Ray Fosse The A's Icon

(originally written 1/15/22)

Ray Fosse, the longtime Athletics color broadcaster and former All-Star catcher, passed away from cancer October 13, 2021 at age 74.


Immediately upon seeing the MLB Network crawl announcing the news, I responded with some type of guttural sound accompanied by much eye moisture. I GUESS you could call it a cry, but I think it felt more like a part of my youth permanently escaping my body.


You see, Fosse had been doing A's games since the late 1980's, since before I even began following baseball. Shoot, I could barely dress myself when Fosse took over the permanent TV job from Ted Robinson. So for the overwhelming majority of my conscious life, Fosse had been a presence. 


Since I'm not just a Giants fan but also a baseball fan in general, there were periods I "saw" Fosse more than family and friends.


If Skillz the Giants fan was so greatly affected by Fosse's loss—this blog was mostly delayed three months because I wasn't ready to admit Fosse was truly gone—actual Athletics fans must have been inconsolable

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Ray Fosse had been in the Athletics broadcast booth since 1986, working both TV and radio. His past TV partners included Monte Moore and Dick Stockton; most recently he worked alongside Glen Kuiper (TV) or Ken Korach (radio).

If you weren't aware, Fosse had been a big league catcher for parts of 12 seasons 1967-79, the bulk of that with the Indians and Athletics. As a 23-year-old, he hit .307 with 18 homers—no small figure for catchers, especially back then—for Cleveland in 1970; his play was recognized with selections to the 1970-71 All-Star Games.


Unfortunately, the superstardom some predicted for Fosse never materialized due to his inability to escape the injury bug. If you know baseball at all, you know of Fosse's most famous injury—the shoulder separation suffered at the hands (whole body, actually) of Pete Rose in the '70 All-Star Game. Statistically at least, Fosse was never really the same afterward.
(Fosse also suffered injuries in an on-field brawl and while breaking up a locker room fight. He was clearly not afraid to get physical when needed.)


But selfishly, I'm glad "Foss" didn't become the AL's version of Johnny Bench. If he had, there's no telling which direction his life may have gone, how much money and fame he would have accumulated. There's no guarantee he would have ever ended up calling Athletics games for 34 seasons. I, and millions of others, would have really missed out.


Missed out on what, exactly?


Fosse was not a particularly colorful broadcaster, not like his Bay Area counterpart Mike Krukow of the Giants, for example. He didn't have snappy catchphrases. He didn't have gimmicks like "eliminating" fans with the telestrator. He didn't, for lack of a better term, perform for his audience.
Fosse's whole style was calm, measured, down-to-earth. He was the uncle you were having a beer with, sitting down and chatting a little hardball. 

And I admit: for that reason, I didn't warm up to him right away. Fosse didn't exactly bore me, but he didn't entertain me the way Krukow did. It took a number of years of regularly absorbing Fosse's wisdom to make me grow to appreciate him, respect him, and like him just as much as Krukow. 

Ray Fosse was damn smart, but not in a condescending, patronizing way. As an ex-catcher, he could tell you what was happening and why—without a hint of jock pretense. He had a knack for seeing things not even his partners saw, and he was very good at making viewers understand that almost everything happening on the field carried a purpose. 
 

In lighter moments, when he let out a hearty laugh on the air, it was hard not to laugh with him. And Fosse told great stories for games that were out of hand or delayed.

On rare occasions, he could get excited, like in 2002 when Miguel Tejada beat the Twins with a three-run walk-off homer during the A's 20-game win streak. As play-by-play man Greg Papa made the call, Fosse erupted with a sudden "HYYYAAAAHHHH!!!" that probably surprised even him.  But in that brief moment of lost composure, Foss made everybody realize JUST WHAT they were witnessing in a way that words could not. He also made it okay to react in similar fashion.
(In 2004, presidential candidate Howard Dean made a similar sound after a speech; his sound just scared people though. But I'm not here to talk about the past.)


As the years went by, the Athletics would occasionally sub Fosse out for the likes of Shooty Babbitt and other various former A's players—most recently, the talented Dallas Braden. It seemed that Oakland was slowly grooming somebody younger and hipper to take the place of Fosse, who was approaching his 70's, permanently.

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For all his accolades on the air, Ray Fosse was no slouch on the field, either. He batted .256 with 61 HR and two Gold Gloves during his 12 MLB seasons.

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It's clear now that these fill-in commentators were required because of Fosse's battle with cancer, a battle he kept private for 17 years until it forced him off the air in August 2021. It was the second such blow delivered to Bay Area baseball fans that summer—the Giants' Duane Kuiper stepped away for several weeks for medical reasons, but did eventually return on a limited basis.


Somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that unlike Kuiper, Fosse was not coming back to the booth. Sadly, I was right.


While I was able to meet, shake the hand of, and get an autograph from A's radio broadcaster Ken Korach once, I regret being unable to ever meet Fosse. Most people who commented on his passing made mention of A) his fierce handshake, and B) his ability to connect with fans. I'd like to believe that had I ever gotten to speak to Ray Fosse, he would have put me at ease and not allowed me to become a babbling fool.


Watching A's games on TV will never be the same. I'm pretty sure Braden will inherit Fosse's job full-time, and I have no doubt he'll knock it out of the park. Braden's style is entirely different from Fosse's, which is a good thing, because nobody wants the new color man to come in trying to "be" Fosse.
There was only one. He was an icon in these parts. And I'm so glad I eventually wised up and appreciated him while I could.


(I'll leave you with some words from people who actually met and/or knew Ray Fosse.)


"Heartbroken to hear of baseball legend Ray Fosse’s passing. He was so fun to be around. I’ll always remember his powerful handshakes, positive energy & his storytelling - he had a way of making you feel connected to the history of baseball and the Oakland A’s. We’ll miss you Ray." - former Athletic Sean Doolittle, via Twitter


"Ray Fosse was my mentor & far more importantly to me, he was my friend. I will cherish our time together these last few years so much as you took the time to show me your tricks & share your stories. Our time in your office before the game was my favorite. You ARE A’s Baseball!" - Braden, via Twitter


"This is just awful. Ray Fosse was simply one of my favorite people in baseball. He had an incredibly hard handshake and an especially easy to like personality. Whenever the Mets and A’s played he would have me on his pregame show and we laughed through the entire interview. RIP." - Mets broadcaster Howie Rose, via Twitter