July 9, 1971
Hank Aaron once recalled, “My arrival in the major leagues was pretty dull. No drama, no excitement, absolutely none. I just arrived, and that was all.”
Leo Foster must wish he had been so fortunate. His debut with the Atlanta Braves was a day to forget.
It was the first game of a weekend series at Three Rivers Stadium, home of the National League‘s best team — the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Braves were floundering below .500 and Atlanta manager Lum Harris gave Foster the start at short in place of regular Marty Perez.
FOSTER’S FIRST DAY in the majors began badly and only got worse. Even though the 20 year old had developed a reputation as a steady fielder in the minors, he flubbed the first ball hit to him at short. Foster’s bad luck continued when he hit into a double play in his first major-league at-bat.
The ultimate ignominy came after Hal King and Sonny Jackson reached base to lead off the seventh inning, bringing Foster to the plate. With a nine-run lead (Willie Stargell and Manny Sanguillen had staked their team to an 11-2 lead with four RBI apiece), Pirates hurler Nelson Briles had no problem challenging the light-hitting shortstop, who answered with a hot smash down the third-base line.
But not only did Bucs third baseman Richie Hebner have time to get to the ball and step on third to force King — he also managed to snap the ball to second baseman Dave Cash (forcing Jackson) who relayed the toss to Bob Robertson at first. Foster was out by a hair, having hit into the first triple play ever turned at Three Rivers Stadium.
Foster sat out the next day, but Atlanta’s fortunes did not change. Stargell’s 30th home run (his 10th against the Braves, an expansion-era record for a player against a single team) paced a 5-4 win for the Bucs.
NICKNAMED “BANANAS” (after Bananas Foster, a popular Louisiana dessert) Foster played in another eight games that season, going hitless in 10 at-bats and appearing mainly as a defensive replacement.
A full year in the minors followed before he returned to Atlanta for three games in 1973 and finally picked up his first career hit. Foster had been named the Braves’ starting shortstop in spring training, but suffered a concussion just before the start of the season. He spent most of the season in the minors and on the disabled list.
In 1974 — three years after his debut — Foster finally played enough to qualify officially as a rookie, appearing in 72 games with 112 at-bats. His .196 batting average failed to justify his spot on the roster, however, and Foster again spent a full year in the minors before being traded to the New York Mets for Joe Nolan in April 1975.
Foster resurfaced in the big leagues in 1976 and played 60 games in New York over the next two seasons, but never could reproduce his solid Triple-A numbers at the major-league level.
Destined to be a footnote in baseball history, he hung up his spikes after the 1977 season with a .198 career batting average, two home runs, 26 RBI and seven steals in parts of five seasons.