Bob Fothergill hit .325 for his career, but struggled to make the everyday lineup. He played outfield in Detroit when the Tigers featured Ty Cobb, Heinie Manush, Bobby Veach, and Harry Heilmann. He finally received the opportunity when Cobb’s skills diminished. Fothergill could rake, but also had legendary vices. The outfielder struggled with his weight and died young. Overall, Fothergill could hit, eat, outdrink the Babe, and deliver a key pinch hit.
Fothergill began playing professional baseball in 1920 at age 22. He won the International League batting title and received a promotion to Detroit two years later. He hit .322 in 42 games for the 1922 Detroit Tigers, but could not break into the starting lineup. The Tiger outfield in the twenties consisted of Bobby Veach and Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, and Heinie Manush. Over the next three seasons, he rode the bench, but hit .315, .301, and .353.
The outfielder finally broke into the starting lineup in 1926. Ty Cobb’s defensive skills had degraded to such an extent that the player-manager turned to Fothergill. Cobb’s successor hit .367 with 3 home runs, 73 RBI, and .927 OPS. His success led to a number of MVP votes. He repeated his success in 1927 when he batted .359 with 114 RBI and .929 OPS. The next two seasons Fothergill hit .317 and .354.
The .300 hitter’s playing time began to decline after 1927. Weight proved a problem throughout his career. He stood 5’10’’, but probably weighed over 260. Fothergill loved his food and beer. In fact, he once drank Babe Ruth under the table. However, he remained sensitive to his weight. Leo Durocher once called time out and complained that the Tigers could not send two batters to the plate at once. An enraged Fothergill struck out on three pitches. On columnist compared him to a “zeppelin” and Charlie Gehringer said he was as “round as he was tall.”
The excess weight did not slow Fothergill’s bat. He holds the Tiger record for pinch hits in a season (19) and is the only man to pinch hit for Ty Cobb after 1906. Additionally, he is the only major leaguer with 200 or more pinch hits and a .300 career batting average.
Age, as opposed to weight, slowed Fothergill in the end. He hit .259 for Detroit in 1930 and was shipped to the White Sox. He finished with the Red Sox in 1933 at the age of 35. He spent the next five years working for Ford Motor Company and as a hitting coach for Lawrence Tech. Fothergill’s weight probably contributed to a pair of strokes that killed him in 1938 at the age of 40.
Bob Fothergill was great hitter for the Tigers. He batted .337 for Detroit and .325 for his career. An outfield logjam kept him on the bench for a few years before he busted out. Weight issues may have benched the outfielder, but he emerged a great pinch hitter. Fothergill is one of the great characters in Tiger history.