The place where Ray Fosse and Pete Rose collide

BySteve Wulf ESPN logo
Thursday, July 9, 2015

As longtime Oakland A's broadcaster Ray Fosse sits in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park before a recent game, his mind is 1,200 miles away, in the town of Marion, Illinois.

"The first thing I think of is Pauline's Pies," he says. "Pauline was my mom, and she had this business, Pauline's Pies. The week before Thanksgiving, she would bake 80 to 100 pies, and her most popular pie was the Moon Apple, this big, juicy apple pie covered in glaze that would erupt like a volcano when you baked it.

"They had a day for me after the A's won the World Series in 1973, a parade and a presentation and a big dinner that night. The town basically shut down. They named the park after me, the same one where my brothers and I played. We'd ride our bikes there, gloves on our handlebars. But the best part of the day was when they gave my mother a new double-door oven so that she could bake two pies at once. More Moon Apples for everyone."

The fond feelings are mutual in Marion. Townspeople remember Fosse as a bespectacled three-sport athlete at Marion High. As the seventh pick in the very first major league draft exactly 50 years ago. As a two-time All-Star catcher in Cleveland, with two Gold Gloves. As a two-time World Series champion with Oakland. As the man who caught two Cy Young winners (Gaylord Perry, Cleveland '72; Catfish Hunter, Oakland '74), three 20-game winners in '73 (Hunter, Ken Holtzman and Vida Blue) and Dennis Eckersley's no-hitter for the Indians in '77. And as the Marion Mule, who played 12 seasons in the majors for four different teams before he became a fixture on A's broadcasts.

They're justifiably proud of Fosse in Marion, a big town (pop. 17,000) in sports-mad Little Egypt, the area at the bottom of Illinois above Cairo, right above where the Ohio River runs into the Mississippi, the way a baserunner runs into a catcher.

The way a runner ran into a catcher in the 12th inning of an All-Star Game held 45 years ago in Cincinnati, where the Midsummer Classic returns on Tuesday.

Fosse was in his first full season in the majors when Orioles manager Earl Weaver named him to the 1970 American League All-Star team. He was tearing the cover off the ball -- .312 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs before the break -- and gunning down baserunners unfamiliar with his arm.

"Imagine what a thrill that was for me," Fosse says. "Look at the names in that All-Star Game. Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench ... seems like half the Hall of Fame."

Indeed, there were 21 future inductees on the roster, players such as Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Luis Aparicio, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver. There could easily have been 22. Maybe 23.

When Fosse was named to the team, Marion sent its favorite son a congratulatory telegram with 1,713 names on it. At the top of the list was his mother, Pauline Fosse. The town also presented her with a dozen roses and bought her a round-trip ticket to Cincinnati so she could see Ray play. She was something of an All-Star herself in Marion, a cook at the local school who raised three boys five years apart after she divorced her husband when the oldest boy, Jerry, was 6.

Jerry grew up to become an Air Force lieutenant colonel, now retired and living in Texas. Ray and his wife of 45 years, Carol, live in the Bay Area and Scottsdale, Arizona, keeping track of the A's, their two daughters, and their three grandchildren. "Matthew, Nikki's 8-year-old, is into baseball," Ray says, "and I must say, he can really swing the bat."

Jim, the youngest, still lives in Marion, watering the Fosse family roots. "He's the real hero in the family," Ray says. "He took care of Mom and Marion while cheering Jerry and me on."

Known as Big Jim since his days as a lineman and placekicker on the high school football team, he served on the Marion police force for 30 years before becoming a process server for the sheriff's department. When Pauline passed away 11 years ago, Jim's wife of 31 years picked up where she left off -- Cissie's Kitchen makes 25 varieties of pies and cobblers, though Cissie admits it's hard to duplicate the Moon Apple.

There's a big new ballpark on the north side of town, where the Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League play, and there's a state-of-the-art indoor sports complex called the Hub on Main Street. But in many ways, Marion hasn't changed since the Fosse brothers were kids. The Daily Republican has weathered the collapse of the newspaper industry. The federal penitentiary south of town remains active. And Robert Butler is still the mayor, as he has been since -- wait for it -- 1963. The 88-year-old Butler is the longest-serving mayor in the United States.

