PDA

View Full Version : Ball Four's Greg Goosen - Good read



westofyou
07-25-2009, 02:21 PM
http://www.dailynews.com/sports/ci_12912098



On the slightly tattered Topps baseball card, Greg Goossen is in a light blue Seattle Pilots uniform, positioned for the camera with his first baseman's glove open and stretched out waiting for a throw.

Sitting in a Valley Glen pizzeria recently, the 63-year-old Goossen put the piece of cardboard on the table in front of him and squinted his eyes, focusing on the 23-year-old version of him, not so long after his glory days at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks.

"It seems like yesterday," he almost mumbled in a rough, gravelly voice, "and it seems like 100 years ago."

Those 1969 Pilots were baseball's impractical joke, a one-and-done collection of past-their-prime veterans and unproven players who swooped into Seattle as an expansion team, staggered to a last-place finish in the American League West and then beat out of town to become the Milwaukee Brewers.
Anyone associated with them might both want to both forget everything that happened and embrace their unique place in baseball lore.

"That infamous, ragamuffins team," Goossen said of the Pilots. "Tommy Davis called us a bunch of mutts. Every team we played made sure we got from the airport to their ballpark safely."

Goossen, a multi-sport star in high school, was a young catcher drafted by the Dodgers but given a shot at becoming part of a young New York Mets team growing up as lovable losers.

The Mets, however, sent him to the Pilots just before spring training for that famous player-to-be-named later. And then they amazingly went on to win the '69 World Series.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Goossen would have what would turn out be his best big-league season, even thought he didn't make it up to the majors until he was recalled at midseason from Triple-A Vancouver.

Exactly 40 years ago today, with a nation still fixated on the fact Neil Armstrong just walked on the moon, Goossen walked into Sicks' Stadium for the first time and went 3 for 4 with a home run in his initial game for the Pilots.

His solo blast in the seventh inning gave the Pilots a 5-4 lead over the visiting Boston Red Sox.

Of course, they'd lose it 7-6, as Goosen popped up a bunt into a double play to kill a rally in the bottom of the ninth.

But that's just how the Pilots' script would always seem to play out.

"Why would they ask me to bunt? I never bunted before in my life," said Goossen, still amazed at how that night ended. "Were they crazy? I didn't even know the bunt sign."

Somehow, that story didn't make the cut for the controversial book, "Ball Four," which was in the process of being written by 30-year-old Jim Bouton, trying to make a comeback from his post-Yankees glory.

During spring training in 1965 in Vero Beach, Fla., an 18-year-old Greg Goossen found himself catching future Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, left, and Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers won the World Series that year without Goossen. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers archives)
Bouton used Goossen as one of the main, colorful characters of his daily diary entries, the history of the '69 Pilots remains on library shelves all over the world.
♦♦♦

The first mention of Goossen in Bouton's classic memoir is an entry from February 26, when the team was in spring training in Tempe, Ariz.:

"I know a lot of guys on the club. Greg Goossen is one. He's a catcher, a New York Met castoff, and is up out of Triple-A. Two years ago, I was playing against Goose in the International League. There was a bunt back toward the pitcher and Goose came running out from behind the plate yelling, `First base! First base!' at the top of his lungs. Everyone in the ballpark heard him. The pitcher picked up the ball and threw it to second. Everybody safe.

"And as Goose walked back behind the plate, looking disgusted, I shouted at him from the dugout, `Goose, he had to consider the source.' I guess I got to him, because the first time he saw me - two years later - he said, `Consider the source, huh?"'

Asked if he was surprised that Bouton was chronicling that season, Goossen coughed up a hearty laugh.

"If you didn't know (he was writing a book) you had to be the biggest sap in baseball," Goossen said. "He'd pull out his notebook and start writing things down after you'd say them. Someone would ask: `What are you doing?' He'd say, `I'm writing a book.' He couldn't have been much more explicit.

"Then people were saying


During a recent visit to Dodger Stadium, Greg Goossen explains to Vin Scully the story of the lost photo. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)
later, `Bouton wrote a book?' I sorta got the idea when he told me he was. He did hurt some people and some things he didn't include. He planted candy kisses all over me.
"But so much of what Bouton wrote was just kid's play. There were much more things he didn't put in."

