Sad news. Greg Goosen, a ballplayer remembered more for his humor than his ability, passed away on Feb. 26 of an apparent heart attack. He was 65.
Goosen’s death came just before he was to be inducted into the Notre Dame Athletic Hall of Fame.
No, not that Notre Dame. Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where Goosen starred in the early ’60s.
“He was sort of on the fringe of everything, an extra, but never the star,” former teammate and Ball Four author Jim Bouton told Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News. “And now, after all these years, they’re about to bestow him the highest honor for his high school, one more round of laughter, waving, and thanking his family and friends, and he’s denied all that?”
By any standard, Goosen was a journeyman. He played for 37 teams over his eight year career. As he told Sports Illustrated in 1996, “Either everyone wanted me or everyone wanted to get rid of me!”
His major league career consisted of 193 games spread out over six years. He amassed a total of 460 at bats, hitting .241 with 13 homers and 44 RBI. In his best year, 1969, he hit .309 in 52 games (139 at bats) for the Seattle Pilots. He also knocked 10 homers out of Sick Stadium. That prompted Goosen to observe, as related by Douglas Martin of the New York Times, “I could have played here my whole career.” To which teammate Tommy Davis replied, “You did!”
Goosen was offered a football scholarship by Southern Cal in 1964, but the Dodgers offered him a six figure signing bonus, a huge amount for the time. Goosen was such a prize that the Dodgers dispatched Al Campanis and Tommy Lasorda on the signing mission.
A year later, the Mets claimed Goosen for a paltry $8,000. Goosen went from catching Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale at the Dodger camp to catching manager Casey Stengel’s eye in the Mets’ camp.
In the oft told story, Stengel asked a bevy of reporters one day, “See that fellow over there?” pointing out Ed Kranepool. “He’s 20 years old, and in 10 years, he has a chance to be a star.”
“Now, that fellow over there,” added Stengel, nodding toward Goosen, “he’s 19. In 10 years he has a chance to be 29.”
In parts of four seasons with the Mets (’64-’68), Goosen had his moments. He caught Nolan Ryan’s first major league game in 1966, and in 1968 he broke up Larry Jaster’s perfect game with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
But by the end of the ’68 season it was clear that Jerry Grote would be the Mets long-term catcher. Goosen was made available in the expansion draft, and Seattle grabbed him. As a result, Goosen wound up with a last place team instead of winning the World Series with the Amazing Mets of ’69.
Bouton told Hoffarth when the Pilots’ spring training began “the only one I was really interested in was Greg Goosen, whom I’d come to like, mainly because he had the ability to laugh at himself.” Or perhaps, as Martin noted, because Goosen claimed he hit best with a slight hangover.
Early in Ball Four, Bouton related his favorite Goosen story: “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 park heard him. The pitcher picked up the ball and threw it to second. Everyone 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?’”
When the Pilots finally called up Goosen in midseason, he homered in his first game, giving the Pilots a 5-4, seventh inning lead over the Red Sox. By the bottom of the ninth, Seattle trailed, 7-6, and Goosen was asked to bunt. He popped into a double play.
“Why would they ask me to bunt?” he asked Hoffarth. “I never bunted before in my life! I didn’t even know the bunt sign!”
He also didn’t know how to play the outfield. As he told Hoffarth, “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.
“Men 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 on 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 a 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!”
“Such a sweet, sweet man,” Bouton told Hoffarth. “He took self-deprecation to a new level.”