I was saddened to hear the news that Ray Fosse, whom I knew in incarnations as a Cleveland Indians player and Oakland Athletics broadcaster, died this week at age 74.
In the bleak years of the late 1960s, the Indians teams I followed were downright terrible. Fosse’s arrival was a sign of hope, which blossomed in 1970 when he made the American League All-Star team. In those years, the Indians were lucky if one player made the team, and in ’70 Fosse was on the AL roster with pitcher “Sudden Sam” McDowell.
I was up late and glued to the TV set when in extra innings Cincinnati’s Pete Rose barreled into Fosse at home plate. The play was a sensation — the home team National League won 5-4 on it as Fosse dropped the ball.
Over time, that play would go down in Cleveland sports lore as another “what if?” heartbreak (see Score, Herb; Byner, Ernest, et al.) Fosse continued to play well in subsequent years in Cleveland and Oakland, but he never achieved the greatness that the first half of that 1970 season seemed to portend.
Fosse was often asked, year after year, about the fateful play with Rose. I think he knew and accepted that whenever his obituary would be written, the collision would make the lead sentence. It was one of those rare plays inextricably linked with one player, like the infamous Fred Merkle “boner” or, more favorably, Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world.”
Fosse was much more than just that single play, of course. He was a hero in Cleveland and remained one for the remainder of his life. He was a fine color commentator on Oakland Athletics broadcasts, and I listed to hundreds of them when I lived in Alameda, California, a mere two and a half miles away from the Coliseum.
Rest in peace, Ray. Should Rose join you at the pearly gates (not a certainty!), I reckon you’ll not stand in his way.