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Ortiz's run prompts a glance into history

BALTIMORE -- Big Papi, meet Double X.

It is here, on the soil of Jimmie Foxx's native Maryland -- go to his hometown of Sudlersville, on the state's Eastern Shore, and you will find a life-sized bronze statue of Foxx for which his nephew, Dell, served as model -- that David Ortiz will continue his assault on Foxx's Red Sox record for home runs in a season.

Ortiz homered in his last at-bat in Camden Yards, on May 17 off Orioles closer Chris Ray, but despite the ballpark's cozy dimensions, he historically has not fared well here, hitting just 8 home runs in 149 at-bats while batting .248. This season, he is batting just .205 (9 for 44) with the one home run against Orioles pitching, and is scheduled to face two lefthanders, Erik Bedard and Adam Loewen, in a three-game set that begins tonight with fellow Dominican Daniel Cabrera on the hill for the O's against Sox lefty Kason Gabbard.

On the other hand, 30 of Ortiz's 48 home runs this season have come on the road, and with the Sox playing their next seven away from home (including four this weekend in the Bronx), and 11 of their last 19 overall on the road, chances are that the two home runs Ortiz needs to match the 50 Foxx hit in 1938 will come somewhere other than the Fens.

So this is as good a time as any to make proper introductions, Ortiz having said earlier this season that he did not know of Foxx, the son of tenant farmers who during the course of his Hall of Fame career hit 534 home runs and won three Most Valuable Player awards, the same trophy that Ortiz would like to display on his own mantel.

Lefty Gomez, the former Yankee pitcher who once said Foxx was so strong he had muscles in his hair, is no longer with us, so we'll let Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr tell Ortiz what he remembers about a player who at various times was also called ``The Maryland Strong Boy" and ``The Beast." There was the story, for example, involving a brash Ted Williams, who had not yet made it to the big leagues.

``We probably were between Bradenton and Sarasota on a train, this was back in 1938 in spring training," Doerr said yesterday by phone from his cabin on the Rogue River in Oregon, where the salmon and steelhead trout are running. ``And it just came up in a conversation I was having with Ted. I said, `Geez, Ted, wait till you see Foxx hit.' I was so impressed by some of the balls he'd hit in Sarasota, where the ballpark was as big as a country mile.

``Ted said, `Wait till he sees me hit,' or words that were something like that. But Ted, when they played together, he respected Jimmie tremendously.

``Back then, the ball wasn't as lively as it is now, and I remember the times going to other ballparks, and they'd talk about the ball Jimmie hit into the third deck in left field in Yankee Stadium, or left-center field in Chicago, the ball he hit out of Fenway Park to the right of the flagpole.

``We were in the old ballpark in Cleveland [Municipal Stadium], it was a cold, misty night with the wind blowing off the lake, and I remember we came up the stairs and somebody said, `Nobody's going to hit anything tonight.' Well, on maybe his second at-bat that night, Jimmie hit one up onto the outfield runway."

Elden Auker, who just died six weeks short of his 96th birthday, was Foxx's roommate with the Red Sox in 1939. He was so taken with Foxx that he named his son, James Emory, after his roommate. But not because of Foxx's prowess at the plate (with the powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics, Foxx hit 58 home runs in 1932, just falling short of the record 60 Babe Ruth had hit five years earlier). ``Elden said Jimmie Foxx was the nicest man he ever knew in baseball," said Auker's biographer, Tom Keegan, author of ``Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms."

``There was one night Elden talked about," said Keegan, a longtime baseball writer who is now sports editor of the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, ``that Jimmie had a bloody nose. They just couldn't get it to stop all night. The trainers, a doctor, came and finally got it to stop, but when Elden went to the ballpark the next day, he said Jimmie wouldn't be coming.

``Well, Foxx showed up just before the game, didn't take batting practice, and hit one of the longest home runs Elden ever saw hit."

Only investments were bad
How strong was Foxx, who was listed as 6 feet and 195 pounds?

``I remember how we used to swing on his arms," said Nanci Foxx Cassady, who was 2 when Foxx married her mother, Dorothy, after a horrific first marriage.

In 1952, the year after Foxx was inducted into Cooperstown, Nanci served as batgirl for the Fort Wayne Daisies, the team in the All-American Girls Professional League that her father managed.

