AN Interviews Ray Fosse

There isn't a whole lot that the casual fan knows about Ray Fosse; save for the time Pete Rose invaded his personal space at an exhibition game in 1970.  Oh, and apparently he enjoys Dibs ice cream.

My memories of Fosse's career run a bit deeper than that, having watched him contribute to two World Series-winning ball clubs in Oakland.  Those first-hand experiences came in handy during my conversation with the former catcher last Sunday, as part of Comcast's Xfinity Couch campaign.

Ray Fosse would have fit right in with the A's of recent years.  That is, he was oft-injured.  The infamous collision with Pete Rose left him with a separated right shoulder, a prelude to a long list of ailments Fosse would endure throughout his 12-year playing career.  Still, he earned two All-Star selections and as many Gold Gloves during the 1970-71 seasons, all while playing in the purgatory that was Cleveland, where the Indians averaged nearly 89 losses in Fosse's first six years in the Majors.

Meanwhile over in Oakland, the mustachioed A's had disposed of the Establishment's darlings, the Cincinnati Reds, in a tightly-contested 1972 World Series that saw six of the seven games decided by a single run.  But as was often the case on ship captained by Charles Oscar Finley, there were grumblings on deck.  One of the more vocal among the disgruntled was catcher Dave Duncan who lamented over lost playing time.

Two weeks before they were to begin their title defense, the A's traded Duncan and outfielder George Hendrick to Cleveland for utility man Jack Heidemann and Ray Fosse.  Heidemann played exactly zero innings in an A's uniform, while Fosse found himself in the middle of the kind of dog-piles that occur when your team wins the World Series, which the A's did in each of the catcher's first two seasons with the club.

His days with the A's were among many of the topics we touched on.

Don & Ray 1

67M: I appreciate your time first of all. Before we get to any baseball questions, what are your thoughts on the Comcast Xfinity Couch campaign?

RF: I know one thing for sure. This is a very, very comfortable couch, and we have broadcasted at diamond level before. We sat in normal seats but I think if you incorporate this I think we can convince Comcast to have a few more games broadcasted at diamond level.

67M: You played with the A's in the 70's well before the immense media coverage you see today. Sometimes those A's are remembered more for the off-field stuff than what happened on the field. Do you agree with that and if you do, is it fair to remember a team that won three straight World Series' this way?

RF: We had just two guys traveling with us, unlike today where there are so many media people who travel with the teams. So we kinda created our own problems if you will. We thought if we started fighting that we played better. I remember we were in Baltimore and we were 1-1 against the Orioles in a 5-game championship series and we were on the bus going to the park before game 3. And Blue Moon Odom started getting on Bando, then Bando on somebody else, and I said 'Uh oh, the Orioles are in trouble because the boys are getting hot'.  Sure enough we beat them and went on to play the Mets in the Series.  But I do re-call unfortunately for myself- in 1974- I broke up a fight between Reggie Jackson and Billy North in the clubhouse at Detroit.  I broke the fight up and shattered six vertebrae in my neck, and ended up missing some time. Some it was manufactured by the press about our inability to get along, and often it was blown out of proportion.

67M: Speaking of ‘74, obviously when people hear Ray Fosse, they think of the All-Star game, which is unfortunate. I remember you though for that post-season. Got a couple of big hits- a homerun against the Orioles and another against the Dodgers in the clinching game. After getting hurt in the Jackson-North brawl, you must have felt some vindication to come back and have a key contribution.

RF: I missed 6 weeks. They put me in traction thinking that I could avoid surgery. I ended up having surgery (under) Dr. Charles Wilson, San Francisco UC Medical Center- brilliant man. Six weeks from the day I was operated on by Dr. Charles Wilson I was playing again! There was a question because I came back so late in the season whether I was going to be on the post season roster. They didn't know how I was going to recover and if I could come back and play effectively enough. I was kind of on notice, that if I didn't play well, I might not be on the roster. As it turned out I was, and it was interesting before the game that I hit the homerun against Grant Jackson, in Game 2 of the playoffs here at the Coliseum, (manager) Alvin Dark said to both myself and Gene Tenace, ‘I don't know who's going to catch.' Now this is infield practice before the game and he said ‘I don't know who's going to catch but both of you take the infield just in case', and of course you know who was making the call at the time...

