CHARLIE FOX: 1921-2004
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Charlie Fox, who managed the third-most games in San Francisco
Giants history behind Dusty Baker and Roger Craig and led the team to a
division title in 1971, died Monday night at Stanford Hospital of
complications from pneumonia, the team announced. He was 82.
Born in the Bronx, he broke into big-league baseball in an unusual way.
"I was 14, selling newspapers near the Polo Grounds with 24 cents in my pocket,'' he once recalled, "when a couple of tough kids came at me. I put up my dukes, and two Giants coaches saw me handling myself pretty good. They complimented me and asked if I could catch. I lied -- I said I could. They gave me a mitt and told me to help their pitchers in practice.
"After a couple of hours, they handed me $5, as much as I made in a month hustling newspapers. That did it. From then on, I dreamed and worked only toward my goal of becoming a Giants catcher.''
Fox finally made it, late in 1942, for three games, going 3-for-7 at the plate in his only major-league playing action, before going into the Navy for three years of service during World War II.
He then began a career as a player-manager of Giants' minor-league clubs, including stops at Triple-A Tacoma and Phoenix. During his time in the minors, Fox helped develop, among others, a young, strapping first baseman named Willie McCovey.
"I knew Charlie ever since I signed as a 17-year-old kid -- he was kind of instrumental in the Giants signing me," McCovey said Tuesday. "I met Charlie when he was still playing. ... We all grew together. He coached me on a couple of clubs. He was easy to play for, a fiery guy."
Longtime Giants broadcaster Lon Simmons recalled Fox as "an Irish character" who was perpetually positive.
"He sang, he liked to have a good time, he was always upbeat," Simmons said from his Hawaii home. "He was a top-of-the-morning type of guy. I never really saw Charlie down. ... He was a typical baseball guy. He talked baseball and he had the postures all the old-time ballplayers used to use when they were in conversation."
Beneath his pleasant personality, Fox traversed the minors with clear ambitions on becoming a major-league manager.
"He really wanted to manage and he got the opportunity with the Giants," Simmons said. "And he did a heck of a job a couple of years. ... Then he fell victim to the fact the ballclub was in tough times financially and didn't get the players they needed to compete with the Dodgers and other people. ... It cost him his job."
Fox landed the Giants' job amid memorable circumstances. On May 23, 1970, while managing for Phoenix, Fox's team was about to play a game in Portland. He listened on the radio as the Giants blew an 8-0 lead and lost 17-16 to San Diego in 15 innings.
"I was in the hotel dining room when Rosy Ryan, our general manager, came in,'' Fox once said. "He asked me how it was going, and I said, 'We're doing great -- we were in first place -- but they're having a terrible game in San Francisco.'
"Rosy wanted to know what I was talking about, and I said, '(then Giants manager) Clyde King was using up his pitching staff with a doubleheader coming up tomorrow. He's in real trouble.'
"Rosy said, 'Oh, no, you're in trouble. You're the manager tomorrow.' That's how I found out I was going to manage the Giants.''
Fox guided the team for 675 games, going 348-327 until he was replaced during the 1974 season by Wes Westrum.
His best season was a 90-72 mark in 1971, when the Giants managed to hold off the Dodgers by one game to win the NL West. They lost to Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
Fox was a big influence on shortstop Chris Speier's career, promoting him from Double-A in '71 after only one year of professional experience. In 1977, Fox, then Montreal's general manager, traded for Speier, who played eight seasons for the Expos.
"I owe him a lot," Speier, now the A's bench coach, said from Arizona. "He had confidence in me from the beginning, and it opened a lot of doors for me. That '71 season was real special. We were disappointed we didn't go all the way because we had manhandled Pittsburgh all season."
Fox served in various capacities, from general manager to scout, with the Expos, Cubs, New York Yankees and Houston Astros.
Survivors include Fox's wife, Lola Bertolucci-Fox; son Michael and daughter Barbara; stepchildren Mark, Dennis and Gary; and grandchildren Bridgette and Ryan. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Bartholomew's Church in San Mateo.
Donations can be made in Fox's name to the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), 245 Park Ave., New York, NY 10167.