Seasons in Boston: 1936-1942
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, 1932, 1933, 1938 American League MVP, 1933 Triple Crown Winner, 2x World Series Champion, 1933, 1938 American League Batting Champion 9x All-Star
Red Sox Numbers: .320/.429/.605, 222 HR, 721 R, 788 RBI, 38 SB, 151 wRC+, 37.6 fWAR
Signature Season (1938): .349/.462/.704, 50 HR, 139 R, 175 RBI, 5 SB, 173 wRC+, 8.3 fWAR
Jimmie Foxx was a beast. He also happened to be known as “The Beast”, as well as “Double X”, and the less cool “The Maryland Strong Boy.” (Ed. Note: I want it on record that The Maryland Strong Boy is rad as hell.) This is all important because these days when we think of first basemen we generally think of players who are too big or uncoordinated to play elsewhere. In many cases it’s the last stop on the dirt. I want to draw that distinction right away. Foxx had much more in common athletically with Mike Trout than he did with Dan Vogelbach. When he was making his way to the majors, which happened when he was just 17, he was compared favorably as an athlete to Olympian, professional football and baseball player, Jim Thorpe. White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons said of Foxx’s physique, “He had great powerful arms, and he used to wear his sleeves cut off way up, and when he dug in and raised that bat, his muscles would bulge and ripple.”
In addition to being one of the most physically gifted athletes of the early 20th century, Foxx was one of the era’s greatest hitters. We are not talking about some one-dimensional slugger here. Over his career Foxx led the league in batting average twice, on-base percentage three times, and slugging percentage five times. During the 1930’s, Foxx accumulated more fWAR than anyone else in baseball, edging out greats such as Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott. Depending on whether you value peak or longevity more, Foxx is either the second or third best first baseman of all-time. If you value peak, his WAR7 on Baseball Reference has him third all-time behind Gehrig and Pujols. If you value the career as a whole his fWAR ranks behind only Gehrig for players who played majority of their games at first base while Baseball Reference has him fourth. Foxx and Mickey Mantle stand alone as the only players in baseball history with three MVP awards and a Triple Crown.
From an overall career perspective he still ranks in the top 20 in baseball history in many key categories, ranking seventh in Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) at .288 behind sluggers Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, and teammate Ted Williams. Foxx is also tenth in RBI with 1922, 11th in wRC+ at 158, 19th in home runs at 534, and 20th in fWAR at 101.8. Only Williams, Ernie Banks, Gary Sheffield, and the aforementioned Ott struck out fewer times while also surpassing 500 home runs. He also ranks in the top ten of nearly every offensive category in Red Sox history despite only playing a bit more than six years of his career for the team. He’s behind only Williams in slugging, OBP, and ISO. This man was an offensive juggernaut.
Foxx came to the Red Sox from Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics after Mack began to dismantle the club that had won back-to-back World Series in 1929 and 1930 while losing in seven games in 1931. After the 1935 season, Foxx was the last of the big name stars shipped out by Mack and the second player shipped to Boston. Future Hall of Famer Lefty Grove was acquired by the team after the 1933 season. Some thought Foxx was damaged goods when he arrived because he had been hit by a pitch in the forehead in 1934. In some ways he was, though his toughness and talent hid it from the world. After this incident he was plagued by sinus pain the rest of his life.
Foxx was very good in 1936 and 1937, hitting .312 with 77 home runs and 270 RBI in those two years, but 1938 proved to people he was still the most feared hitter in the game. He started off a bit slow that year with just one homer over his first 11 games, but in May he exploded with 10 home runs, 35 RBI, and a .344 batting average. Foxx would keep this up all season long, setting Red Sox team records in home runs at 50 — a mark that wouldn’t be broken until 2006 by David Ortiz — and RBI with 175, a mark which still stands today. He also led the league in batting average and just missed his second Triple Crown. Unfortunately for him Greenberg had tied his record for home runs by a right handed hitter at 58 that season. His season was good enough to earn him his third and final MVP of his career.
It’s a fair question if Foxx is the greatest right handed power hitter of all time. The only players in history with more homers from the right side in a single season are McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Giancarlo Stanton. Given the era in which he played, there are valid reasons to prefer his 58 to what those guys did.
During his six full seasons in Boston, Foxx made the All-Star team every year, won an MVP, mentored a young Ted Williams, and left Boston as the greatest first baseman in team history. Now, 78 years later, he is still the best to ever play the position at Fenway. Clashes with player manager Joe Cronin, increased sinus pain, diminishing eyesight, and a drinking problem all contributed to Foxx’s decline and exit from Boston. His 1941 season would mark the last full season he would ever play. By 1951, Foxx was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame and by 1967 Foxx passed away at just 59 years old. He had a tragic life in many ways after leaving the game, but one thing that remained constant was adoration from his teammates and his legendary kindness to friends and strangers alike.