Small-town Jimmie Foxx brought big-time power

Sixty miles east of Babe Ruth's birthplace, in the drowsy town of Sudlersville (population 497), stands a statue of the other great slugger from Maryland's past. But you'll have to stop at the town's only red light, corner of Church and Main, to view the life-size likeness of Jimmie Foxx at roadside.

From his follow-through swing to the look on his face, it's clear that the bronzed Foxx has just done what he did 534 times in his 20-year career — he knocked one out of the park.

That lusty swing landed the Queen Anne's County farmboy in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It earned Foxx three American League Most Valuable Player awards. And it powered the Philadelphia Athletics to three straight World Series appearances (1929 through 1931) and two championships.

Townsfolk erected the statue of Foxx in 1997.

"It was long overdue," said Loretta Walls, president of the Sudlersville Community Betterment Club, which also houses the Jimmie Foxx Museum in the town's old train station. In 2007, on the centennial of his birth, locals and some of Foxx's relatives gathered for a gala luncheon of chicken salad, ham and a cake that read, "Happy 100th, Jimmie Foxx."

Scouts took note of his talents early on, said Mark Millikin, author of the book, "Jimmie Foxx: The Pride of Sudlersville." At 15, Foxx slugged a home run and a triple to lead his schoolboy team, the Queen Anne's County All-Stars, to a 5-0 victory over Baltimore City College in 1923.

Two years later, the kid was in the big leagues.

His batting prowess spawned nicknames for Foxx, a stocky, 6-foot first baseman-third baseman whose arms — Popeye-thick from milking cows and baling hay — scared the bejabbers out of pitchers. "The Beast," they called him. Or "Double X." Scribes hailed him as "the right-handed Babe Ruth."

Asked how he would pitch to Foxx, New York Yankees Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez declared: "I'd rather not throw the ball at all. Even his muscles have hair."

Nine times, Foxx hit .334 or better. For 13 consecutive seasons, he knocked in 105 runs or more. In 1932, he hit 58 home runs, two shy of Ruth's 1927 record that had seemed sacrosanct five years before.

In 1938, while playing for Boston, Foxx had 175 RBIs, a Red Sox record that has withstood assaults for nearly 75 years by Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice.

A stellar achievement, but, curiously, it took Foxx seven ballots to enter Cooperstown, where he was enshrined in 1951.

The reason? Maybe it's because his best years came during The Great Depression, when baseball attendance sagged. Millikin suggests Foxx suffered from playing more than half his career in Philadelphia while, up the road in New York, Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Yankees basked in media heaven.

Next to Gehrig, Millikin said, Foxx came off as "the other" first baseman.

"Jimmie seems to have always been overshadowed by Gehrig," Millikin said. "In 1933, Foxx had 48 home runs, 163 RBIs, hit .356 and won the Triple Crown. He was voted MVP for the second straight season. But in baseball's firstAll-Star Game that year, Gehrig was the starting first baseman. Foxx never even played that day."

Foxx died in 1967 at age 59. Though he's buried in Florida, a memorial sits beside the statue in his hometown.

"We took a granite stone from our demolished old bank and had it engraved with the words, 'Sudlersville, home of Jimmie Foxx,' with the dates of his birth and death," Walls said. "Since we started doing things here, people have become more aware of his magnificent seasons in baseball."