Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review - A Pirate's Journey - The Life Story of Major League Catcher Hank Foiles with Douglas Williams

Spending 16 years behind the plate in professional baseball, Henry “Hank” Foiles saw more than his share of fastballs and foul tips. Along with the many games logged on his aching knees, his travels allowed him to forge relationships with many of the greats of the golden era, not only in baseball, but also pop culture. It is these experiences that comprise Foiles’ recently released autobiography, A Pirate’s Journey, which is co-authored by Douglas Williams.

The Virginia native grew up as the son of a former minor league baseball player and developed into multi-sport star at Granby High, where he paired with future major leaguer Chuck Stobbs to dominate prep competition in baseball and football. In addition to his prowess in the aforementioned sports, Foiles found time to earn All-American honors in the javelin throw.

A Pirate's Journey / Hank Foiles

Baseball, however, was Foiles’ first love, and he signed with the New York Yankees in the fall of 1947. Earning his baptism by fire, he entered major league camp in 1948 to serve as a batting practice catcher while the regulars played their way into shape. Foiles relished this opportunity, anonymously baking in the hot sun behind his catcher’s mask, dutifully catching an endless stream of pitches.

A chance encounter in the locker room allowed him to befriend the biggest star in baseball, Joe DiMaggio. Foiles reveals a gentler side of, “The Big Dago,” who took the young catcher under his wing while he was an awe-struck Yankee farmhand. He pays a touching tribute to DiMaggio in a chapter devoted to their friendship they developed that spring.

Hank Foiles
Foiles doesn’t dwell on painstaking details about every happening of his career. He has chosen to keep it light with entertaining stories about travels in baseball, such as the one with DiMaggio. Another golden nugget is when Foiles reveals the special antics he used to silence the bat of the mighty Willie Mays, gained from their encounters during military competition.

The autobiography is filled with these type of anecdotes that further shine light on the rich experiences of players in the 1950s and 60s, ones that happened far away from the eyes of full-time sports network programming and social media. They reveal layers of the private lives of the ballplayers that make you wish you had a seat next to them during the experience. Williams expertly has you riding shotgun while Foiles serves as your guide on this magical expedition.

The long-time catcher played for seven major league clubs during his major league career, sometimes getting traded so often that he didn't know if he was coming or going. Even though he made the All-Star team in 1957, his name may not resonate with baseball fans the same way as his cronies DiMaggio and Mays, but it is his journey through these various organizations that is special and worth investigating.


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