Shoe Biz Profile - June 1999


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

Shoe Biz shines its spotlight upon a man who has been pitching horseshoes almost all his life. Beginning at the age of eight up until the present time at the age of 76. Sam Foster has spent over 60 years of pitching, promoting and organizing horseshoes.

Sam was born in Claysville, MO on Oct. 30, 1922. He was the fifth child in a family of eight children. Claysville, a small town that consisted of six families, is located between Columbia and Jefferson City on Highway 63. It was in this small town next to the General Store that Sam was first introduced to horseshoes. Every weekend three local men pitched horseshoes, but they needed a fourth player and Sam was "it." That same country store is still in existence today. It was closed down in the 1940's but is being restored keeping it as original as possible including walls, windows and a spattering of dark bullet holes in the front door, testimony to an accident dispute. So if you are bicycling along the Katy Trail you may want to stop in for a cool drink and a feel of Missouri's past.

One of Sam's most memorable moments in his horseshoe career was winning his very first trophy in Mokane, MO at the young age of 16 beating all those older guys who had taught him how to pitch. This tournament in Mokane became an annual event throughout the years, ran by Father Leonard who always donated the trophies. Many years later while Sam was recuperating from lung surgery in 1975. Father Leonard stopped by. Sam was shinning up some of his trophies at the time. Father Leonard explained the tournament was coming up soon and he needed some trophies. "Well," Sam replied, "In that case you might as well take these and then I won't have to bother cleaning them!" Sam happened to win one of these trophies back in the tournament. "It's a keeper now, having won it twice!" he exclained.

Sam's family, just like all the families of that era, suffered hard times through the depression years. At the age of 11, his father died and Sam soon found himself having to quit school to help out with the family income. His first job, Sam worked as a waterboy for a construction crew for $1.00 a day. Later he worked at Stephen's College, then MO University. And in 1940 he went to work helping to build the army camp at Ft. Leonard Wood. Sam met his future wife, Hazel Griggs, at the age of 15 while living in Columbia. They were married July 4, 1942.

Soon after Sam and Hazel were married, Sam was drafted in the Army in 1943, serving in the Aviation Engineering Battalion. He left St. Louis for Australia. From there he was shipped to New Guinea for 14 months and then to invasion of the Phillipines. While in the Army, Sam pitched softball for his company. The World of Sports Newsletter of Sept. 7, 1945 shows "Red Foster" having 5 wins pitching 84% for the season. His team was the league champions with 7 wins and 1 loss, but Sam has some sad memories about this time in his life. While they were out on patrol, they ran into Japanese booby traps and mines, killing seven out of the nine. Sam and his buddy, Marshall Johnson were the only two to come out alive.

Returning home in 1946, Sam, Hazel and family moved to St. Ann where he still resides today. Sam has a stepson, Paul and another son, Sammy was born in 1943. Sammy was later killed in a car accident in 1960 at the young age of 16. Sam went to work for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in St. Louis where he retired from in 1985 after 37 years of employment. Sam & Hazel spent 50 wonderful years together until her death in 1992.

During the 1950's Sam built some horseshoe courts in his backyard in St. Ann so his friends could come over for some friendly competition. His neighbors complained of the noise disturbing their dinner meal and kept calling the cops on them. They finally had to stop pitching there. Today, that same neighbor still lives there, now a widow woman, and Sam hauls her everywhere.

During the 1950's Sam began pitching shoes at the Carondelet Park in St. Louis and also at Blanchette Park. He soon met Art Schroeder and the two became great friends, practicing and pitching in many tournaments together. Art convinced Sam to join the MOHPA. He has been a MOHPA member for over 30 years.