On an early summer day in June, Jim Fosse has been kind enough to take us around Marion. "Let's go see Jack Fletcher," he says. "He was the assistant baseball coach at the high school when Ray played there."

Fletcher, a former history teacher and still an avid golfer at 81, invites us into his living room.

"Ray was just a great kid," he says. "He became a catcher his sophomore year because nobody else wanted to do it. Pretty soon, the scouts were coming around. As a junior, he batted over .500. What really defined him, in my mind, was this: We used to have this big old heavy equipment bag, an army canvas bag, and it would usually be the responsibility of a freshman to carry it. But Ray always wanted to carry it himself, right through his senior year.

"I was there the day they named the park after him. In fact, I still have the program."

It's an impressive production: 38 pages, front to back. On the front, above a sketch of the mustachioed Fosse, it reads: A Day For Ray Tuesday Nov. 27, 1973. Inside, it seems every business in Marion and the surrounding towns has taken out an ad, and there are lots of photographs: of Ray playing football and basketball and Little League, signing with the Cleveland Indians as scout Walter Shannon and Pauline look on, boarding the plane to the big leagues, Ray and Carol as newlyweds, Ray in action behind the plate and up at bat, and one of the day they retired his jersey at the high school. (The student-manager holding up one end of the framed jersey turned out to be Dale Ratermann, who became the longtime PR director of the Indiana Pacers.)

The celebration of Fosse's career comes to a temporary halt, though, on page 27. There is a blurry overhead shot of a play at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game, taken in the 12th inning. It's the play that won the game for the National League and has forever linked Fosse to the man who came barreling into him sometime after 11 p.m. that July 17.

The type above the photo says, Pete Who?

Little did anyone know back then that Pete Rose would get his own day in Marion. One hundred and fifty-two of them, actually.

Home is everything in baseball. As a batter, you leave it with the intention of returning. As a pitcher, you try to own it. As a fielder, especially a catcher, you need to protect it. As an umpire, you occasionally have to dust it. The pentagonal shape adopted in 1900 was meant to give pitchers and umpires a better idea of the strike zone, but it also created a wonderfully accidental synergy: home looks like a house.

Bob Jackson has made Marion his home for all of his 80 years. If Mom, apple pie and baseball evoke home, then Jackson has them all covered. He knew Pauline Fosse well because she cooked in the same junior high school where he taught art. He can still taste the pie she made with Jonathan apples -- "Absolutely delicious." He knows his baseball: His Illinois license plate has a Cardinal on it and reads "Stan 6." And he takes pride in having carved the key to the city that Ray received in '73 out of a Ray Fosse-model bat.

"I was on the floor of my living room, filming the 1970 All-Star Game," he recalls while sitting in the reading room of the Williamson County Historical Society, where he serves on the board. "My wife and son had gone to bed when it happened. I could feel the collision all the way from Cincinnati."

For those of you who weren't filming or watching, Fosse replaced Bill Freehan as the American League's catcher in the fifth inning, singled off Gaylord Perry and scored the first run of the game in the sixth, then gave the AL a 2-0 lead in the seventh with a sacrifice fly. But the NL rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score at 4-4. Hardly any of the 51,838 fans in Cincinnati had left -- though one of them, President Richard Nixon, did have to go.

In the bottom of the 12th, AL pitcher Clyde Wright quickly retired Joe Torre and Roberto Clemente. But then hometown favorite Pete Rose singled to center, and Billy Grabarkewitz singled to left, bringing Jim Hickman to the plate with men on first and second. Hickman singled up the middle, and as third base coach (and Cubs manager) Leo Durocher waved Rose around third, center fielder Amos Otis threw home. Fosse floated to the third base line to catch the throw, which arrived at about the same time as Rose did.

Instead of sliding, Rose crashed into Fosse, sending the catcher into a backward somersault as the ball skittered away. The result was a 5-4 victory for the National League, its eighth straight. As home plate umpire Al Barlick walked away, and NL teammate Dick Dietz hugged Rose, Fosse remained on the ground, dazed and in pain.

Weaver and several of the American League players came out to see whether Fosse was all right. And Marion held its breath.

"I felt awful for Ray," Jackson says. "We all did in Marion."

