He was called “Double X” and “The Beast”, references to the prodigious power that defined baseball slugger Jimmie Foxx. He is often overlooked when the topic of baseball’s greatest hitters is raised, but Jimmie Foxx was as good, if not better, than any right handed hitter the game ever knew. His battle with alcohol later in life made his untimely end even more tragic, but Jimmie Foxx must be remembered for his accomplishments on the field, not off of them. He was so feared a hitter that when Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez was asked how he liked to pitch to Jimmie Foxx, he replied, “I’d prefer not to even throw the ball.”
James Emory Foxx was born on October 22nd, 1907 in Sudlersville, Maryland. His father and mother, Dell and Mattie, were tenant farmers, Dell having played baseball for a local team when he was younger. Countless hours of laboring on the family’s farm developed the nearly six foot tall Jimmie Foxx into a muscular specimen at an early age, and he was able to translate his physical fitness into athletic prowess. He set local records in track events and despite his brawny physique; he was very fast as a runner. Jimmie Foxx excelled at baseball and when Easton, a nearby town, landed a minor league team in 1924, future Hall of Fame inductee Frank “Home Run” Baker, who also hailed from Maryland, was told about Foxx’s ability. After Baker gave him a tryout, Jimmie Foxx was signed to catch for Easton, and wound up hitting .296 with ten home runs over the summer. The Philadelphia Athletics purchased his contract, and he spent the end of the major league season watching from the Athletic’s bench. All this before he had turned 16!
Jimmie Foxx did not finish high school, leaving in the winter of his senior year to attend spring training with the A’s. He made the team as a pinch hitter, and his major league baseball debut came on May 1st, 1925 with a single against Washington. Jimmie Foxx was sent to Providence of the Eastern League to garner more playing time, and he hit .327 there. He was called back up to Philly for the season’s end and hit a robust .667 in ten contests. Jimmie Foxx stuck with the team for good in 1926, but for the next two years he was mainly a pinch hitter and reserve. His position of catcher was manned by another Hall of Fame player, Mickey Cochrane, so Jimmie Foxx learned how to play first base, the spot he would eventually occupy for the bulk of his career. He was also able to play third, which he did at various points in his twenty year’s in the big leagues.
By 1928 Jimmie Foxx was a full time player for the Athletics and manager/owner Connie Mack. He hit .407 through June before finishing with a .328 average, and it was clear he was a rising power hitter in the American League. At the end of the year, he bought his parents a new farm outside of his hometown and married Helen Heite, his girlfriend. When the 1929 major league baseball season began, Philadelphia had one of the greatest teams of all time assembled, ready to demolish the league. Jimmie Foxx broke out with a .354 average, 33 home runs and 118 RBI, joining Hall of Fame legends Al Simmons and Lefty Grove to lead Philly to an 18 game pennant romp over the Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig Yankees. In the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs, Jimmie Foxx hit a pair of homers and had a vital single in a huge ten run rally that keyed an easy four games to one Athletics’ victory. He was only 21.
The next year the A’s repeated, winning the American League pennant over Washington with Foxx having another banner
year. He hit 37 home runs with 156 RBI and starred in the post-season action. With the series tied at two games apiece, and the Athletics at the St. Louis Cardinal’s home field of Sportsman Park, Jimmie Foxx had the greatest moment of his career. He hit a long home run off of Burleigh Grimes to snap a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning, and Philadelphia went on to win the Series in six games. By now he had been given his nicknames, including “the Maryland Strong Boy”, and the press took a liking to him. He had one son, Jimmie Jr. in 1929 and he enjoyed the simple life of hunting and fishing in the off-season. He was also generous to a fault, known as a great tipper and unable to let anyone pick up the tab for dinner. Anyone who ever spent time with him remembered his bighearted demeanor.
Jimmie Foxx was slowed by knee and foot injuries in 1931, but still had 120 RBI. He also developed serious sinus problems that he would never get rid of. In the World Series, the A’s, who had won 107 games in the regular season as they cruised to the pennant, were beaten by the Cardinals. Jimmie Foxx hit .348 for Philadelphia, and knocked one ball clear out of Shibe Park. He would not play in another World Series however for the rest of his time in the game.
