Obituary: Paul Foytack (1930-2021)


RIP to pitcher Paul Foytack, who had an 11-year career in the American League in the 1950s and 60s. He died on January 23 in Spring Hill, Tenn., surrounded by his family. He was 90 years old. Foytack played for the Detroit Tigers (1953, 1955-63) and Los Angeles Angels (1963-64).

Paul Eugene Foytack was born in Scranton, Pa., on November 16, 1930. He was a teenaged pitching sensation in Pennsylvania. When he was 14 years old in 1945, he racked up 98 strikeouts in 9 games as a pitcher in the Bucktown League, as a member of the Petersburg Blue Devils. His batterymate was frequently his brother Charles. According to his SABR bio, there were a total of seven Foytack children, and several of them, including George and Gene, showed up in box scores in local games all the time.

Paul Foytack went to Scranton Technical High School and was known as the “Right Arm of Technical.” He pitched 3 innings in a Major League Prospect game in 1948 in Pittston, Pa., and fanned 8, while walking 2 batters and hitting another. He had scouts from a dozen major-league teams following his pitching exploits, with the Yankees making a strong push for him. His father, John, was willing to turn down “bonus” contracts that would have led to a guaranteed trip to the major leagues.

Paul Foytack, center, watches as his father John signs his son’s first professional baseball contact. Ed Katalinas and Marcus McDonough of the Tigers look on.

“Fans and owners alike expect too much from bonus players, and there is always a chance that the pressure caused by trying too hard to make good will hurt a boy mentally,” he said. “I want my boy to get all the chances possible to make good. He is a good pitcher, but he is young and I don’t want to take a chance on his being rushed out of his class because of the money invested in him.”

In the end, it was the Detroit Tigers who ended up with Foytack in January of 1949. He got a “substantial” bonus, the Tigers allowed, but not enough for him to become a bonus ballplayer. The Tigers farmed him out to the Class-D Thomasville Tigers of the Georgia-Florida League, and he won 14 games in 1949, with 207 strikeouts and 133 walks in 35 games.

Foytack started his career about as low on the organizational chart as a young player could go, but he rose through the ranks relatively quickly. He won 18 games for the Class-C Butler (Pa.) Tigers in 1950. The 20-year-old got his first taste of AAA baseball in 1951 with the Toledo Mud Hens, throwing a 1-hitter against Milwaukee in one of his first appearances in the high minors. He could have started the 1951 season in AAA, but Foytack wanted to pitch regularly and felt he’d have a better chance to do so in Class-A Williamsport. He also had the chance to soak up a little knowledge from the Williamsport’s new manager, veteran pitcher Schoolboy Rowe.

He split 1952 again between Williamsport and AAA Buffalo and won 4 games with each team, leaving him with an 8-10 record and 4.26 ERA for the full year. Foytack began 1953 on the Tigers major-league roster and wasn’t bad in 5 of his 6 appearances. His major-league debut came on April 21 against the White Sox. The first batter he faced, Vern Stephens, popped to first base. Then Jim Rivera walked, stole second base and was caught stealing third. Sam Mele popped to shortstop to get Foytack out of the inning.

The one appearance that was pretty terrible came against the Washington Senators on May 5. He allowed 7 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks in 1-2/3 innings, raising his ERA up over 16.00. That outing marked him for demotion to the minors once the rosters were cut down in May. Foytack threw 3 scoreless innings against the Sox on May 10 to lower his ERA to 11.17 on the year. Once he was sent back to Buffalo, he proceeded to win 13 games. He stayed in the minors for all of 1954, posting a 5-10 record on a couple of different AAA teams.

Foytack entered 1955 as a 24-year-old with 9-2/3 innings of big-league experience under his belt and showed some real struggles in the high minors. He didn’t look like a pitcher who would reach double-digits in wins six times in the big leagues. He stayed with Detroit for all of 1955 and appeared in 22 games, mostly as a mop-up reliever, with 1 start. Foytack didn’t do himself any favors with his earliest appearances, either. His first game of the season was on May 24 against the Kansas City Athletics. He entered into the bottom of the seventh inning with the Tigers up 6-5 but threatening with runners on second and third. He walked Elmer Valo to load the bases and struck out Bill Wilson to get out of the inning. In the eighth inning, he walked Jim Finigan and Harry Simpson before he was pulled. Finigan later came around to score. Foytack picked up a hold, in spite of the shaky outing. The best thing about it was that he hit an RBI single off Tom Gorman for his first major-league hit.