67M: Mr. Finley.

RF: The boss man. So I ended up hitting a home run off Grant Jackson.  And we had a little press conference in the Arena after the game and Charlie came in says, ‘That's my guy!' and I say, ‘Why wasn't I the starting catcher from the get-go?'

Hitting a home run off Don Sutton in the fifth game of the World Series... Before the fifth (and final) game, I will never forget Charlie Pride was here to sing the national anthem. And Charlie Pride was in the clubhouse before the game, and the late Frank Ciensczyk (equipment manager) came in and said, "Alright we're going to have a meeting. Everybody out." And Charlie walked in. Charlie Pride got up to leave Charlie said, "You can stay". Ok, why is Charlie Pride able to stay while everyone else is kicked out?  So he sat front and center there in this meeting that Charlie was having. And I'll never forget Charlie Finny said ‘Guys we're up 3 to 1. When we win tonight we're going to have a parade in Downtown as World Champions for the third consecutive year". And I'll never forget the look on Charlie Pride's face.  He looked at (Finley) like 'Who is this guy talking like this?' And as it turned out we beat the Dodgers that night and had the parade. He must have thought he was visiting with God right there in the clubhouse. But to hit the homerun off of Don Sutton...after the injury and being out, and not knowing if I could play that season (or how well), to come back and hit that homerun was gratifying.

Champs 1974

67M: Do you think we will see another team like those A's, or does free agency make it impossible?

RF: It would cost a lot of money. Look at the Yankees. They spend 200 million consistently, they get the best players, they make the money and spend the money.  They want to win world championships and that's been their philosophy and I think any other club that tried to do that, it's going to cost a fortune.

But really if you think about the (A's) teams that won 3 consecutive World Championships, once those players left to go to other clubs they never had the same success that they had (in Oakland).  Some had good years as individuals but not as a team.

67M: Was Dick Williams- who died recently- the best manager you ever played for?

RF: I played for some good ones, played for Alvin Dark (after Williams left following the '73 season) and some guys in Cleveland but there's no doubt Dick Williams was the guy, considering what he had to do working with Charlie.  Charlie tried to control the club, and we as players felt that whatever Charlie said Dick would back us and he would deflect any of that negative stuff that Charlie might be saying to us. He was a great man that we all respected, that you wanted to play hard for and obviously did because he had a chance to win 3 consecutive (championships). He was a loyal manager to the players, and not that he wasn't to Charlie Finley and the ownership, but every player knew that if there was ever a player's manager it was Williams because he backed us all the time.

Don & Ray 2

67M: You caught the original Big Three: Catfish, Vida, Kenny. Describe their styles, and who was your favorite- if any of them- to catch?

RF: Catfish was the first that I caught when I came from Cleveland. I caught him my first game he threw (in Spring Training). 15 batters, 15 outs, and I didn't break a sweat. Talking to Phil Garner, he said he used what Catfish did as a pitcher to help himself as a manager. I think there was one year Catfish gave up 33 homeruns, but 30 were solo's. He didn't walk guys and he didn't throw the ball in the middle of the plate. Catfish could paint, take pitches off the strike zone, and Vida would just kill my hand. He could throw hard, had a good curveball, not a very good change-up, but he could literally blow fastballs by guys. I think of him as a closer, come in and he'd just rare back and say, ‘I'm going throw you a fastball; try to hit it.'  And they couldn't do it. So he was a power guy. And then there was Kenny Holtzman, the crafty lefthander. Phil Garner told me a great story that when he was playing second, Kenny told him, ‘Phil, if you' re playing second and the ball ever goes into right field, I'm going to be upset with you'. Kenny very rarely pitched inside the right hand so he wanted his first and second basemen positioned away to catch those balls because they weren't going to try to pull him. If they were smart they'd go that way and he said ‘Be there!' and (Garner) would always be there. But if I wanted to put the ball in one guy's hand it would be Catfish just because of his reputation. In the era that I played in, games were quick, not too many commercials in between and guys didn't waste a lot of time. I'd be behind the plate and the umpire would look out and go ‘Catfish Hunter, huh'? ‘Bout an hour and a half tonight and we'll be out of here.' And sure enough, that's just the way his reputation worked. I tell some of the young pitchers today, some close calls go to the Yankees way or the Red Sox way, I said one of these days when you are good and your reputation is there to where they know you, you're going to get those same pitches.

