Foxx, James Emory ("Jimmie")

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FOXX, James Emory ("Jimmie")

(b. 22 October 1907 in Sudlersville, Maryland; d. 21 July 1967 in Miami, Florida), baseball Hall-of-Famer, known as "Double X" who was the premier homerun hitter in the major leagues during the 1930s.

Foxx was one of two children of tenant farmers Samuel Dell "Dell" Foxx and Margaret "Mattie" Smith. Foxx's father was a star of town ball (an early form of baseball) for many years. Foxx gained his baseball knowledge and skills largely from his father's instruction and hours of practice, and much of his upper body strength from various chores he did on the farm. By age fourteen, Foxx was playing town ball (usually as catcher) with mostly older boys. He attended Sudlersville High School from 1921 to 1924 and starred in baseball, track and field, soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

Foxx won the 220-yard run and running high jump at the 1923 Maryland State Olympiad, prompting one Baltimore newspaper to call him the most promising young athlete in Maryland. He also starred in baseball in the spring of 1923 for Sudlersville High School and the Queen Anne's County All Stars (star players from that county's high schools). H. C. "Curley" Byrd, the baseball coach and athletic director at the University of Maryland at College Park, offered Foxx an athletic scholarship to attend school there. But Foxx apparently declined. His athletic career took off even faster in 1924, to the point that he did not finish his last month of school in tenth grade and only attended about one month of eleventh grade in the fall of 1924.

Foxx first played professional baseball in May 1924 at age sixteen with Frank "Homerun" Baker's Easton (Mary-land) club in the Eastern Shore League. He started the season for Baker as catcher and had several major league scouts following him by midseason. By the end of July, Mike Drennan, a scout for the Philadelphia Athletics, purchased Foxx's contract for manager Connie Mack for the sum of $2,000. Baker and Mack agreed that Foxx would not report to the Athletics until the end of Easton's season. Baker's club finished last in the league standings, and the first-place Parksley (Virginia) Spuds club asked Foxx to play for the team in the Five States Series against Blue Ridge League champion, Martinsburg. With Mack's consent, Foxx played for Parksley. He slugged four homeruns and batted .391 as the Spuds defeated the Blue Sox, four games out of six.

Mack used Foxx sparingly in the Athletics lineup from 1925 to 1927, at catcher, outfield, and first base. Foxx played regularly in 1928, splitting his time between first base and third base. In 1929 Mack made Foxx his regular first baseman and Foxx created an early season sensation. Foxx was batting over .400 in early June and still leading the league in batting in July when he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, an honor denied to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Foxx finished fourth in the league in batting and starred for the Athletics in the 1929 World Series, slugging two homers. Foxx had married Helen Heite on 26 December 1928. They had two sons, one of whom, Jimmy, Jr., was born during the 1929 Series.

Foxx became a national celebrity, and baseball writers began calling him the "right-handed Ruth." In the early 1930s Foxx had unofficial records for longest homeruns for a right-handed batter in most American League parks, as did Ruth for a left-handed batter. Early in his career, the press gave Foxx nicknames such as the "Sudlersville Slugger" and the "Maryland Broadback." Later he received his more common nicknames of "Double X" and "The Beast."

Foxx's signature accomplishment occurred when he slugged fifty-eight homeruns in 1932, just two homeruns behind Babe Ruth's single season mark. In 1933 he led the AL in homers, runs batted in, and batting average, winning the Triple Crown. From then on, many boys picked Foxx as their favorite player over Ruth and Gehrig. Foxx wrote a booklet, How I Bat, released in May 1933. Foxx also looked the part of a homerun slugger. He cut off his uniform sleeves only a few inches down from his shoulders to gain more freedom of movement and show off his huge biceps.

Foxx made a trip to Japan in 1934 with the "All-Americans" baseball club (Ruth, Gehrig, Mack, and others), despite being beaned several weeks earlier while barnstorming in Canada after the regular season. The All-Americans were undefeated in Japan, Ruth being the main attraction. In one game Foxx played each of the nine positions on the field, one position per inning.

Due to financial losses, Connie Mack sold Foxx to Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey in December 1935. Foxx played just over six years with the Red Sox before winding down his playing career with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies as a part-time player. Foxx enjoyed some outstanding seasons with the Red Sox, especially 1936, 1938, and 1939. He set single season homerun (50) and runs batted in (175) marks for the Red Sox in 1938 that still stood after the 2001 baseball season.

Foxx was not as boisterous and self-promoting in public as Babe Ruth, but he loved the adulation he received from fans and relished the camaraderie with other players and celebrities. Foxx had a winning smile and was very popular with teammates and opposing players. His trademark was his generosity, and some friends even felt he was generous to the point he did not watch out for himself. Apparently, he was never ejected from a baseball game. He enjoyed the night life and was always a big tipper. Foxx loved hunting, mostly for small game in the off-season, and often played golf. He suffered from sinus conditions from 1931 through the end of his playing career. At times his vision was severely impaired and eventually it contributed in part to the decline of his batting.

Foxx and his wife divorced in 1943 and he married Dorothy Anderson Yard on 18 June that same year. They had one son, James Emory Foxx III, and Foxx was very close to Dorothy's son John and her daughter Nanci. Foxx had great difficulty in securing any long-term employment after baseball and gained jobs mostly as a sales representative for various industries.

Foxx was inducted into the National Baseball Hall-of-Fame in 1951. He managed the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League to a pennant in his only season as a manager in 1952. He also coached for the University of Miami in 1956 and 1957, and briefly for the Minneapolis Millers in 1958. He fell short of his ambition to manage a major league club. Foxx died from asphyxiation after choking on a piece of meat lodged in his throat. He is buried in Flagler Memorial Park in Miami, Florida.

Foxx won three American League Most Valuable Player awards (1932, 1933, and 1938), led his league in batting average twice, led in homeruns four times, and hit thirty or more homeruns in twelve consecutive seasons (a major league record). He was versatile in the field and a team player. His lifetime .609 slugging average is fourth best ever. Foxx batted .344 (22 for 64) in 18 World Series games from 1929 to 1931. The Sporting News named Foxx the fifteenth Greatest Major Leaguer of the Twentieth Century in 1997. Ted Williams said, "I saw only one other player [other than Foxx] who made the bat and baseball sound like it did when he really hit one, and that guy was Mickey Mantle."

The town of Sudlersville paid Foxx the ultimate tribute in 1997 when they dedicated a life-size bronze statue of him in the center of town. John Steadman, a longtime sportswriter and baseball historian, spoke during the ceremony and said, "With apologies to Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ralph Kiner and others, Jimmie Foxx was (and still is) the greatest right-handed slugger of all time."

A rare booklet written by Foxx called How I Bat (1933), describes his approach to batting. Biographies on Foxx include one for children, Norman Macht, Jimmie Foxx (1991); and full-length biographies Bob Gorman, Double X: The Story of Jimmie Foxx—Baseball's Forgotten Hero (1990); W. Harrison Daniel, Jimmie Foxx: The Life and Times of a Baseball Hall-of-Famer (1996); and Mark Millikin, Jimmie Foxx: The Pride of Sudlersville (1998). Fred Lieb wrote a detailed article on Foxx that serves as an obituary in the Sporting News (5 Aug. 1967). Obituaries are in the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun (22 July 1967).

Mark R. Millikin