Foytack tries to figure out he can set a Tigers record with 15 strikeouts in a game and still end up the losing pitcher. Source: Lansing State Journal, July 29, 1956.

Through the end of June 1955, Foytack had an ERA above 12.00 in 5 appearances. It gradually lowered during the rest of the season, to the point that he was given a chance to start a game on September 2 against the Kansas City Athletics. He retired the first nine batters he faced but fell apart in the fourth inning, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits. Foytack finished the year with an 0-1 record and 5.26 ERA.

Detroit moved Foytack into the starting rotation in 1956 to replace an ailing Ned Garver, and he would hold that position for the next seven seasons. He turned in a 15-13 record and 3.59 ERA, with 184 strikeouts that was good enough for third in the American League. He struck out 15 Senators on July 28, a new Tigers record that was three shy of Bob Feller’s then-record of 18. Unfortunately, the Tigers still lost 6-5. Foytack threw his first major-league shutout on August 6 against Cleveland, a 9-0 5-hitter. On the downside, the Tigers pitcher walked 142 hitters, most among all MLB pitchers. He also gave up 24 home runs, including a mammoth blast by Mickey Mantle on June 18 that was the only the second ball ever hit out of Detroit’s Briggs Stadium, through a 15-mile-an-hour wind and over the right-centerfield stands.

Foytack threw a career-high 256 innings in 1956, and he acknowledged that the workload may have contributed to his wildness. He had hopes to become a 20-game winner in 1957.

“This is my first spring as a starter. To know that takes a lot of pressure off,” he said in April of ’57. “It gives me confidence, because I know [Tigers manager] Jack Tighe will go a long way with me.”

Foytack didn’t win 20 games, but between 1956 and 1959 he won 15 games twice and 14 games twice. Paired with starters Jim Bunning and Frank Lary, Detroit had a pretty good starting rotation but never was a pennant contender. Foytack was a steady innings-eater, at one point in 1958 throwing seven consecutive complete games. He went 5-2 in that stretch with a 1.86 ERA. That finish left him with back-to-back ERAs of 3.14 in 1957 and 3.44 in 1958 — his best pitching performances in the big leagues.

Foytack had a 14-14 record in 1959, but he led the AL in earned runs allowed with 124, and his ERA rose by more than a run to 4.64. His 34 home runs allowed would have led the league as well if not for teammate Bunning’s 37 long balls. The entire Tigers staff gave up a league-worst 177 long balls, so they were at least in good company.

Foytack became the subject of multiple trade rumors, and a poor spring training in 1960 set him on edge even more. He picked up an easy 12-4 win over the White Sox on April 24 and said afterwards that he couldn’t relax, even when the Tigers gave him a 6-run lead in the first inning. “Everyone has been on my back so much this spring that I can’t afford to let up, even for one pitch.”

Foytack holds up four fingers to note how many home runs teammate Rocky Colavito hit in a doubleheader. Foytack won one of those games.

That much stress might have knocked him off his game, because he won just one more game the rest of the season, finishing with a 2-11 record and a 6.14 ERA. After leading the AL with 37 starts in 1959, Foytack made just 13 starts in ’60, coming out of the bullpen for 15 more appearances. He was put on the disabled list in July with a sore arm and missed more than a month. When he got back, he had a hard time finding starting assignments, as Don Mossi, Bob Bruce, Pete Burnside and rookie Phil Regan all filled out the starting rotation with Lary and Bunning.

Foytack mounted a nice comeback effort in 1961, winning 11 games against 10 losses and dropping his ERA to 3.93. He was once again working as a swingman, but he still managed 20 starts and threw 6 complete games. Tigers manager Bob Scheffing attributed Foytack’s second wind to his ability to change speeds and become a pitcher, not just a thrower. “He’s learned to get his palm ball and knuckleball over. This is tough for a guy who’d been primarily an overpowering fastball pitcher.”

