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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, June 06, 2006  

The Mark of the Beast

Happy 6.6.06! We celebrate with a toast to that most convivial Beast (whose number was 3), Jimmie Foxx.

"He had muscles in his hair," Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez said of Foxx, whose slugging prowess landed him in 1929 on the cover of Time Magazine.

In 1932, Foxx hit 58 home runs, two shy of Babe Ruth's record, and if it weren't for screens that had been erected in the ballparks in Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis after the Bambino's record-setting year, might have had as many as a dozen more.

Five times he hit the right field screen in St. Louis; the screen was not there when Ruth hit 60 HR in 1927. Also in 1932, a screen that Ruth hadn't had to contend with was erected in left field in Cleveland. Reportedly, Foxx hit that at least three times.

No brooding star, he was known for his generosity.

The press took a liking to Foxx, dubbing him with various nicknames- "Double X," "The Maryland Strong Boy" or simply "The Beast." He was often depicted as a simple country boy, unaffected by the bright lights of the big city. Nonetheless, he did develop some expensive big city habits. Foxx spent large sums on the best clothes money could buy, a tendency shared by wife Helen. He also had a fondness for personal grooming, frequently visiting his manicurist during the season. As his salary grew, so too did his generosity and profligate spending. The star slugger gave handsome tips to everyone from the bellhop to the batboy, and he insisted on picking up the entire tab at every dinner and outing. He was known to literally give the shirt off his back if someone asked him for it. To this day, Foxx's former teammates and opponents speak with reverence of his personal kindness and good will.

He also came to be known for liking the bottle. It is perhaps appropriate that a replica of his Hall of Fame plaque hangs above the House Dark spigots at Jake Wirth's in Boston's Theater District. At the Dugout, the subterranean Comm. Ave. bar that was equidistant between Fenway and Braves Field, tavern legend holds he was a regular.

His SABR biographer observes:

Although known to imbibe occasionally, he was never reported to be a heavy drinker during the early years of his career. After his beaning, his sinus problems brought him acute pain- a pain that subsided with alcohol. Roommate Elden Auker recalled several nights where Foxx would be plagued by severe nosebleeds. His ample free time in Boston led to increased after-hour's activities, and he bragged to Ted Williams about the amount of scotch whiskey he could consume without being affected. A teammate with the Chicago Cubs remembered that a walk back from the ballpark to the team hotel with Foxx was fraught with dangerous opportunities, as the veteran enjoyed visiting each and every one of his favorite taverns along the way.

Although his drinking problem is a matter of record, it is important to point out that Foxx was never noted for violent or aggressive behavior. To the contrary, he was known as a gentle peacemaker, often mediating disputes in card games and making sure rookie roommate Dom DiMaggio got to bed on time.

He drank too much in his later years; after his baseball career ended, his health and finances deteriorated, and he drifted from job to job before he died at 59, choking to death on a piece of meat during dinner.

Jimmie Foxx is not remembered as widely as he perhaps ought to be today, though Tom Hanks' Jimmy Dugan character in A League of Our Own is said to have been loosely based on him.

But those who knew him recall his gentle spirit. Former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette, a Medford, Mass., native who played for Foxx in Minneapolis in 1958 when the old ballplayer, down on his luck, had a brief stint as a minor-league coach, recalled him as "one of the nicest people I ever met."

During the season, Foxx surprised Monbouquette's parents with a visit to their home in Massachusetts while on the way to a Fenway old-timers game. "I just wanted to let them know you were doing okay," commented Foxx to the young pitcher on his return.


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