Sam began pitching with the St. Charles/Warren County League in 1964 for the next 32 years. At one time the league had 200 members. Some of the league members were: Charles Picraux, Oley Burnett, Charlie Lawrence, C.H. Berg, Ray Wulfehammer, Sam Carter and Lee Taylor. This traveling league pitched at Marthasville, Treelore, Warrenton, Dutzow, Augusta, Defiance, Harvester, Crossroads and New Melle. Charles Picraux and Sam were the only members from the league belonging to the MOHPA. He soon recruited Jerry Kohler of the Crossroads to join. Jerry then brought in new members Lee Taylor and Larry Langewisch. After that the Crossroads team moved to New Melle. With the help of Larry and Joe Faron the membership of the New Melle Horseshoe Club took off. Sam is very proud to have been a part of this accomplishment.

In 1970 Sam helped to organize the O'Fallon League held at the O'Fallon Civic Park. He and Greg Marter directed this league for five years having 40 members. One of the highlights in Sam's pitching career came in 1968 when he won a AAA Tournament at this park. Sam won first place pitching against some of the greats of that time. His friend Lee Taylor won second, and Mickey Gillette placed third.

With the help of Arlie Oswald in 1980, Sam started the Florissant Senior League. He advertised in the local paper for interested senior horseshoe pitchers, age fifty-five and older to sign up. To their surprise, 92 men showed up, He was so shocked he didn't know what to do with them. Some of these men had never pitched horseshoes before and it took several weeks to get it organized. One big problem existed, no horseshoe courts to pitch on! They soon went to Mayor Eagan for help and he eagerly agreed to put twelve horseshoe courts in at Bangert Park. As League Director it was a challenge to organize a league of this size, but a job that Sam felt gratifying. That league today is still in existence, although membership has dropped. Some of these men today, are pitching with the Greater St. Louis Horseshoe Club.

Sam joined the Greater Horseshoe Club of St. Louis in 1985 and is still an active member. He is also a member of NMHC, pitching in the Mixed New Melle Summer League for the past two years. Sam has always admired another Sam; that being Sam Carter, because he worked long and hard at it getting to where he is today.

Sam pitches various brands of horseshoes and threw a 1 1/4 turn. The best game Sam ever pitched was against Bob Stove of Centralia pitching 78% against him. It was the first and last time he ever beat him. He did pitch a perfect game at the Greater STL Club on June 6, 1996. Sam's high average percentage in his best years was 58-60%. His present average is 50%. When Sam was 74 years of age, he moved up to 30 feet, pitching a 3/4 turn shoe. He thinks 30 footers are wonderful now but says his ringer percentage has not improved.

Sam Foster can still remember the first time he met Charlie Picraux. "I used to take my sons to Blanchette Park in St. Charles to let them let off a little steam and I'd always take my horseshoes with me. I was pitching one day when Charlie introduced himself and asked if I'd like a few pointers. I didn't know who he was, but I was glad for the help." The two men became good friends and were inducted into the St. Charles County Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. "For me, being inducted with the late Charlie Picraux made the honor extra-special for Charlie was a great horseshoe pitcher and one of the nicest people I had ever known."

Sam has won many awards during his horseshoe career that includes 92 trophies including 11 First Place and 21 Second Place Class A competition, many blue ribbons and 8 championship patches that he has earned participating in tournaments troughout Missouri and Illinois. In 1998 Sam won first place in the St. Louis Senior Olympics. He and Darwin Compton won the Double's Event for the St. Louis Senior Olympics held in Columbia that same year.

Today, Sam suffers with heart and lung problems due to smoking. Having had several lung surgeries, he offers this bit of advise to his fellow horseshoe pitchers: Don't smoke and you'll be able to pitch a lot better and a lot longer." Sam just recently received an oxygen tank that he will need to carry with him. While Sam has never pitched in a State or World Tournament, he is hoping to attend his first World Tournament in Greenville this year as a spectator, if his health improves.

If you have ever traveled to tournaments with Sam or sat and talked to him about horseshoes you will agree that he is a "walking book of horseshoe knowledge." His enthusiasm for the sport has influenced many people. But Sam never played horseshoes for the trophies, the ribbons or the prize money. "I love to compete and I love the people. I've had a lot of great times pitching horseshoes and I've met a lot of wonderful people." Missouri Horseshoe Pitchers salute this kind gentleman who has inspired so many with his love for horseshoes!