The Tub of Goo with the Rocket Arm

It was a Monday show, airing just past midnight on Tuesday. David Letterman was 18 months into his new late-night gig on network TV, and the brash young comic had something on his mind. He had seen a game on TBS a few nights earlier, and one Atlanta Braves pitcher stood out.

“The fattest man in all of professional sports. I mean, the guy is a balloon. He must weigh 300 pounds…He is a L-O-A-D…I just want them to say, ‘Terry Forster’s warming up, he’s a left-hander with an ERA of 3.5…what a fat tub of goo.’ Nobody says a thing. It ruined my weekend.”

Okay, Dave. But guess which left-handed reliever had three 20-save seasons, once led the AL in saves, won a World Series ring, and holds a big-league record for all-time batting average?

My first memory of Forster was considerably earlier. In 1970, one of my roommate’s brothers, Donnie, was a talented left-hander, hoping for a shot at the pro draft. He would start for Granite Hills High in a game against Santana High, and there were scouts in the crowd, as Santana’s best player was Forster, another lefty and a no-brainer to become a pro pitcher.

By far the biggest player out there, he threw hard. In those pre-radar gun days, he was thought to have hit the high 90s. Donnie was the only one who could hit him, but since Forster could hit as well as he could throw, he supported his own shutout. Soon, Donnie got a pro shot (playing a few years in the minors), while Forster was hurling in the majors in months, and ended up as a foil for David Letterman.

Forster would play only ten games in the minor leagues, and was relieving for the White Sox by the next April. At age 20, he broke a team record set by Hoyt Wilhelm, saving 29 games. But even though he played for 16 seasons and appeared on two World Series squads, he is now known more for running gags about his weight. His Baseball Almanac page lists his nickname as “Fat Tub of Goo.”

Forster was born in Sioux Falls, SD in 1952, but by his high-school years he was in suburban San Diego, a star in basketball and baseball. He was a big kid who could hit and throw hard, and the premium on good left-handers was no different then than it is now. He led the AL in saves for Chicago in 1974, and had 70 before he was 23.

An all-around athlete in an age where relief pitching was different than today, Forster had 22 plate appearances in 1972—all as a reliever–before the AL adopted the designated-hitter rule. All he did was hit .526; his career batting average of .397 is the highest ever for a player with 75 or more at-bats. He was even used as a pinch hitter five times.

On the White Sox, there was another (right-handed) reliever who was pretty good: Rich “Goose” Gossage. Their careers crisscrossed several times. Approaching free agency after 1976, they were both traded to Pittsburgh. By 1978, Forster was on the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he saved 22 games with a 1.93 ERA, but fell to the Yankees (and Gossage) in the World Series.

Injuries shortened the next few seasons, but Forster was still in Dodger Blue when they won it all in 1981, again pitching against Gossage and the Yankees. Though he gave up the homer to Joe Morgan in ’82 that knocked LA out of the playoffs, it was his later efforts as a member of the Atlanta Braves that brought him new notoriety.

In the fledgling days of cable, Atlanta games were a nationwide constant. By now a journeyman LOOGY—lefty one-out guy— Forster was still in 45 or 50 games a year. And while he had always been a big guy–with a published 210 pounds on his 6’3” frame–by June 1985 he had surged to as much as 260 or 270, when the relatively new late-night comic caught the game and put Forster in his monologue. The rest is Tub of Goo history.

Letterman apologized the next night, but the two were forever joined in public perception. At first, Forster was offended, but it wasn’t long before he was a guest on Letterman’s show, in July 1985, with a big “David Letterman” deli sandwich (“lots of tongue”), going along with the joke and even cooking beef and chicken tacos, with lots of hot sauce.

Forster was not only a good sport, but had a sense of humor and timing that led to further attempts at growing his newfound fame. In August, the pitcher recorded an EP called Fat Is In, in which he interjected comments while others rapped. He even recorded a music video, which was sent to MTV. Both the album and the video failed to become hits, ending Forster’s brush with TV and recording fame.

Forster still carried a lot of extra weight, though, and it was about to affect his baseball career. Released by the Braves after ballooning up to 270 pounds late in 1985, he was up for free agency after a solid 1986 season with the Angels. No team pursued him, and his major-league career was over.

Unlike his teammate Gossage, Forster was never an All-Star and will never be in the Hall of Fame. He should be remembered, though, as a big kid from the plains who came to California and amazed the scouts with his heat, ending up in the big show as a teenager. He appeared in 614 games, winning 54 and saving 127, led a league in saves, and won a World Series ring. He didn’t do much hitting, but what he did over 78 at-bats has never been equaled in all the years before or since (second place: Ty Cobb).

Forster even stole a base in 1970. Not bad for a “Fat Tub of Goo,” who just happened to have a rocket left arm.

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Frank Kocher writes about music for various publications and is back to writing about baseball after a very long break.

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