``I wish I still had my little uniform," she said by phone yesterday from her home in Florida. ``I was 11 years old. I thought I was hot stuff."

Some have said that the Tom Hanks character in the movie, ``A League of Their Own," was based on Foxx.

``But Dad never used foul language around the ladies," Nanci said. ``That was the Hollywood version. He was a gentleman around all the girls.

``The thing I remember is he was such a humble person. He never argued with umpires. He'd walk away. Sometimes I thought he was too meek for his own good."

Generous? There wasn't a tab, Doerr said, that Foxx wouldn't pick up. ``Sometimes he was too good a guy," Doerr said.

Ortiz has his bling; Foxx had his regular visits to his manicurist, and he loved to wear the finest clothes.

He lost most everything he had in some bad investments, including a Florida golf course that went under, and at a Boston baseball writers' dinner in 1958, as recounted by John Bennett, who spent years researching Foxx for a biography for the Society for American Baseball Research, Foxx admitted he'd gone broke. ``He came off the farm and played baseball," Nanci Foxx Cassady said. ``He was lost out of baseball."

A fast decline
Bill Monbouquette suspects Williams may have planted the idea with Sox owner Tom Yawkey, but general manager Joe Cronin offered Foxx a job as a coach with the Minneapolis Millers, the Sox Triple A farm team at the time.

Monbouquette, who would later become a 20-game winner with the Sox, was on that team.

``I'll tell you what," Monbouquette said. ``They don't make 'em any finer than Jimmie Foxx. He was always asking us, `Is there anything you need? Can I help you with anything?' I was just a young kid.

``He said, `I'm going up to Fenway for an old-timers game; you want me to call up your folks?' " said Monbouquette, a Medford native who still marvels at the memory. ``My dad, who was an electrician who had once worked at Fenway, thought someone was playing a joke. They were so confused. But Jimmie said, `I'm coaching with your son in Minneapolis and he wanted me to say hello and tell you he was doing fine.'

``Strong? He was strong as an ox, but a gentle giant, so to speak."

A gentle giant who was no match for strong drink. Foxx had a sinus condition that some people believe affected his eyesight, but Doerr thinks the drinking may have accounted for his vision problems and led to the end of his playing career. After hitting just 19 home runs in 1941, the year Williams hit .406, Foxx, then 33, was placed on waivers by the Sox and claimed by the Cubs the following season. By 1945, it was over.

The year he roomed with Foxx, Auker told Keegan, he swears he never saw Foxx take a drink, but biographer Bennett writes of how Foxx would boast to Williams about how much Scotch he'd consumed.

``He was never a troublemaker," Doerr said. ``But the last time I ever saw him, I was working in the Instructional League in Sarasota. It was a Sunday, all the stores were closed, and Jimmie said to me, `Bobby, do you know where I can get a bottle?'

``He got to be desperate in that respect. It was sad to see him that way."

In the same mold
In 1966, Foxx lost his beloved Dorothy, who choked to death while eating Chinese food, their daughter said. A year later, three months before his 60th birthday, Foxx was having dinner with his younger brother, Sam, in Miami, when he succumbed. It was initially thought that Jimmie had a heart attack, but an autopsy later showed that, in a bizarre twist, he, too, had choked to death on a piece of food, Nanci Foxx Cassady said. Sam would die a few weeks later, she said, ``of a broken heart."

In 1972, the year of the Watergate break-in, Nanci Foxx Cassady received a letter on White House stationery. It was from President Nixon, informing her that her father had been chosen by Nixon to his all-time favorite baseball team.

When Doerr, 88, sees David Ortiz play, he is reminded of the great sluggers of his time.

``Oh my God, he's tremendous," Doerr said. ``He's like Babe Ruth. It's hard to say who's a better hitter than he is today."

But when Doerr saw Ortiz during the World Series run in 2004, he was reminded of someone else: Jimmie Foxx.

``Such a lovable guy, with that big smile," Doerr said. ``I remember when I was there to throw out the first ball [with Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio], this guy came up and gave me a big hug. I'm thinking, `He doesn't even know who I am.' That was in the playoffs. We did it again in the World Series, same thing, five, 10 minutes before the game.

``Sure, he was horsing around a little bit, but he did it with compassion."

Which isn't a bad way to think of ol' Double X.

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