"My wife and mother couldn't tell what was happening," Fosse says. "They were sitting together in the upper deck because Carol had traded her seat in the wives' section for two seats together. Somebody up there had a transistor radio, though, and that's how they found out I got hurt. Somehow, they made it down to the clubhouse and went to the hospital with me."

The initial X-rays were negative, and the headline in the next day's Daily Republican was "Rose Smashes Into Fosse in Final Play of the Game," with the hopeful subhead: "AL Catcher Suffers Only Bad Bruise." In the UPI story, Rose said, "If I slid in there, I could have broken both legs. If I slid head-first, I could have broken my neck." Fosse was quoted as saying, "I know he didn't mean it, but who knows? Maybe he should have run around me."

Rose missed the next three games with a thigh bruise. Fosse, however, played the next game two days later because he didn't want to tell manager Alvin Dark he was hurting. But he clearly was. Although he finished the season with a .307 average, he had only two home runs and 16 RBIs in the second half. It wasn't until the next spring that doctors discovered that he had fractured and separated his left shoulder, and it had healed in the wrong place.

The what-ifs were asked each time the collision was replayed, and it was replayed plenty over the years. What if Rose had slid to avoid the tag? What if Otis' throw had come a split second sooner so that Fosse could steel himself? Heck, what if the game hadn't been in Cincinnati, where Rose felt he had to prove himself? "I could never have looked my father in the eye again if I hadn't hit Fosse that day," Rose would say later.

For his part, Fosse never made any excuses. He continued to play even through the shoulder pain. But it did rankle him that Rose seemed to glory in the play. When the Indians and Reds played in an exhibition game the following spring, Rose called out to Fosse, "Hey, you're off to a slow start."

What really upset Fosse, though, was the story Rose was telling about their encounter in Cincinnati the night before the All-Star Game. According to Rose, Indians pitcher Sam McDowell and Fosse went out on the town together and then came over to his house, staying up until 4 a.m. as the star-struck Fosse grilled Rose about the great Johnny Bench.

Fosse says he and McDowell and their wives did have dinner together with Rose and his wife that night, but in actuality, the newlywed Fosses were back at the hotel by 1 a.m. "He makes it out like we were friends, when we weren't really," says Fosse.

Since then, encounters between Fosse and Rose have been rare. Fosse's old Indians teammate Buddy Bell got them together when Rose was managing the Reds in the early '80s, but the conversation was brief. Fosse says Chris Berman talked them into an ESPN interview before the 1988 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, but the piece never ran. And the interaction left such a bad taste in Fosse's mouth that he subsequently turned down requests by the producers of Rose's radio show to get them together.

"I met him once," Jim Fosse says of Rose. "I'm a big Cardinals fan, so when Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I traveled to Cooperstown with my son Ryan and a friend who's a broadcaster. Anyway, Pete was there on Main Street signing baseballs for money -- he charged like $250 for his signature, even more for one on the sweet spot. I told my friend, 'I beg you, don't tell him who I am.' But sure enough, he tells Rose, 'This is Ray Fosse's younger brother.' So Rose smiles, and signs it for Ryan on the sweet spot for nothing."

When Jim graduated from high school, he spent a year in barber school, but then, "I took a look around me at my friends' long hair and decided there was no future in that." He lit off for Montana to work in construction, but then he heard there was an opening in the Marion police department. Now he and Cissie have three children and three grandchildren (soon to be four), including Ryan's son, Nolan Ryan Fosse. There isn't anybody in town who doesn't smile and say hi to him when he passes by.

To this day, Jim remains fiercely protective of Ray. "You know what gets me upset?" he says over breakfast at Cracker Barrel. "It's when people say Pete Rose ruined my brother's career. I tell them, 'Have you ever looked at his record?' There aren't that many catchers as good as Ray Fosse was."

Or as tough. While playing in the Venezuelan winter league in December 1970, Fosse pulled John Morris to safety when a riptide overcame him and their teammate Herman Hill, who did drown. As an Indian, he charged the mound after Tigers pitcher Bill Denehy hit him with a pitch, igniting a benches-clearing brawl that left him with a gash in his right hand that required five stitches. Later, as an A, he broke up a dugout fight between Reggie Jackson and Bill North, but in the process, he pinched a nerve in his neck.

