All-Star catcher, two-time World Series champion and longtime broadcaster Ray Fosse has passed away, the A’s announced on Wednesday. Fosse was 74.
Fosse announced in August that he was stepping away from the A’s broadcast booth to fully devote his efforts toward a 16-year battle with cancer. His medical condition was not widely known to the public prior to his announcement, which evoked an outpouring of support from A’s fans and across baseball. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Carol, and his daughters, Nikki and Lindsey.
“The Oakland A’s are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Ray Fosse,” the team said in a statement. “Few people epitomize what it means to be an Athletic more than Ray. He was the type of franchise icon who always made sure every player, coach, colleague, and fan knew that they were part of the Oakland A’s family. We send our deepest condolences to Carol, Nikki and Lindsey, his family and friends during this difficult time. We’ll miss you, Ray.”
Born and raised as a fan of Stan Musial and the Cardinals in Marion, Ill., Fosse was a three-sport star in high school before attending Southern Illinois University. Cleveland selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the inaugural 1965 MLB Draft and he garnered attention with a 23-game hitting streak in 1970, his first full season in the big leagues.
Fosse’s play earned him a selection to that year’s All-Star Game as a reserve, and it was in that Midsummer Classic that Fosse both introduced himself to a national audience and encountered the first serious adversity of his career. On the final play of the game, Reds superstar Pete Rose barreled into Fosse at home plate, fracturing and separating the young backstop’s shoulder while scoring the winning run.
Fosse would feel the effects of that collision for the rest of his career and the rest of his life, but he hit .297 across his last 42 games of the 1970 season and earned another All-Star nod with Cleveland in ’71 — despite suffering more crushing injuries, including a gash in his right hand that required stiches and a torn ligament in his left hand that kept him out of the Midsummer Classic. Fosse gutted through those injuries, taking home Gold Glove Awards in both seasons. When Gaylord Perry won the American League Cy Young Award with Cleveland in 1972, he went out of his way to credit his catcher.
“I’ve got to split it up and give part, a big part, to my catcher, Ray Fosse,” said Perry. “He kept pushing me in games when I didn’t have good stuff. He’d come out and show me that big fist of his when I wasn’t bearing down the way he thought I should.”
That would be Fosse’s final season in Cleveland, as he was traded to Oakland on March 24, 1973, in a move that would change his life. He joined the reigning World Series champion A’s and helped them capture two more titles to cement a dynasty. Three 20-game winners — Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman — pitched to Fosse behind the plate in ‘73, and he threw out four would-be basestealers in that year’s ALCS against the Orioles. Fosse went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer against Baltimore in the following year’s ALCS Game 2.
Fosse returned to Cleveland after the 1975 season and finished his career with stints in Seattle and Milwaukee. He moved on to a successful second career as a broadcaster, joining the A’s radio and television broadcasts in 1986 and becoming a mainstay there until he stepped away this summer.
“NBC Sports California is deeply saddened to learn of Ray Fosse’s passing,” said the television network as part of the A’s statement. “Our thoughts are with his wife, Carol, his daughters, Nikki and Lindsey, and his family as we mourn the loss of a truly exceptional colleague and friend. Ray’s deep connection and significant impact on NBC Sports California, the A’s franchise and the fanbase over a half century as a player, broadcaster and ambassador will endure well into the future. We are thankful to have known Ray and fortunate to have been a part of his tremendous life and career. He will be greatly missed.”