Those looking for an inspirational American story about someone rising from humble origins to scale the heights of greatness need look no further than baseball great Jimmie Foxx.
Jimmie Foxx Rocks
A fearsome slugger during his career, particularly over an incredible run in the 1930s, Jimmie Foxx became a three-time Most Valuable Player, hit 534 home runs, had a lifetime .325 batting average and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.
He had the respect of those he played with and against.
“If I were catching blindfolded, I’d always know when it was (Jimmie) Foxx who connected. He hit the ball harder than anyone else,” Hall of Famer Bill Dickey said of the slugger.
But Foxx’s life started far from the glory of the diamond.
Maryland Farm Boy
Jimmie Foxx was born Oct. 22, 1907, in Sudlersville, Maryland. His parents were tenant farmers. But his dad, Dell Foxx, had played baseball when he was a kid and instilled love of the game into his son.
That love translated to his play. While Foxx proved a good high school student, he also tore up the baseball field. A natural athlete, he also excelled in soccer and track. Although standing 5 feet 11 inches, Foxx had a stocky build that came from years of hard work on the farm.
While still a junior in high school, a new minor league club started playing in nearby Easton, Maryland, managed by future Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker. Baker, hearing of Foxx’s exploits in high school sports, invited the kid over for a tryout.
Minor League Career
According to the Society For Baseball Research (SABR), Foxx showed up for his tryout with the Easton team wearing a pair of overalls. Foxx wanted to play third base, but once discovering the team was short on catchers, he told Baker he could play behind the plate, if needed.
He ended up signing with the team. He hit .296 and 10 home runs that summer of 1924, according to SABR, and at the end of the minor league season, the Philadelphia Phillies purchased his contract and he spent the end of the regular season with the big league club, never getting an at-bat.
He was just 16 years old.
Major League Career
Foxx went back to Sudlersville to finish high school that fall, but he never did. By the winter of 1925, he left Maryland to join the Athletics in spring training. He broke camp with the club and hit a single in his major league debut on May 1, 1925. However, future Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane already was behind the plate for the A’s, meaning Foxx saw limited action.
Legendary Athletics manager Connie Mack saw the potential with Foxx, so he sent him back to the minors to get more playing time. He returned to the Athletics in September of 1925, again seeing limited action. That continued through the 1926 season, where he had a grand total of 32 at-bats.
Mack started playing Foxx more in 1927 as part of a powerhouse Athletics teams that the crafty manager had assembled. The lineup included Cochrane, Ty Cobb, Al Simmons and Tris Speaker. The pitching staff was led by future Hall of Famer Lefty Grove and a consistent, durable rotation that included Rube Walberg, Jack Quinn, Howard Ehmke and Eddie Rommel.
Foxx still did not get regular playing time. But, significantly, Mack started playing him at first base. He’d remain there for most of his career.
Becoming A Star
In 1928, Foxx started playing regularly, a move that immediately paid off for the Athletics. He hit .328 that season and followed it up in 1929 by hitting .354 with 33 home runs and 118 RBI. The Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs in five games in the World Series. Foxx hit two home runs in the series and delivered a key hit in the famous (infamous for Cubs fans) 10-run “Mack Attack” rally in the 7th inning of Game 4.
They repeated as champions in 1930, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. Foxx hit the game-winning home run in the 9th inning of Game 5. For the season, he hit .335 with 37 home runs and a jaw-dropping 156 RBI.
The next year, despite Foxx hitting .348 in the World Series, the A’s lost to the Cardinals. It was the last World Series that Foxx ever played in.
Foxx continued to play at an astounding level throughout the 1930s. Starting with that 1929 season, Foxx hit more than 30 home runs a year for 12 straight years. That included 58 in 1932 and 50 in 1938 for the Boston Red Sox, who he had joined in the 1936 season.
Foxx also won three MVP awards, in 1932, 1933 and 1938. While with Boston, he began what would be a lifelong friendship with a young Red Sox player named Ted Williams.
Foxx left baseball after the 1945 season, in which he played back in Philadelphia, this time for the Phillies.
Jimmie Foxx had experienced sinus problems throughout his career and, according to SABR, had taken to drinking to alleviate the pain. While never demonstrating violent or aggressive behavior, most suspect his drinking cut his career short, in addition to a rash of injuries that included a broken rib.
Foxx struggled to find work after baseball, which he had played since he was 16. After a divorce and estrangement from his two sons, Foxx remarried, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1951 and eventually found work: managing the Fort Wayne Daisies in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. He managed the Daisies to a first-place finish in 1952, his only year as a manager in the league.
The manager played by Tom Hanks in the movie “A League of Their Own” is partially based on Foxx.
Foxx drifted from job to job after that season. He worked as a car salesman and coal truck driver, eventually returning to baseball as head coach of the University of Miami baseball team and then hitting instructor for the Miami Marlins minor league team.
Jimmie Foxx died in Miami in 1967 at the age of 59, just a year after the death of his second wife, Dorothy.
While he struggled in his post-baseball years with alcohol and finances, Foxx’s legend has grown over the years. Sudlersville now has a statue of Foxx. But the best accolades come from other players, including this from pitcher Left Gomez:
“When Neil 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”.