In 1932 Jimmie Foxx made a legendary run at Babe Ruth’s record of sixty home runs in a single baseball season. He had hit 41 by the end of July, put he hurt his thumb and wrist in August and it cost him some of his power. He wound up with 58, along with 169 RBI and a .364 average. He was named the American League’s MVP at season’s end. But Mack began to dismantle his team in 1932 due to declining attendance caused by the Great Depression. Only Jimmie Foxx remained of the great players after all was said and done, but he did not fail to post huge campaigns in the next three years. He was once again the MVP in 1933, with a Triple Crown winning season of 48 homers, 163 RBI, and a .356 batting average. He hit for the cycle against the Indians in August, and was named to the first ever All-Star team. He got a raise from Mack, to $18,000 a year.
After another wonderful season in 1934, Jimmie Foxx was beaned in an exhibition game in Canada, further deepening his sinus problem. He played some at catcher in 1935, and tied for the league lead in home runs with Hank Greenberg. Mack finally dealt Foxx away after the campaign ended, to the Red Sox for $250,000 and a pitcher. At the age of 28, he was a bright star for Boston in 1936, even hitting a memorable home run completely out of Chicago’s Cominsky Park. He had his usual amazing statistics, but his sinus problems affected him in 1937 as he hit .285. However, he still had 36 homers and over a 120 RBI, but there were whispers that he could be slowing down.
Those who had questioned Jimmie Foxx’s skills were quieted in 1938. Foxx finished with 50 home runs, 175 RBI, and a .349 average. He was walked a record tying six times in one game, hit 33 home runs at Fenway Park alone, and took home his third and last AL MVP trophy. Ted Williams joined Boston’s ranks in 1939; he and Foxx remained fast friends until Foxx passed away. Foxx took the youngster under his wing, and despite playing in only124 games, Jimmie Foxx hit over 30 homers and had 105 runs batted in. The decade of the Thirties was owned by Jimmie Foxx; from 1930 through1939, Jimmie Foxx mashed 415 home runs and drove in 1,403!
But Foxx, who lived in a hotel while with the Red Sox and was away from his family for long stretches of time, began to drink to ease the suffering from his sinus problems. He would get severe nosebleeds, and when the pain became too much, Foxx would dull it with alcohol. He never became violent when he drank; rather, he would become even easier going and gentle. But the drinking, along with the sinus pain that precipitated it, began to take its toll on Jimmie Foxx. Although he had good 1940 and 1941 seasons, he was clearly in decline. He was traded from Boston to the Cubs in 1942; he played sparingly for parts of the next two seasons.
He divorced Helen after 14 years of marriage, and he did not see his two sons at all (he had another boy named Kenneth) due to the contentious proceedings. He remarried shortly after, to Dorothy Yard, whom he had two children with, and he tried to enter the military but was rejected due to his sinus condition. He finished his career back in Philadelphia, with the Phillies, hitting 7 more home runs and even pitching 23 innings to a 1.59 ERA! When he retired in September of 1945, he had 534 home runs, second only to Babe Ruth’s 714. It would be 1966 until someone passed Jimmie Foxx on the all time homer list. He hit .325 lifetime and knocked in an incredible 1,922 runs.
Foxx struggled with life after baseball. He lost thousands investing in a golf course in Florida that went belly-up, and tried his hand at coaching, unable to hold down a myriad of baseball jobs. He always signed autographs for his fans though, often being overwhelmed when he would go out to a restaurant. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in1951, with Connie Mack there to see him inducted. In 1952, he managed an all woman’s team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Tom Hanks’ character of Joe Dugan in the hit movie “A League of Their Own” was loosely based on Jimmie Foxx.
Jimmie Foxx meandered from one job to another later in life, winding up as head baseball coach at the University of Miami, a hitting instructor in the minors in Florida, and a batting coach with a Red Sox affiliate in Minnesota. He lost that job in 1959 because of his drinking; it would be his last in baseball. He bounced around from one line of work to another, suffering a pair of minor heart attacks and a bad back. Tragedy struck in 1966 when his wife choked to death. The two had enjoyed a long and lasting relationship through thick and thin.
On July 21st, 1967 Jimmie Foxx was visiting his brother Sam in Miami, where the two lived close by together. After dinner, Foxx collapsed and was rushed to the hospital with an apparent heart attack. He died at Miami Baptist Hospital a short time later. In what could only be described as a bizarre coincidence, an autopsy showed that Jimmie Foxx had actually choked to death on a bone, similar to how his spouse had died a year earlier!
His hometown of Sudlersville erected a bronze statue of “the Maryland Strong Boy” in 1997, a monument to his great athletic feats. He was one of the most feared batters the game had ever known, revered for his great strength. How strong was Jimmie Foxx? When they asked Yankee hurler Lefty Gomez that question he deadpanned, “He has muscles in his hair.”