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CATCHER OF THE WEEK: Barry Foote

Doesn’t this guy just SCREAM “Catcher”?

In this feature, we will help you acquaint yourself with some of the finest practitioners of the most thankless task in baseball to ever don the “tools of ignorance” for our beloved Chicago Baseball teams. This week we feature Barry Foote.

In my musings about the Cubs–both internal and out loud–I often view my fandom in the span of its entirety, which often takes me back to my earliest memories of actually following the Cubs, and thus the time I established my “starting point” as a fan which, in my case, is 1979. Being the youngest of 5 kids, with siblings as much as 9 years older than me and a dad whose own fandom dates back to the early 1940’s, I was familiar with baseball, as the Cubs games were routinely playing on the TV but until I was 7 it was background noise to me. I hadn’t gotten enveloped into watching them until I began to play a little baseball myself, and was able to connect the activity to a spectator event.

To this day, I recall my earliest conscious memory of being emotionally involved in the outcome of a game, and it was a late September game in 1979 when the Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. The Pirates were good–on their way to the National League pennant–but even without that knowledge I could sense something menacing about them. Dressed in black and gold, with some big, mean-looking fellows like Dave Parker, Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock (whom I was not aware, at the time, used to play for the Cubs), they made the perfect intimidating foil for the Cubs, who in 1979 were actually somewhat competitive–as late as August 24th, they were in 3rd place, trailing division-leading Pittsburgh by 4 games. When Pittsburgh came to town for the 3-game tilt in late September, the Cubs had been eliminated but the Pirates were still holding off the Expos and, while I can’t remember the specifics of the game (or which game, actually), I could feel the competitiveness of the Cubs trying to derail the superior team and the one single image that stands out to me was when, in a close game, Cubs manager Herman Franks came out to argue a call that went against the Cubs and, as I learned was not unusual for Franks, the discussion with the umpires escalated, to where Franks was ejected, triggering a display that absolutely captured my imagination, as I watched this rotund, angry man put on a show of kicking dirt on the umpire and throwing his hat. I found myself caught up in the emotion of the moment, and felt that I shared Franks’ rage and frustration.

As it turned out, this was the last series for Franks, who stepped down afterward and let his coach Joey Amalfitano manage the last 7 games and, sad as I was to see Franks go so soon after I had discovered him it didn’t matter–I was hooked on the Cubs.

Similarly, the Cubs had a player who I also recalled, during the time, developing an attachment for–Barry Foote. You could say that it was because of Barry Foote that I haven never quite gotten out of my head what I always thought a catcher should look like–namely, fat, and mustachioed. This probably had something to do with the fact that Foote’s backup was Tim Blackwell, whom Fork had earlier profiled, but while Blackwell’s ‘stache was superior to Foote’s in every way, Blackwell was also decidedly not fat and this was the primary reason I always preferred Foote. Blackwell didn’t have the heft that I felt was necessary to play catcher, and Foote did. End of story. I was not a fat kid myself but I just felt these qualifications were key for the position and boy let me tell ya, Foote fit that bill to a T.

Drafted in the 3rd of the 1970 amateur draft by Montreal, Foote had a very productive rookie season in 1974 for the Expos, slashing .262/.315/.414 with 11 homeruns. Sadly, Foote’s 472 plate appearances his rookie year would prove to be his high-water mark, as he mightily regressed in his second season in 1975 (.192/.229/.225) and, while he trended back upward in 1976 (.234/.272/.340), it was not enough for Montreal to elect to give up on Foote, and they dealt him early in the 1976 season to Philadelphia for, among others, Tim Blackwell. Being a 3rd string catcher behind Bob Boone and Tim McCarver, Foote only got into 48 games over the course of the ’77 & ’78 seasons for Philadelphia and was traded in the offseason to the Cubs, along with Jerry Martin & Ted Sizemore (and Derek Bothelo) for Greg Gross, Dave Rader and Manny Trillo.

As the Cubs’ primary catcher in 1979, Foote enjoyed his finest big-league season, walloping 16 homeruns, with a .742 OPS that eclipsed his rookie mark of .729. Alas, like Icarus flying too close to the sun (or something), Foote would never reach these heights again. After the season, he was singled out by the departed Franks (along with a few others, including Bill Buckner) as a “whiner”. Franks also expressed his dismay about Foote boasting of having been in the Philadelphia clubhouse when the Phillies were in the midst of three consecutive division titles, belittling a player who Franks felt was using his scant experience as a 3rd-string catcher to annoyingly preach about “the Phillies Way”.

It was funny, to me, that Franks did not get along with Foote, as my developing baseball mind suggested they should get along, that they were long-lost relatives of one another. Franks was, unsurprisingly, also a catcher in his playing days, but apparently the kinship didn’t extend beyond these shared commonalities.

Nevertheless, with Franks gone, the Cubs went from an 80-win team in 1979 to one that would nearly lose 100 in 1980 (98, to be exact). Foote once again regressed, and saw Blackwell–now his teammate–carry more of the load behind the plate. Foote broke camp with the Cubs in 1981, but was dealt to the Yankees 9 games into the season and was out of baseball a year-and-a-half after that.

There was one moment, however, where Foote etched himself into Cubs lore. It was early in the 1980 season–after his career-best 1979–and the Cubs were engaged in one of those wild-assed, unseasonably warm early-season games where the wind was howling out. The Cubs trailed 12-9 after 6 innings but managed to put up 2 in the 7th to inch closer before Foote tied the game with a solo homerun in the 8th. In the 9th, St. Louis pitcher Mark Littel was attempting to escape a bases load jam with 2 outs when one Barry Clifton Foote waddled up to the plate and proceeded to to pop a fly into the basket for a walkoff-grand slam. The Cubs won a wild one, 16-12, with Foote enjoying his finest day as a professional ballplayer, going 4-for-6 with 8 RBI and 11 total bases.

He may not have had a very significant career but I’ll go to my grave with the notion that Foote serves as the epitome of what a catcher should look like. Take that, Buster Posey!

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