November 24, 2008
An ex-Red surprises his old mates
THEY ALL signed the Dancing With the Stars petition, though they could not quite believe it. Man, George Foster (right) has changed. This was a reunion of the Big Red Machine—the Cincinnati Reds superteam that won the 1975 and the '76 World Series—and while the other seven core players have aged, they have not changed much.
Pete Rose still hustles, Joe Morgan still dresses sharp, Tony Perez still quietly agitates. Dave Concepcion still takes a good ribbing. Ken Griffey still looks on with that bemused smile, Cesar Geronimo still won't speak unless being interrogated. And Johnny Bench, like always, gets off the line of the night. Everyone was asked about performance-enhancing drugs. Others backed away. Not Johnny.
"I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son," Bench, 61, said. "So I say thank God for performance-enhancing drugs."
Yes, they are all about the same ... save one. In 1975, when Foster first worked his way into the Reds lineup, he was so quiet that, as Rose delicately put it, "he wouldn't say s--- if he had a mouthful." Foster did not drink or smoke and spent much of his free time reading the Bible. He hardly said a word.
"Now," Morgan says, "you can't get the guy to shut up."
Well, that's the truth. The Great Eight—as the players are still known in Cincinnati—gathered in the Queen City last weekend for an autograph show and an exclusive, $2,500-a-plate dinner, and Foster was the loudest of them all. He joked. He clowned. And he danced. He offered a little Rockettes leg-kick dance at the Big Red cocktail party. He did some sort of mashed potato thing at the exclusive dinner.
All weekend he asked people to sign his petition: Foster wants to get on Dancing With the Stars. (The petition can be found at gopetition.com/petitions/george-foster-dancing-with-the-stars.html). "Man, is the world upside down or what?" Bench asks. "What happened to George?"
It's not easy to explain. Foster, who hit 52 home runs and was the NL MVP in 1977, says he feels more comfortable in his own skin. He's had his ups and downs in baseball and in life. "I had to realize that I was as good as anybody," he says.
Foster will turn 60 in December, but he remains at his playing weight, and he believes he can still shake it. He has picked up a few endorsements along the way, including one from pop singer and Cincinnati sports fan Nick Lachey, who was in town to bask in the aura of the Big Red Machine. "George," Bench asked, "can you even dance?" The young Foster would have just quietly taken that. The new Foster had his comeback.
"John," Foster replied, "all brothers can dance."