♦♦♦

Goossen and Bouton were already back in Vancouver when the Pilots' played their only season opener on Tuesday, April 8 - a 4-3 win at Anaheim over the California Angels.

But then again, the team also sent down a promising young outfielder named Lou Pinella during spring training. They then sent him to Kansas City. He ended up as the American League's 1969 Rookie of the Year with the Royals.

Three days into the season, the Pilots played their first home game at the aptly named Sicks' Stadium - after Emil Sick, owner of the Rainier Brewing Company and the Pacific Coast League's Seattle Rainiers. During the Pilots' 7-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, workers were still installing new benches at the converted minor-league park. Some fans had to wait three innings just to be seated.

These Pilots were piloted by an old salty catcher, Joe Schultz, with decisions made by the out-of-place general manager Marvin Milkes, once the assistant GM of the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961 who'd been in charge of their Triple-A franchise in Seattle and sort of fell into the new role - and was skewered in print later by Bouton. Milkes would later come back to L.A. to run the Aztecs of the North American Soccer League in 1981, and then died of a heart attack at age 58 two months after the team folded.

Wearing uniforms that Bouton described as "Technicolor gingerbread," complete with caps that had the yellow sea captain "scrambled eggs" wings on the bills, the Pilots were a mismatched, color-uncoordinated bunch.

Journeyman Jerry McNertney (128 games, .241, eight HRs, 55 RBIs) was the starting catcher over Goossen. Don Mincher was the regular first baseman (140 games, .246, 25 HRs, 78 RBIs) and made the AL All-Star team. Mike Hegan, whose call to military duty in July led to Goossen's promotion, mostly played right field (95 games, .292, eight HRs, 37 RBIs).

Of the 53 players who saw action on the Pilots' roster that season (25 were pitchers), other familiar names included Tommy Davis, the former Dodger All-Star; Tommy Harper, the leadoff man and second baseman who would lead the AL in stolen bases, and Mike Marshall, a young reliever who'd go on to win the National League's Cy Young Award with the Dodgers five years later.

After the All-Star break, Goossen, who had hit 18 homers in Triple-A the first half of the season, finally was added to a team that was actually third in the AL West, despite a 40-56 mark, but nearly 18 games behind leader Minnesota.

Goossen, who ironically had a fear of flying (again, documented by Bouton), was now a Pilot. For better or worse.

♦♦♦

Goossen was at a bar in New York and started talking to a young woman.

"So, what do you do?" she asked.

"I'm with the Pilots," Goossen said.

"What airlines?"

"No, the Seattle Pilots. I'm a baseball player."

She gives him a long, blank stare.

"TWA," Goossen finally said, breaking the awkwardness. "Can I buy you a drink?"'

♦♦♦

A catcher at heart, Goossen was wedged in at first base in 31 of his 33 Pilots appearances. The other two were an adventure in left field.

"Seattle really had no place to put me, so I sort of became a utility man, but I hated that term," Goossen said. "I had no idea what the warning track was for.

"I'm in left field one day. I could never figure out how to use those flip-down sunglasses. I'd flip them down, and they'd be behind my head or something.

"Man on first and third, one out. The sun's killing me. Fly ball comes out to me. I flip the glasses - and now they're hanging off my nose, crooked. I know the guy at third is tagging up. I somehow catch the ball and fire it in. But I have no idea what's happening because I can't see anything.

"All of the sudden, this cheer went up, like a boxer just scored a knockout. I thought, `I must have thrown the guy out at home trying to score.' Turns out, by accident, I threw out the runner trying to go from first to second."

Goossen was 6 for 15 with three homers after his first three games. Despite the fact Goossen was one of the team's most productive statistical players, he wasn't a regular in the patchwork lineup.

His teammates, including roommate and starting pitcher George Burnett, tried to go to bat for him once.

"Burnett and I lived in a Ramada Inn in Seattle, and the Soriano Brothers, who owned the team, decided to throw everyone a party at midseason," Goossen said.

"George says to me: `You've had problems with management, so just stay in the background. Here's what we'll do. You follow me, we'll say hello, then we'll go home.'

"Halfway through the party, I look over and George has Milkes in a headlock. He was negotiating a raise for me, saying, `Goossen needs at least $10,000.'

