Sudlersville's favorite son

Monday Book Reviews

May 06, 1991|By John Goodspeed

DOUBLE X. By Bob Gorman. Diocesan Holy Name Society, Stratford, N.J. Illustrated. 213 pages. Paperback. $10. IT'S SURPRISING -- astonishing, really -- that almost 24 years after his death, this semi-pro effort is the first biography ever published of James E. (Jimmie) Foxx (1907-1967), the slugging native of Sudlersville (Queen Anne's County) and one of the several superstars of baseball born in Maryland.

Foxx -- known as "Double X" for the obvious reason, called "Jimmy" on his Eastern Shore monument but "Jimmie" throughout this book -- was one of the greatest hitters of all time, right up there with the Baltimore champion, Babe Ruth. With the celebrated Philadelphia Athletics managed by Connie Mack, right-handed Foxx hit 58 home runs the hard way in 1932, and he might have tied left-handed Ruth's earlier record of 60 hit mostly over short right-field fences if two of Double X's clouts hadn't been officially ignored because he hit them in incomplete games that were rained out.

According to this book, Foxx hit 35 or more home runs in nine consecutive years and 30 or more in 12 consecutive years, both records. His lifetime batting average, .325, is the best in history among right-handed batters with 500 or more home runs (Foxx hit 534). He is truly, as the subtitle of Bob Gorman's biography puts it, "baseball's forgotten slugger." Even his fielding -- mostly at third base, occasionally at third, rarely as a catcher -- was a remarkable .990.

So why in the name of Abner Doubleday has Foxx been so overlooked by writers of baseball books? Gorman suggests that maybe he was too good-natured and generous, not a constantly publicized "bad boy" like Ruth, not a hot-tempered prima donna like Lefty Grove (from Lonaconing, all the way across Maryland from Sudlersville).

Foxx was a team player, the son of a celebrated semi-pro catcher, a farm hand who developed his muscles in the fields. He was discovered by another Eastern Shore sports immortal, Home Run Baker, a native of Trappe (Talbot County) and manager of an Easton minor league team at that time. Foxx apparently felt it was a favor to him to pay him to play baseball. He went to the Athletics in 1925 and played his best years there and, later, in Boston for the Red Sox.

Foxx was chosen for nine consecutive All-Star squads and batted .316 in All-Star games. He was eventually named to the Baseball Hall of Fame. (At his induction, Foxx commented, "I figured if you hit the ball good, it was gone.") He was "outstanding," he "came to play," he gave "110 percent" -- to borrow a few superlatives from the sports world. But it didn't make him rich, nor did it impress the writers of baseball lore.

Again, why? Is it because he was something of a dandy? Because he was fond of whiskey and picked up too many bar tabs for his drinking companions? Because he socialized with black athletes when barnstorming in Mexico? Because he was divorced once? Because he was a poor businessman and was reduced to truck driving at one point after he retired from baseball? Bob Gorman doesn't dwell on those aspects of Foxx's life, but he does mention them, and he does show that Foxx, if not as colorful as some of his peers, was a star worthy of a biography.

This is Gorman's first book. He's a baseball coach from Long Island. "Double X" is a nice try, but it shows Gorman's a rookie writer. Apparently he majored in government and played baseball at Harvard, but I don't think he paid attention in English class. Nobody, apparently -- including the editor of this book -- has persuaded him that the use of too many exclamation marks makes one's prose look silly! "Double X" is loaded with them! Three or four per paragraph on some pages!

The book is nevertheless a must souvenir for literate baseball fans, especially Maryland fans. You can order it -- add $1 per volume for mailing -- from the Diocesan Holy Name Society, 64 Warwick Rd., Stratford, N.J. 08084.

John Goodspeed writes from Easton.

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