint. If Foster if to be a complete star, he ought to steal 35 to 50 bases. He has the necessary speed, but Foster says, "I'd rather hit the ball out of the park and keep my uniform clean."
A smile lit the black jade.