CINCINNATI — The story is almost 25 years old. Former Reds General Manager Jim Bowden retold it many times.
It goes like this: The 1993 Reds season started going bad when Steve Foster injured his shoulder throwing at milk bottles on “The Tonight Show.”
“It’s not true,” Foster said. “It’s a great story though.”
Foster is now the pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies. He confirms that parts of the story are true. He did appear on “The Tonight Show,” he did throw at milk bottles and his career did end shortly after the appearance.
What is not true is that injury occurred on the show.
“I went on ‘The Tonight Show,’” Foster said. “But I wasn’t hurt. They taped ‘The Tonight Show’ at 2 in the afternoon. I did a skit where I knocked on milk bottles and threw at them. That night I pitched (an inning) against the Dodgers. Then we flew to San Francisco that night.
“I got up in the bullpen the next day and the shoulder started bothering me.”
How Foster got on “The Tonight Show” is a funny story also. The Reds were going to Montreal. A customs agent asked if Foster had anything to declare and he said: “I’m proud to be an American.”
The customs agent was not amused. Foster got held up long enough that he was late to the ballpark. His teammates sang Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud To Be An American” when he showed up.
Word got out and Foster ended up on national television. He got hurt shortly thereafter, and the story was born.
Foster said he’s heard Bowden tell the story.
“I’ve heard a lot of people tell it,” he said. “Hey, if printed and told, it’s OK with me. But I’ll tell the truth when asked about it.”
The part of the story that’s not funny is the appearance on the night of the taping was the second last of his career. Foster was 26 at the time, and he was a very promising reliever. He put up a 1.93 ERA in 1991, a 2.88 ERA in 1992 and had a 1.75 ERA when his season ended in 1993. He had been a closer in the minors with 65 saves over his last three seasons.
Foster went on the disabled list after the outing in Los Angeles. He rested the shoulder for a month. He made one more appearance and then had surgery.
“I spent a year rehabbing,” he said. “For my first outing back, my elbow blew out. Then the first outing, gone! I never made it back.”
Foster got back into baseball as a scout for the Florida Marlins. He coached at Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the University of Michigan before re-joining the Marlins — first as a coach in the minors and then as bullpen coach. He went from the Marlins to the Royals where he worked in on-field and off-field positions.
He’s been the Rockies pitching coach for three years.
“It’s all worked out,” he said.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.