"After a while, the door bell rings. `Who called the cab?' George says, `I did.' `But we drove here together,' I told him. `I know,' he says. `Here are the keys. You drive to the Ramada Inn and I'll have the cab follow you."'

♦♦♦

By late August, Bouton was traded to Houston, taking the rest of "Ball Four" with him.

Goossen's assessment of how the season sputtered to an end: "They were always in a panic mode. It takes time to figure how to play with each other, and we didn't have any time to do that. It was a team that changed month to month. I was a notorious slow starter, but here I had one of my quickest starts ever, and I still didn't get to play full-time."

On Sept. 25, Goossen hit two homers off Minnesota's Jim Kaat in a 5-1 Pilots win, pushing his average from .283 to .308. It would stay above .300 the rest of the season.

The next night, Goossen homered off Jim Perry in a 14-inning victory - the same day his first of three daughters, Erin, was born in Canoga Park. Two hours after the game, Goossen finally saw a note given to him from a team official that his wife had gone into labor.

By the time he phoned home, Erin had already arrived.

At season's end, Goossen had a team-best .309 average, with 10 homers and 24 RBIs in just 52 games. All his home runs came in Sicks' Stadium. Projected over a 162-game schedule, he would have had nearly 35 homers and about 90 RBIs.

But Seattle finished 64-98, sixth (and last) in the newly formed AL West, 33 games behind the Twins. And going nowhere fast.

♦♦♦

All during the winter of '69, Goossen heard rumors that the team was out of money. As spring training approached in 1970, Bud Selig, a used-car salesman in Milwaukee, made a play to buy the franchise and move it. The Pilots filed for bankruptcy to stall the procedure.

A couple of days before spring training ended, no one still knew which city would have claim to it - all their equipment was in Provo, Utah, halfway between Seattle and Milwaukee.

The only thing sure was that Dave Bristol would be the new manager, since Schultz had been fired. Goossen called Schultz "one of the smartest managers of all time ... because he played me."

He knew from past history, Bristol didn't like him nearly as much.

On Opening Day 1970, Goossen and the rest of the new Milwaukee Brewers sported uniforms with the name "Pilots" removed but the stitching outline of the old name still visible across the front.

"Imagine if I still had that uniform," Goossen said. "No one knew what memorabilia sales would be what they are today."

Not long later, Goossen was out of baseball at age 24 - traded to the Washington Senators at midseason in 1970, then dealt to Philadelphia, then trying to catch on with Cincinnati and finally putting in a futile call to the Dodgers.

Goossen said he had enough of the egos and pecking orders that dominated who played and who didn't. He tried a new career selling women's shoes. He seemed to run into those same problems.

Thanks to his brother's success in the boxing world - Dan Goossen is in the World Boxing Hall of Fame as a promoter and trainer, while Joe has helped train some of the world's best - Greg had another chance at working in the gym as a self-defense instructor and trainer. Because of them, Greg's abbreviated big-league career might not make him the most famous sportsperson in his own family.

Playing on more than three dozen MLB, minor-league and Mexican League squads from 1964-72, it's still that one sleepless season in Seattle - the only team in modern baseball history to have such a short stay in one place - that might have best encapsulated Goossen's career.

"I still get letters from people asking about that team - they know it was kind of an oddity," said Goossen, who still lives in Sherman Oaks, not far from the Notre Dame High campus, and close to his three daughters and four grandkids. "In the end, I'm happy I just got to the big leagues. It was all I ever dreamed to be since I was a little kid."

Goossen’s brushes with greatness

Greg Goossen's major-league career lasted just 193 games over six big-league seasons, with seven franchises. But almost like a "Zelig" figure, Goossen had these people steering the direction of his life:

Tommy Lasorda and Al Campanis: The eventual Dodgers manager, and team's GM, were at Greg Goossen's San Fernando Valley home to sign him to a Dodger contract on the night he graduated from Notre Dame High. Ben Wade officially signed him to a contract in June, 1964. The Houston Colt .45 s were also heavily scouting Goossen before he injured a knee in a fight.

Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax: After accepting an invitation to the Dodgers' spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., in 1965 — less than a year out of high school — the 18-year-old Goossen was catching the two future Hall of Famers. Goossen tells the story about how his brother, Joe, was in a car accident, and someone suggested he take his picture with Drysdale and Koufax and have it signed for Joe. Years later, Joe misplaced the photo. After checking the team archives, Dodger team historian Mark Langill found it and had a copy made again for Greg Goossen, presenting it to him during a game last month at Dodger Stadium, where Goossen also met Vin Scully.

Casey Stengel: Goossen's first manager with the New York Mets, who claimed him on first-year waivers off the Dodgers' roster in April 1965. At 19, Goossen caught his first game with the Mets late in the 1966 season.

But Stengel made him the punchline of one of his most famous quotes — which has evolved into several versions over the years. The story was that Stengel was talking to reporters about his two young catchers — Goossen and Ed Kranepool. "See that fellow over there? He's 20 years old. In 10 years he has a chance to be a star," Stengel said about Kranepool. Then, about Goossen: "Now, that fellow over there, he's 19. In 10 years he has a chance to be 29." Says Goossen: "I think Casey was referring to the fact that when I was 29, I'd have 10 years in the league, but of course, he mangled the quote. Even he probably didn't remember it."

Nolan Ryan: Goossen caught the future Hall of Famer's first game in the big leagues. The Angels recognized Goossen when retiring Ryan's No. 30 in a 1992 ceremony.

Gil Hodges: The New York Mets manager in 1968 converted Goossen into a first baseman, where Hodges had excelled with the Brooklyn Dodgers a decade earlier.

Bob Lemon: The future Hall of Fame pitcher became Goossen's manager at Triple-A Vancouver after the Seattle Pilots sent him to the minors to start the 1969 season.

Jim Bouton: Goossen was one of the characters in Bouton's ground-breaking book, "Ball Four," on his 1969 season. The first half of it was with the Seattle Pilots. "The only one I was really interested in was Greg Goossen, whom I'd come to like, mainly because he had the ability to laugh at himself," Bouton wrote of Goossen in a March 16 spring-training entry.

Bud Selig: The future commissioner of baseball was a used-car salesman who bought the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and moved them to his hometown of Milwaukee. Goossen became his property. "Never met him," Goossen said. "In those days, you hardly ever saw the owner."

Ted Williams: At midseason in 1970, the Milwaukee Brewers sold Goossen to the Washington Senators — managed by Teddy Ballgame. Williams told him he'd be the primary hitter against left-handers and he needed him in Washington immediately.

Goossen's wife had to drive herself and less- than-a-year-old daughter back to California by themselves. "And for two weeks, I sat on the bench," Goossen said. "(Williams) rushes me across the country, makes me leave my family like that, and then doesn't let me get off the bench." And then finally uses him — against a side-arming right-hander, Ted Abernathy.

Curt Flood: After the '70 season, the Senators traded Goossen and two others to Philadelphia in a deal for the player who, following the '69 season, made history by taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight baseball's reserve clause in refusing a trade from St. Louis. The landmark case opened free agency. Yet Flood sat out the '70 season, then went to the Senators. He played in only played 13 games for that team in April of '71 before retiring.

Gene Hackman: The Oscar-winning actor, researching a role for a boxing movie in 1988 called "Split Decisions," met Greg Goossen at the family's Sherman Oaks gym — and was taught the art of throwing a punch. The two hit it off, and Hackman eventually had it written into all his contracts that Greg was to be his stand-in/

bodyguard, plus give him a small part in all his films. Hackman effectively retired from acting in 2004. "He gave me a good ride," Goossen said.

— Tom Hoffarth

MrCinatit
07-25-2009, 03:47 PM
Great read, WOY, thanks for posting that. As a fan of Ball Four, it is fascinating to read a bit more about one of the players from the game.
His comments about a throw he made to second to nail a guy were classics.

Topcat
07-26-2009, 05:45 AM
Awesome read, thanks again WOY:thumbup:

RFS62
07-26-2009, 08:11 AM
Sweet.

Let's go pound some Budweiser

MrCinatit
07-26-2009, 08:43 AM
Sweet.

Let's go pound some Budweiser

One of my favorite constant Schultz quotes through the book - though he dotted the phrase with other colorful little words.

MississippiRed
07-27-2009, 03:21 PM
Sweet.

Let's go pound some Budweiser

You'll never get 'em out drinking Dr. Pepper, son.