There were other injuries -- his finger, his hand, his leg -- but Fosse always soldiered on, returning to Cleveland for two more seasons (1976-77), then finishing out his career in Seattle and Milwaukee. When Brewers manager Buck Rodgers cut him in 1980, he said it was one of the hardest things he had ever done because "Ray Fosse was the epitome of a catcher."

His career numbers weren't quite worthy of the Hall of Fame, but considering the physical abuse catchers take, there are far too few of them in Cooperstown.

And he's remembered fondly in places other than Marion: In Cleveland, where he was known for signing autographs for hours, and Oakland, where he has been broadcasting A's games since 1986. Former A's reliever Greg Cadaret, who helped on Oakland broadcasts for a few years, says, "Ray is just one of the nicest, most genuine people in baseball.

"When I first got the broadcasting job in Oakland, Ray and I traveled the state in a limo for a few days as part of the offseason caravan.

"Now I know why they love him in Northern California."

But it's Marion to which Fosse really belongs. Who better to know that than the mayor himself?

Robert Butler has been in office for 53 years, and there's a statue of him on Main Street, right in front of a magnificent clock tower he had built 42 years ago. Its unofficial name is Butler's Erection. Right across the street from the clock tower, next to a sports card store that has three Pete Rose cards for sale but no Ray Fosses (sold out!), is the mayor's office.

And inside that office is a man who knows a stump opportunity when he sees one: "Let me just say that the Fosse family is a unique lot, staunch citizens like Jim and Pauline who have been pillars of the community," Butler says. "Ray, of course, is our great claim to fame. He has brought honor and notoriety to our city, and it's only fitting that our city park is named after him."

Butler pauses for a moment. "When I think of Ray, I think of all the good he and the Fosses have done. There is, however, another man, a man whose name is often linked to Ray's. When I think of Pete Rose, I think, 'Why doesn't somebody make him go away?' I read about him again in the papers just the other day. He is bad, bad business."

On July 19, 1990, Pete Rose, who had pleaded guilty to filing false income tax returns, was sentenced to five months in prison and fined $50,000. The former great was already on MLB's banned list because of his suspected gambling on games as both a player and manager. Because fate has a sense of irony, he was sent to the federal penitentiary in southern Marion.

He might not have known the significance at the time, but the townspeople certainly did. In a city council meeting just before his arrival, there was a proposal to rename the road to the prison Ray Fosse Drive just so Rose would see it on his way in.

On the day he arrived, Aug. 8, a wire service story quoted one local resident -- an art teacher named Bob Jackson -- as saying, "They should have tacked on another two months for what he did to Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game."

So No. 14 became No. 01832-061. Prison is no laughing matter, and there were reasons to be sympathetic to Rose, who had to leave his wife, Carol, and their young son, Tyler, behind. Maybe he could have had a better defense, maybe he was being used as an example. Whatever his case, the man who signed "Hit King" on his memorabilia took a king-size hit.

At the time, Marion was a sprawling prison, with convicts from Level Six -- the most hardened criminals, some from shut-down Alcatraz -- all the way down to "the campers" on Level One.

Rose was one of those, living in the barracks assigned to the men in the work camp. In Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars, a 2004 book he wrote with Rick Hill, he describes his thinking this way: "I don't belong here. The punishment didn't fit the crime." Then he writes, "I didn't sleep much those first three nights, but not because of my conscience. I didn't sleep because they gave me a bunk right next to the s--- house." Another inmate, a friend of Rose's, describes his prison guards as "high school dropouts who had nothing else going on in their lives."

As a matter of fact, one of his guards was a college graduate. And he remembers Rose well. "When he first got there," recalls the man, who did not want to be identified, "he was going on and on about how big he was, how if you sent a letter to 'Pete Rose, Cincinnati,' it would get to him. I loved him as a ballplayer, but I finally had to tell him, "Pete, do you know where you are? You're in Marion, Illinois. Do you know who grew up in Marion? Ray Fosse. And do you know who will be watching over you when you are here? People who grew up and went to school with Ray Fosse."

Within days of his arrival, Rose's commissary card was stolen. For him, the photo ID was a means for provisions; somebody else must've thought it might make a collectible down the line. But the prison gave him a work assignment that kept him out of harm's way and made use of his baseball wrists: floor sweeper on the welding unit.