67M: Along those lines what kind of advice would you give to any aspiring catchers?

RF: Throw. Throw. Throw. Throw! I think the one thing the catchers need to be able to do is have a strong arm, obviously accuracy to throw to the bases, especially second base, quick feet and to work on it. To have strong legs you have to have a strong foundation. The late Del Rice told me whenever I came to Cleveland he said ‘Your job is to catch the ball and to handle the pitching staff. Anything you do offensively is as bonus.' But as hitting became more prominent- especially in the American League with the DH- everybody relied on every position player to do their hitting. Catching became more of an offensive position, and it's taken away from (their duties behind the plate). Like blocking balls in the dirt. A horrible drill to work on, but something you have to do. Throwing, working on the quick feet, and catching the ball properly. A lot of times catchers will snap at the ball, and take the catcher's mitt and point down to the ground. That needs to be up for a low pitch and bring the ball back up instead of taking it down. And as a result when you catch it the right way, the foot work is proper and you can get in a proper position to throw guys out on the bases. So it's a lot of work but if you have a strong foundation, strong legs and a strong arm, the rest of it's going to be there.

67M: Who today does that fairly well?

RF: Surprisingly, the A's backup catcher Landon Powell. His footwork is something that he's always had.  He worked on that as a kid because of his father teaching him, so its continued to work that way to where even though he's big and you look at him and think ‘Well he's not going to be that quick', but quick footwork, quick release.

67M: Ever thought of coaching?

RF: You know if I had started right out of baseball, yes, but I had a family. I talked to Tony Muser who was managing the Stockton Ports, he was making $12,000 a year and I said I can't do it. At that time I would have been 33, 34. I would have had to depend on getting to the big leagues as soon as possible and that's a lot of pressure because there are so few jobs at that level.

67M: Besides, you have one of the best seats in the house to watch A's games. How did all that start and how long do you plan on doing it?

RF: You talking about the Xfinity sofa down here or my seat in the broadcast booth?

67M: (laughs) The booth.

RF: I don't really want to say my age because I feel about 22 when it comes to baseball and broadcasting. I have a lot of enthusiasm for the game that I've always loved, I feel very fortunate to be able to broadcast and I thank Comcast Sportsnet California.  I enjoy it, and to be honest, I enjoy watching these players play the game of baseball because I see plays and think if you can come to the park and see something you've never seen, you're saying something. This is my 26th year broadcasting, and I can still come to the park and say I seen something that I've never seen before. So that's the great game of baseball, nothing scripted and people say ‘Whoa, you messed up on this call', and I say I'm reacting to what's happening on the field. There's no script or teleprompter in front of me telling me what to say. So there's a big difference, I get excited, and sometimes we make mistakes, but the bottom line is I enjoy the game of baseball. To answer your question, I don't have any desire to quit. I'm at an age where my wife says people are retired. I say ‘Sorry honey. I'm working at something where I still feel young.'

67M: It's not really work, is it?

RF: It's a lot of fun coming to the park every day.

67M: Thanks for your time, Ray.

RF: I had a lot of fun.  Send the couch upstairs.

Ray

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