Foytack got off to a great start in 1962, winning 6 decisions in a row and carrying a 7-1 record into the second week of July. He lost a couple of starts and was moved back to the pen, ending the year with a 10-7 record. He lost his place in the rotation in 1963 and struggled as a reliever for the Tigers. He was unhappy with his infrequent use and had been fined $500 for walking out of the bullpen on a day when he didn’t pitch. On June 15, Detroit traded him and Frank Kostro to the Los Angeles Angels for George Thomas and cash. Foytack was used more and pitched better, though he did make some history on July 31 against the Cleveland Indians. He became the first American League pitcher to give up four home runs in one inning. It was to four consecutive batters, too — Woodie Held, Pedro Ramos, Tito Francona and Larry Brown. The pitch that rookie Brown knocked out of the park was meant to be a brushback pitch, but it went down the middle of the plate. “It shows you I didn’t know where my pitches were going,” the pitcher said.

Foytack was able to laugh about the achievement after the game. “What else is there to do but laugh? I was glad to get out of there alive. At least I’ve got to go into the record books.”

Foytack made two appearances for the 1964 Angels, allowing 4 runs in 2-1/3 innings. He was sent down to AAA Syracuse in mid-May, ending his time in the majors. In 1965, he signed with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League and had a 2-3 record and 3.14 ERA in 18 appearances, including 10 starts. He had visited Japan in a 1962 postseason tour with the Tigers and decided to try to pitch there. He flew to Japan without a contract and won a role with the Dragons after a successful workout. He was one of three Americans on the roster, along with Ken Aspromonte and Jim Marshall. Foytack announced his retirement after the season ended.

In 11 seasons, Foytack had an 86-87 record with a 4.14 ERA. He had 63 complete games and threw 7 shutouts, picking up 7 saves as well. He struck out 827 batters and was worth 10.4 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. He also had a pretty respectable .178 batting average, with 1 home run that he hit off Don Larsen in 1961.

Foytack’s delivery in still photos. Source: The Windsor Star, March 20, 1957.

Foytack returned to Tiger Stadium regularly in his retirement to throw batting practice. He was at the game in 1969 when Mickey Lolich broke his team record with 16 strikeouts in a game. He also pitched for Detroit sandlot teams in his spare time, working full-time as a salesman for industrial rubber and plastics supplier F.B. Wright.

Foytack never minded that much of his recognition in baseball was related to the home runs he surrendered. Like the time he gave up the first home run of the season to Roger Maris in his record-setting year of 1961, or the ones he gave up to Mantle that sailed out of Briggs/Tiger Stadium. One, hit in 1960, sailed over Trumbull Ave. and landed in Brooks Lumber Yard, an estimated 643-foot blast. Foytack recalled it was a high fastball, “something he wasn’t supposed to hit.”

“But one day I showed that Jim Gentile a thing or two,” Foytack recalled. “He thought he had hit one over the roof against me, but I showed him… the ball hit the light tower and bounced back on the field.”

Foytack was inducted into the Northeast Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1987. He and his wife, Kitty, retired to Tennessee in 2004 and were married for 68 years before her passing. They had four children.

Foytack received a little recognition in 2007 when Yankees pitcher Chase Wright also gave up four consecutive home runs against the Red Sox. He advised the rookie to not let it affect his career. “I was trying to think of who I did not throw a home run to, and the only two names I could come up with were Shirley Temple and Elizabeth Taylor,” he joked. He added that those four homers he surrendered were far from his most embarrassing moment. That would have been the time he was at a race track on a day after he’d retired 17 batters in a row. Someone tapped him on the shoulder to ask for an autograph. When Foytack turned around, he saw it was Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II. The ballplayer exclaimed that it should be he asking Murphy for an autograph, not the other way around.

“He said, ‘I saw that game and thought it was great,'” Foytack told The Tennessean. “I said, ‘What about what you did?’ He said, ‘Oh, that was in the line of duty.’ I said, ‘Me too, but my life wasn’t on the line.’ That was the most embarrassing thing to me.”

For more information: Legacy.com

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