Marion wasn't exactly Alcatraz for Rose. In his five months there, Rose helped coach the softball team, refereed basketball games and stayed in shape by playing tennis. He even got to watch the Reds beat the A's in the World Series. So, yes, while Fosse was in Cincinnati to cover the Reds' sweep, Rose was in Marion sweeping floors.

On Monday, Jan. 7, 1991, the big headline in the afternoon Daily Republican was "Rose Slides Out of Marion." The lead on staff writer Rob Wick's story went as follows: With several formations of geese flying overhead, and a distinct winter chill in the air, former Cincinnati Reds slugger Pete Rose walked out of Marion Federal Work Camp this morning on his way to a halfway house.

In the story, Warden John Clark was quoted as saying, "He worked hard at a manual labor job in a remote area inside the main penitentiary and otherwise served his time in a quiet, unremarkable fashion."

Wick, now a freelance writer in Evansville, Indiana, remembers the day well. "Pete was dressed in a blue coat. It was very cold, and I had to write very fast because I had to go to Carbondale to transmit the photo to AP. A lot of national media were there, Time magazine, UPI. I worked in Marion from 1988 to 1992 -- one of my last stories, as a matter of fact, was when John Gotti got sent to Marion. Rose's five months went by pretty fast, but I do remember the National Enquirer offering me $5,000 for a photo of Rose as an inmate. I turned it down, but they got some musician who played there to sneak a camera inside his guitar, and he shot a photo."

In the end, there was no encore of the Fosse-Rose collision in Marion, just a swipe tag that sent Rose on his way back to Cincinnati. "To be honest with you," says the guard, "we were just glad this pain in the ass was gone. Good riddance."

The biggest what-if in Marion in the years following the All-Star Game collision was: What if Ray hadn't been hurt on the play? They talked about it in the Razors Edge barbershop on the town square all the time. That's actually where a newspaper reporter overheard Bob Jackson saying, "They should have tacked on another two months for what he did to Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game."

So in 1992, Jackson decided to try to answer the what-if. He had just retired and was taking a course called "Baseball and Americana" at John A. Logan College in nearby Carterville. For his class project, he did a report on the induction of Ray Fosse into the Hall of Fame. Being an art teacher, he put together a presentation complete with photos, illustrations and a meticulously typed text. The twist was that Rose, not Fosse, was injured in the collision.

Rose, trying to score from second on a single, was injured when catcher Fosse blocked the plate without the ball ... Rose tried to avoid the collision but Fosse's [tag] caused Rose to fall with all his weight and Fosse's weight on Rose's left shoulder. Even in pain, Rose tried to continue to play. However, late in the season, X-rays revealed that his shoulder had been broken. Rose continued in baseball for a number of years, but was never the ballplayer he had been before the collision. In fact, many baseball people predicted that he was on a Hall of Fame course when he was injured.

"I'm proud to say I got 230 points out of 230 on the project," Jackson says. "It might have had something to do with the fact that I was twice as old as anybody else in the class."

If legacy is the ultimate scoreboard, then Bob Jackson's fiction isn't that far off. "It really has been a wonderful life," Fosse says. "Only 18,000 people have ever played major league baseball, about the size of Marion, and I'm one of them. I was named to two All-Star teams, won two World Series. Oh sure, my body aches sometimes, but when that happens, it just reminds me of how blessed I've been.

"I'm married to this girl I met when I played in Reno in 1966, and we have a great family. I still get excited about Opening Day. Who cares if I got my clock rung 45 years ago? I actually don't mind when the players I now interview ask me, 'Say, are you the guy Pete Rose ran over?'

"I even have a park named after me. The place where my brothers and I swam and played baseball. What could be better than that?"

Not much. On a beautiful summer night, Ray Fosse Park is humming. This is the somewhere men are laughing, the somewhere children shout.

There are games going on all the diamonds, the stands are filled, and there are coolers next to the lawn chairs. But there's one particular coach-pitched Little League game that catches the eye.

A young father in a nondescript T-shirt and work boots is patiently lobbing the ball to an 8-year-old. He stops and walks over to the batter to correct his stance. Then he walks back to the mound, lobs, and smiles as the lad laces the ball up the middle.

At the end of a long, hard day, he's passing on a love of the game in Ray Fosse Park.

Pete Who?

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